The year 1904 was a watershed year in Tibetan history. It introduced a decade of large scale loot, violence and imperial lust to an otherwise tranquil land. The British military forays into Tibet were staunchly opposed by the Chinese in 1905. They were driven out and forced to sign an agreement with China in 1906. After good three to four years of complete Chinese control, in 1909, dissent against Chinese authority surfaced in Tibet. The situation deteriorated to an extent that in 1910, the 13th Dalai Lama went on an exile to Darjeeling.
The tremors of 1911 republican revolution in China also reached Tibet. In November 1911, Chinese troops stationed in Lhasa revolted against the Chinese Amban. Tibet seized the opportunity, presented by political chaos in Peking, to assert her autonomy and insist on the return of the deposed Dalai Lama to Lhasa. In the beginning of 1912, Great Britain decided to reconsider the whole case of Tibet autonomy afresh.’
On January 13, 1912, the Foreign office in London posed three questions to authorities in India and sought their opinion before formulating a viable Tibet policy.
Ø Was raising the banner of opposition against the inclusion of Tibet in China proper British justified by earlier treaties? Will such opposition serve British interest?
Ø Will such a protest and opposition lead to outbreak of anti-British indignation within China and harm English settlements
Ø The Steps that need to be taken to implement the strategy of opposition
The Government of India opined:
ü Opposing inclusion of Tibet in China proper would serve the British better.
ü Since the Chinese had not harmed the Russians after their interference in Mongolia, the British too were not likely to face the Chinese wrath.
C.A. Bell, political Officer, Sikkim went a step further and proposed not to allow Chinese to go to Tibet via India. And join hands with Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim to deny rice to Chinese soldiers stationed in Tibet.
The proposed embargo of rice was based on the premise that since rice was the staple food of Chinese troops; its non-availability would lead to their withdrawal from Tibet.
The Chinese sensed danger emanating from the British-Dalai Lama alliance that was nurtured in Darjeeling during 1910-12
In April 1912, Yuan Shih-kai republican government adopted a more conciliatory gesture towards Dalai Lama. Allowed him to return to Lhasa and restored all previous rank and titles conferred on him earlier. Amban Lien Yu who had committed atrocities against Tibetans was dismissed and a new ‘government agent in Tibet’ was appointed.
The British military officers saw turmoil in China as an opportune moment to intervene. They were waiting to grab an opportunity for action. Lt Col. J Manners-Smith, British government’s representative in Nepal suggested using Nepalese military to establish an autonomous government in the Tibet. Manners-Smith’s proposal was shot down not only by Sir Henry McMahon but also by the Maharaja of Nepal who said, the ‘game would not be worth the candle,’ mainly because Tibet was poor.
However, what was more vigorously pursued by Sir McMahon was a 21 April 1912 Proposal by Major W.F.T O’ Connor that suggested:
Acknowledge the legitimacy of the new Republican dispensation in China, BUT ONLY WHEN
• China gives an undertaking that the status quo as it existed at the time (say) of the signature of the Adhesion Agreement (April 1906) should be preserved and adhered to
• The establishment of British agent at Lhasa
• The cancellation of the trade regulations of 1908
• Establishment of a British representative at Lhasa
on 17th August 1912, Sir J. Jordan, the British Minister in Peking, gave a memorandum to the Chinese. This memorandum became the initial basis for starting a new set of negotiations on Tibet: Jordan asked:
· As per 1906 treaty the Chinese did not have any right of active intervention in internal administration of Tibet and to alter the status quo in Tibet?
· Chinese must reduce their troop level in Lhasa
The Chinese response was:
· As per Article II of the 1906 convention, only the Chinese state had the right to intervene in Tibet.
· 2000 troops in Tibet were required to meet the obligations imposed on her by the 1906 Convention and trade regulations.
· Anglo-Tibet trade treaty of 1904 was ultra vires and was not above the 1906 Convention.
· Great Britain trade with Tibet was well protected and they had no business to interfere in Tibet.
The British were keen to raise the pitch on Tibet issue: Rumour mongering was resorted to. In the first week of January 1913, English papers commented extensively on a statement in the Russian Daily, regarding a scheme for joint protectorate of Great Britain and Russia over Tibet. The Russians denied all such reports.
