Oct 19, 2004

Tibet: A Brief Assessment of Britain's Relationship with Tibet from Year 1774 to 1914

The first Britain or British-India's relationship with Tibet began after her losing of trade ties with Nepal in the aftermath of rise of Gorkha rule in Nepal in 1769 AD.
Untitled Document

The first Britain or British-India's relationship with Tibet began after her losing of trade ties with Nepal in the aftermath of rise of Gorkha rule in Nepal in 1769 AD. Almost at the same time, Sir Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of British India, after the British East India Company came under the direct rule of British Queen, sent George Bogle in 1774 AD, and Samuel Turner in 1783 AD, looking for trade relationships with Tibet. At that time, the Britain and British-India already had trade relationships with China through the East coast. The fact that British India did not related to China for seeking trade ties with Tibet, showed the lack of China's suzerainty, leave alone sovereignty over Tibet. Tibet refused to accept for trade, countries other than the customary ones like Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, Turkestan and others.

Owing to recent conflicts with Nepal in 1788 AD and 1791 AD, and at the advice, very likely given at an earlier time, by the Gorkha new King Prithvi Narayan Shah, Tibet refused to open herself to distant foreign countries, or she adopted a policy of seclusion. After the Britain's Opium wars with China, she began to lose interests in Nepal, and at the same time, proportionally built up the good relationship with China which culminated in Britain's receiving China's support for annexation of Burma. Besides this, as seen in the 1890 and 1893 treaties, undue commercial and political supports in violation of Tibet's sovereign authority, came to be received by the British-India from China. As it was secretive and failed to receive the Tibet's acceptance, it led to the British 1904 Expedition coming into Lhasa, and a treaty signed between the Tibet's government and the British-India. As the military expedition failed to comply with the real policy of British government in London, and also because of the lack of Tibetan acceptance of 1893 treaty, the British government in 1906 AD, signed a treaty with China which was to further the Britain's long-cherished trade interests in Tibet.

In 1907 AD, Britain signed a treaty with Russia which also did not fail to include China as a way of dealing with Tibet for the relationship. This treaty, in spite of being a method to keep peace in surrounding countries and stop expansionist attempts, ensured the British India's wish for keeping trade relationship with Tibet uninterrupted. The fact came to the forefront in the 1908 treaty with representatives from China, and also from Tibet, who had been rather forced, which carried a clear recognition by Britain of the China's suzerain authority over Tibet, to facilitate her trade. But in all likelihood, this and the earlier treaties with China, were due to Britain's lack of knowledge that Tibet and China enjoyed only patron-priest relationship which even cannot be termed as China's suzerainty power over Tibet. Yet, politically, it beckoned the Chinese troops which in 1910 AD reached Lhasa, militarily unopposed, because of an act of diplomacy, as the Dalai Lama was in exile in those years.

As the coming of such troops into Lhasa was unprecedented in Tibet's history, it started off the Tibet's request for assistance from an outside country, i.e, British, who also was clearly disillusioned and already fallen in the trap of earlier treaty signed with China, for direct intervention for seeking the withdrawal of Manchu troops from Tibet. But the request for seeking the outster of Chinese troops could not be fulfilled at first. Since that time, Tibet also began to assert her independence from China, and never on any earlier occasion in history, as few writers on Tibet claimed it to be so. The Chinese troop's invasion and Manchu Emperor's inability to drive them out, and the Lhasa Amban's repeated attempt at having more troops to invade Tibet, during the 13th Dalai Lama's visit to China in 1909, caused the first rift in Emperor's act of patronage, as existing between Tibet and Manchu China.

In 1913 AD, the Britos tried to remove the differences between Tibet and China, who saw the downfall of Manchu Dynasty in 1911 AD, and was then under the Nationalist rule. But the Simla Treaty, for having China to accept it, failed, because of the claim of just the territory earlier occupied by Chao Erfeng's troops, and the Tibetan and British representative's unwillingness to change the provisions of the treaty. And so an attempt to restore the past patron-priest relationship with Tibet by the Chinese new Nationalist regime but having a link with the earlier Manchu Dynasty failed miserably. Even at that time, the lack of China's claim of sovereignty over Tibet can be seen absent, while offer for suzerainty over Tibet was not acceptable to them. Britain and Tibetan representatives also signed a trade treaty at that time, thus building a relationship between the two countries for the coming years.

Source: Phayul