A Long History of Sovereignty
While China claims that Tibet has always been a part of China, Tibet has a history of at least 1300 years of independence from China. In 821 China and Tibet ended almost 200 years of fighting with a treaty engraved on three stone pillars, one of which still stands in front of the Jokhang cathedral in Lhasa.
The treaty reads in part: Both Tibet and China shall keep the country and frontiers of which they are now possessed. The whole region to the East of that being the country of Great China and the whole region to the West being assuredly the country of Great Tibet, from either side there shall be no hostile invasion, and no seizure of territory… and in order that this agreement establishing a great era when Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet and Chinese shall be happy in China shall never be changed, the Three Jewels, the body of Saints, the sun and the moon, planets and stars have been invoked as witness.
The three stone pillars were erected, one outside the Chinese Emperor’s palace, one on the border between the two countries, and one in Lhasa.
During the 13th and 14th centuries both China and Tibet came under the influence of the Mongol empire. China claims today that Tibet and China during that time became one country, by virtue of the Mongols domination of both nations. In validating this claim, it must first be remembered that virtually all of Asia was dominated by the Mongols under Kublai Khan and his successors, who ruled the largest empire in human history. Second, the respective relationships between the Mongols and the Tibetans and between the Mongols and Chinese must be examined. These two relationships were not only radically different in nature, but they also started and ended at different times. Tibet came under Mongol influence before Kublai Khan’s conquest of China and regaining complete independence from the Mongols several decades before China regained its independence.
While China was militarily conquered by the Mongols, the Tibetans and the Mongols established the historically unique “priest patron” relationship, also known as CHO-YON. The Mongol aristocracy had converted to Buddhism and sought spiritual guidance and moral legitimacy for the rule of their vast empire from the Tibetan theocracy. As Tibet’s patrons they pledged to protect it against foreign invasion. In return Tibetans promised loyalty to the Mongol empire.
The Mongol-Tibetan relationship was thus based on mutual respect and dual responsibility. In stark contrast, the Mongol-Chinese relationship was based on military conquest and domination. The Mongols ruled China, while the Tibetans ruled Tibet. The Mongol empire ended in the mid-14th century.
In 1639, the Dalai Lama established another CHO-YON relationship, this time with the Manchu Emperor, who in 1644 conquested China and established the Qing Dynasty.
By the middle of the 19th century, the Munchu influence in Tibet had waned considerably as the Manchu empire began to disintegrate. In 1842 and 1856 the Manchus were incapable of responding to Tibetan calls for assistance against repeated Nepalese Gorkha invasion. The Tibetans drove back the Gorkhas with no assistance and concluded bilateral treaties.
In 1911 the CHO-YON relationship came to its final end with the fall of the Manchu Dynasty. Tibet formally declared its Independence in 1912 and continued to conduct itself as a fully sovereign nation until its invasion by Communist China an 1949.
- Tibet governed itself without foreign influence, conducted its own Foreign affairs, had its own army and operated its own postal system. Tibet sovereignty was recognised by its neighbours as well as by Britain, with whom Tibet entered into a series of treaties regarding travels and trade.
- 1904 Britain invaded Tibet and subsequently Convention agreed between Tibet and Britain.
- 1912 The last of the Chinese troops expelled from Tibet and Dalai Lama proclaims Tibet Independence.
- During the Second World War Tibet remained neutral, despite strong pressure from the USA, Britain and China to allow the passage of raw materials through Tibet.
- Tibet conducted its international relations primarily by dealing with British, Chinese, Nepalese and Bhutanese diplomatic missions in Lhasa, but also through government delegations traveling abroad. When India became independent, the British Mission in Lhasa was replaced by an Indian one.
- When Nepal applied for membership of the United Nations in 1949, it cited its treaty and diplomatic relations with Tibet to demonstrate its full international personality.
- If Tibet was part of China, then there was no need for the 17 point agreement which was forced upon the Tibetan delegation to sign in China in 1951 and then China announced to the world that Tibet was liberated (from whom?).
- From 1951 to 1959 China broke every promise that she made towards Tibet, resulting in the Tibetan uprising against China in March 1959. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 100,000 Tibetans escaped into exile. From that day onwards Tibet affectively became an occupied country.
- Today from the legal standpoint, Tibet to this day has not lost its statehood. It is an independent state under illegal occupation. Neither China’s military invasion nor the continuing occupation by PLA has transferred the sovereignty of Tibet to China. As pointed out earlier, the Chinese government has not claimed to have acquired sovereignty over Tibet by conquest. Indeed, China recognises that the use or threat of force (outside the exceptional circumstances provided for in the UN charter), the imposition of an unequal treaty or the continued illegal occupation of a country can never grant an invader legal title to territory. Its claims are based solely on the alleged subjection of Tibet to a few of China’s strongest foreign rulers in the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries.How can China – one of the most ardent opponent of imperialism and colonialism – excuse its continued presence in Tibet, against the wishes of Tibetan people, by citing as justification Mongols and Manchu imperialism and its own colonial policies?
– Dr. Michael C Van Walt Van Pragg (International Lawyer) The Status of Tibet
- 28th October 1991, US Congress under a Foreign Authorisation Act passed the resolution wherein they recognised “Tibet, including those areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai, AN OCCUPIED COUNTRY under the established principal of international law”. The resolution further stated that Tibet’s true representative are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile as recognised by the Tibetan people.