They British claimed that they did not want Tibet for themselves. They neither wanted to establish a protectorate over it nor formally annex it. They did not intend to increase their responsibilities and expenditure without any corresponding economic advantage. Then what were they seeking in Tibet:
The British professed that all they wanted in Tibet was a reasonably friendly government that would not interfere with their frontier and insignificant trade interests. The British could not outsource the administration of Tibet to either Russia or Nepal. China was the only legitimate and viable power capable of exercising suzerain rights in Tibet. However, the question was that re-installation of China had to be a controlled process, that neither provided any room for drastic action nor any scope for the Chinese to have a free run in Tibet.
Military operations in Tibet had to be avoided because the British were already preoccupied in Persia and there was no will to spend money and occupy Tibet for a prolonged duration,
However, the reinstallation of China in Tibet was also opposed by A.H. McMahon who argued:
· China’s re-entry would lead Russia to sign an agreement with Tibet on the lines of Mongolian agreement.
· China could not be trusted
· Going back on the 17 August 1912, Memorandum that had been given wide media coverage will cause loss of prestige for the British. Therefore McMahon proposed a hardline ‘active assistance to Tibet’ - which literally meant giving assistance in money, arms and (temporarily) British officers for organizing Tibetan forces
Progress Towards Simla
At this stage the British idea primarily was to start bilateral talk between Tibet and China that would be fully controlled by them
· In end January 1913, Chinese agreed to resume negotiations on the basis of 17th August 1912, memorandum
· On March, 1913, Dalai Lama approached to send a delegate to discuss terms of peace with General Chung in India.
J. Jordon was opposed to London’s idea of Sino-Tibetan bilateral dialogue. He wanted London to get interested in Tibet and go in for a tripartite agreement.
The aim of the proposed tripartite agreement was to:
Ø Get assurance from the Chinese that they would not encroach on Tibet’s eastern border
Ø Acceptance by Tibet of a Chinese Amban with a 300 escorts at Lhasa
Ø If negotiations failed, Britain would have direct negotiations with Tibet independent of China.
Except for the tripartite agreement, the Foreign office in London approved of Jordon’s proposals. Tripartite Agreement was opposed because London did not want to get entangled in the process of implementing it.
Jordan, CA Bell and McMahon felt that the British could not decline to accept responsibility there. The department of foreign and political affairs in India was pushing London on the on the grounds that they were receiving repeated requests from Dalai Lama to help him make Tibet independent.
Constant persuasion by Charles Hardinge, India’s Viceroy was able to convince London to hold a tripartite conference.
In July 1913, Dalai Lama wrote to Viceroy of India: almost announcing the Conference
Conference Begins 13 October 1913
Venue: Wheatfield, a property of Maharaja of Darbhanga
British Team: Sir Henry McMahon, C.A. Bell and Archibald Mr. Rose (from British embassy in China).
Chinese Team: Ivan Chen, Mr. Shah and Mr. Wang.
Tibetan Team: Lonchen Shatra, Techi Kusho, Depon Taradeba and Kusho Nyendron.
Apart from the large conference chamber, separate meeting and retiring rooms were provided for each of the British, Chinese and Tibetan Plenipotentiaries and their staff. The refreshment room on the third floor catered to the wants of members of all three nationalities.
Arrival & ceremonials
24 September 1913 - Kusho Lonchen Shatra reached Simla.
After one month of sea voyage the Chinese party reached India via Singapore on 3rd October, 1913. The ceremonials and diplomatic niceties to be accorded to Ivan Chen were largely drawn from the experience of receiving the Chinese Commissioner who had come to attend the 1905 negoitiations.
The 1905 convention was a bilateral affair between the China and Great Britain. However, during the trade negotiations of 1907-08, the Tibetan Commissioner was also brought to the negotiating table. In 1907-08, both the Chinese and the Tibetan Commissioners travelled in the same special train from Lhasa and arrived together in Simla, the venue of the negotiations.
