British Rule, Tibet, China and India

M G Singh By M G Singh, 29th Nov 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

Tibet is now part of China, but for long periods it was buffer between Indian and China

Tibet as a Buffer State

Ever since the dawn of history, Tibet has been adjacent to India, separated by the lofty Himalayas. These mountains formed an impregnable border and despite a contagious border history records that people to people contact among the people was minimal. In fact Indian rule did not extend to the Far East as this was thought of as an alien area, where no one went or travelled. Much of this area was part of Tibetan rule and there are reports that twang the famous monastery town paid tribute to the Dalai Lama.

However one factor that is common to Tibet and India is Buddhism. This religion travelled upwards from India and the Tibetan people adopted a variant of Buddhism. Looming over Tibet for centuries is China. The relationship between these two Peoples is an enigma. China has always claimed Tibet as a part of China. But it also a fact that the Tibet was mostly left untouched as during long periods China was a weak nation.

British Policy

The British came to India as traders, but they soon became the rulers. This fact where a trading company usurped the crown of India is without parallel in the history of the world. The British were astute and they made elaborate plans to further their rule in India, which was the brightest jewel in the British Empire. They thus wished to secure the northern border with Tibet as a buffer between them and China. They were also alarmed by the spread of Russian influence in central Asia and they were not sure that the Russians may also enter Tibet and thus pose a threat to British rule in India.

Mapping Tibet

On instructions of the British government the then British leadership drew up plans to ensure that Tibet would be a buffer state. But obviously the Dali lama would not listen to the British representative in Lhasa. The British as is their wont decided to launch a military expedition against Tibet. Before that however the British trained some educated Indians to enter Tibet and study the topography and make exploration maps.

One of the most famous of these was Chain Singh, a schoolmaster from Utter Pradesh. Another well-known Indian explorer was Nain Singh. These brave Indians went deep into Tibet and brought back invaluable information which was correlated by the British and the first maps of Tibet were got ready.

The YoungHusband Expedition

At the same time the British served an ultimatum to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government to allow British troops and a resident in Lhasa. This was rejected by the Dalai Lama and the green signal was then given for a military thrust against Tibet. The man put in charge of this expedition was Brigadier General YoungHusband. YoungHusband started preparation for the campaign against Tibet from 1901 and he girt his plans into position by 1902. His troops consisted of Sikhs and Gurkha and a sprinkling of British officers. In the summer of 1903 the British Indian army marched into Tibet. The progress was slow as the high peaks and rarified atmosphere made the troop’s task difficult.

The Tibetans had a small army but it was ill-equipped and at a number of places they opposed the British Indian army, but on each occasion they were repulsed with heavy loss of life. The British slowly but surely advanced towards Lhasa and were within a few weeks within striking distance of the capital. The Dalai Lama at that time learning of the advance of the British army fled to Sinkiang.

Treaty of Lhasa

The British entered Lhasa after an assault by the Sikhs and General YoungHusband enforced a peace on the terms of the British. Keeping the security threat from China in mind the British enforced the following conditions

a)Aksai Chin and North east Frontier agency came under control of the British. They also demarcated an imaginary line in the east called the McMahan line.

b)The British had the right to station troops in Tibet

The Chinese opposed the British diktat, but were powerless as they were themselves at the receiving end of the colonial powers. In fact the British forced the Chinese to cede Hongkong Island to them for 99 years in 1899.

Simla Conference

The British also convened a conference in Simla in 1913 and invited the Tibetan and Chinese representatives to attend the conference and ratify the border agreement. The British as the imperial power had their way, but the Chinese representative refused to sign the protocol on the grounds that Tibet was a part of China and they did not recognize the McMahan line. But the British as the paramount power in Asia enforced the Simla agreement as interpreted by them. The result was that the British writ ran right from Kabul to Arunachal Pradesh, and then called North East Frontier Agency. By their astute policy they created buffer in Tibet and at the same time retained influence ion the Tibetan court. This was to say a master stroke of diplomacy.

Frittering Away the Gains of the British

For the next 4 and half decades there was no more problem and the British had secured the northern borders of India. In 1947 the British left India and India as the successor state inherited all the rights of the British Government. But the Indian Leadership led by Nehru had no idea of power politics and gains of a hundred years were frittered away. Nehru thought China was a friend and he withdrew the Indian troops from Tibet. The Chinese saw this as a weakness and attacked Tibet in 1950 and soon over ran the country with Nehru twiddling his thumbs.

The Indian government also failed to establish any administration in Aksai chin, with the result some 30,000 sq miles of territory was lost by default to China. No attempt was also made to counter china politically and militarily and the result was that India while dealing with china had always one hand tied behind its back,

The wheel has now turned full circle and India has lost Tibet as a buffer state as well as vast lands of their own nation. Who is to blame for this?


China And Tibet, Chinese Invasion Of Tibet, Dalai Lama, Nehru, Tibet, Tibet And India

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author avatar M G Singh
A man who spent his early years in Air Force. An avid writer with over 6000 articles and 60 short stories published.Two novels on the anvil for publication.

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author avatar Buzz
29th Nov 2011 (#)

Insightful bit of history, my friend. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar M G Singh
29th Nov 2011 (#)

Thanks Buzz

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
29th Nov 2011 (#)

Fascinating historical accounting Madan. Thank you.

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author avatar M G Singh
12th Jan 2012 (#)

Thank you Steve

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author avatar NEERAJ BHATT
10th Jan 2012 (#)

Great article.Tibet was in India in the British period.Even the famous Hindu Holi lake Mansarovar was in INDIA,which was occupied by China in the year 1971,when the then RSS chief tried to have a darshan of this holi place---was not permitted to enter therein--it was then disclosed that the lake is no longer in INDIA. Namaste..

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author avatar M G Singh
12th Jan 2012 (#)

Good observation Neeraj

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