During the Simla Convention, the Chinese diplomatically conveyed their closeness and hold over Tibet by informing. The British that their ‘party had brought very warm clothes for wearing in Tibet, where they expect to go immediately after the conference.’
This was to indicate to the British that the Chinese were free to move in and out of Tibet. In 1905 convention, the Tibetan delegate was absent mainly because the Chinese wanted the British to remain distant from Tibet. In 1908, the Chinese brought the Tibetan delegate along for negotiations with Britain, primarily because of their confidence in managing Tibet and also because the Chinese saw British as an ally in their strategy to keep Russia away from their territories.
The British Minister decided to treat both the Chinese as well as the Tibetan delegates on equal terms.. Neither of them was accorded official honours. The policy of treating the Tibetan delegate at par with the Chinese Plenipotentiary was to display the independence of Tibet.
The Chinese had however, wanted the Tibetan negotiator to occupy the same position as he had during the 1908 negotiations where the Tibetan commissioner was ‘authorised to act under the directions of the Chinese commissioner.
The conference kick-started with routine calling on and separate reception by Viceroy for both the Chinese and the Tibetan commissioners
Ivan Chen was a seasoned diplomat; he had been in Chinese embassy in London for 14 years. On 7th October 1913 he met A.H. McMahon where he was informed of a Reuters news item regarding the election of Yuan Shi Kai as president of Chinese Republic and of the fact that Great Britain was likely to recognize the Chinese republic on 10th October 1913.
The month of October and November was spent sharing of maps prepared by the British and the counter claims put forward by Tibet and China. On 10 November, 1913, McMahon forwarded a draft of a tripartite treaty for consideration of the Indian government and for communication to London and British minister in Peking.
In the agreement, the British added a clause that required the Chinese to pay amnesty and indemnity amounting to Rupees 4,24,840 due for losses incurred by Nepalese and Ladakis in Tibet in consequence of the acts done by Chinese officials and soldiers in that country. The Chinese delegate refused to discuss or consider any question of indemnity to Tibet.
In Mid- November, Ivan Chen considered it impracticable to discuss the frontier of Tibet until the maps had arrived in Peking. Chen also proposed the priority list for discussions: a) The political status of Tibet b) The reinstatement of the Amban 3) The frontier issue.
On 12 January 1914, the conference reconvened after Christmas holidays. On 17 January, 1914, McMahon announced his proposal of Inner and Outer Tibet in the conference. He proposed to recognize in his treaty an extended Tibetan territory covering the whole area included in Lonchen’s claim. And this entire area was then divided into two zones namely and inner and outer Tibet.
“Inner Tibet” comprised of Kokonor and the area between Batang and Tachienlu but including Chaimdo. The “Outer Tibet” comprised of the remaining portion of the country, which were both geographically and politically under more direct control from Lhasa.
McMahon’s political solution rested on recognition of autonomy of Outer Tibet. China was granted rights to exercise its historical control in Inner Tibet without infringing on the integrity of Tibet as a geographical and political entity.
McMahon’s logic was that autonomy rights to China in inner zone was actually a gain for both Tibet and Britain because:
a) The Chinese were precluded from declaring it as their province.
b) Preserved the territorial integrity and safety from outside exploitation,
c) The Treaty had safeguards, which apply to all of Tibet under 1904 agreement.
On 7 March 1914, both Tibetan and Chinese delegations communicated their criticism of the McMahon’s pronouncements on Inner and Outer Tibet.
Lonchen Shatra maintained that both Outer and Inner Tibet were under the direct control of Lhasa government that had all the rights to collect and levy taxes and also appoint the hereditary chiefs. He refused to recognize the consolidation of Chinese influence even within the Inner Zone. China while rejecting the zones was only willing to grant limited autonomy in a loosely defined area particularly limited to the Lhasa and its vicinity.
On 19 March 1914, Ivan Chen read out the telegram received from authorities China. Which read:
Having carefully considered what the British Plenipotentiary said at the meeting of the Conference on 11 March and being desirous of finding a solution for this Tibet question, we now instruct you to recommend strongly the following proposal to the consideration of the British Plenipotentiary. We propose that all the places east of the Nu Kiang , the Salween that have been made Chinese districts shall be administered by China absolutely while those places west of the river up to Gimada shall remain in the same way as they have been in the time of Manchu dynasty , and we are prepared to make declaration that we will not convert into Chinese districts. Jyade and Dam shall be treated in the same way.
In the 7th April meeting Ivan Chen presented documents that showed Salween as the boundary between Szechuan and Tibet without mentioning Giamda.
By 14 April private talks about Chinese withdrawal and the negotiations breaking off had gained momentum.
on 22nd April, 1914 the draft Convention and the map was to laid upon the table to be initialed in full conference. It was clarified that in the event of Chinese refusal to initial the draft, the entire proposal would be withdrawn.
After this Ivan Chen was locked up in intense ten-hour discussions at the foreign office. According to McMahon this prolonged interview was of little interest because Ivan Chen did not raise any substantial issue.
On the night of 21st April, Ivan communicated five additional demands received from his government. Presenting new demands clearly showed that the Chinese governments did not attach any importance to the threat of a rupture of the meeting.
Things were becoming difficult for McMahon to achieve his objectives. He enacted a drama at the meeting by withdrawing the convention from the table and showed to the Chinese and Tibetan colleagues that the rupture of the conference was on the cards. However, McMahon later agreed to continue with the meeting after a week on 27th April.
Ivan Chen was offered a few more minor concessions. After extensive deliberations with his team Ivan Chen, finally agreed to initial the Draft.
On 29th April, Ivan Chen informed the British that his government had disavowed his action in initialing the Convention and declined to recognize the settlement. The Lonchen considered Ivan Chen’s unwillingness to sign the conference as resembling the story of “water catching fire”.
Lonchen was informed by the British that the Chinese had agreed to all other articles of the Convention except Article 9, relating to the boundary.
On 17 June 1914, McMahon’s message of desirability of signing the proposed Tibet Convention at the earliest was sent to the British government.
Secretary of State for India’s telegram stated that “pending further instructions, Sir Henry McMahon should not sign the Tibet Convention unless the Chinese delegate also signs.”
On 21st June 1914, Secretary of State for India once again stated that the Foreign Office was strongly averse to a separate Convention with Tibet.
The divisions in the British ranks were discernable. On the one hand the government of India tried to convince London to sign the Treaty with Tibet alone on the other hand the British Minister in Peking suggested a restrained course of action.
Finally, the Viceroy of India wrote to Secretary of State for India on 22nd June, 1914,
“I am not aware of considerations which impel the foreign office to deprecate the signing of the Convention by Sir AH McMahon with the Tibetan Plenipotentiary independently of China if the Chinese government still hold out, but if these considerations are based entirely on Sir J. Jordan’s doubts as to the prospects of concessions and mining leases in China being compromised by such action, I would like to bring to Your Lordship’s notice that Tibetan situation is a purely Indian question which closely affects the defence of our frontiers and that His Majesty’s government should not allow British commercial concessions to weigh in the balance. We have good reason to believe that China will also join in signature if faced with fiat accompli in signature of the Convention with Tibet alone.”
3 July 1914, was announced as the last and final date of the conference. The Chinese refused to sign and the agreement was concluded on bilateral basis between Britain and Tibet.
On 6 July 1914, Ivan Chen wrote to McMahon regarding his government’s latest message that stated:
“The Government of China has no right to alienate any portion of her territory and this account for their inability to sign the Tripartite Convention and to recognize any Convention or other similar documents that have been signed between Great Britain and China (Tibet?).”
On 7th July 1914, Reuters reported, “Representatives of Great Britain, China and Tibet who have been sitting at Simla are now separating. Sir Henry McMahon proceeded to England. The Chinese and Tibetan delegates left for Peking and Lhasa respectively.
Finally all that the six-month long convention produced was a secret Anglo- Tibetan agreement, whose validity in terms of international law remains challenged. The convention according to the original edition of the standard work on British Indian treaties, Aitcheson’s Treaties, Volume XIV,
“The Simla Convention was abortive because of the Chinese refusal to sign it, and that, in consequence, it was of no great international significance.”
(This article is based on British Archives in India. The full paper is under publication)