Area Studies
Return to Conference Index



October 5, Morning Session


Sino-Tibetan Relations prior to 1949,

Seventeen-Point Agreement,

Sovereignty, Chinese Policy in Tibet from the 1950s:

     Interests, Goals

Elliot Sperling, Moderator

+ + + + + + +


Our first speaker is going to be Phuntsok Tashi Taklha.  He has served 
in the Tibetan Exile Administration in a variety of capacities:  as a 
member of the Kashag, or Cabinet, and as a Minister of Security.  He 
studied in China in the 1940s, and with that background he was attached 
to the delegation that was sent to negotiate the Seventeen-Point Treaty 
in 1951 in Beijing.  He has subsequently been part of delegations that 
the Tibetan Exile Administration has sent to China to engage in 
negotiations with the Chinese Government in 1979, 1982, and 1984.  We 
look forward to his remarks this morning.

[Editors' Note:  paper submitted in English]


Today, this is our first meeting with China specialists and experts on 
China in the United States. and the conference organized by Jigme Ngapo, 
among others, for all the preparation for this conference as Chen Yizi 
said, it is a very good indication for future relations, and I am very 
happy about this.  And for all the efforts made by all the organizers, I 
would like to thank them all very much.

Today, I would like to talk about the past history of Tibet, so I would 
like to talk about the relations of the past between the Tibetan and 
Chinese states around the time of the Manchu Dynasty.  This is because 
during the time of the Manchu Dynasty, Tibet had the most intensive 




I.  Background

In 1911, the people of Tibet expelled the remaining Manchu military and 
civilian personnel.  Until 1951, for more than 40 years, Tibet was for 
all practical purposes an independent country.  For instance, during 
World War II, China, the United States of America and Britain had to 
approach the Tibetan Government for permission to construct a road 
through Tibet for sending war equipment to Yunnan in China.  The Tibetan 
Government which had maintained a policy of neutrality during the war, 
did not give the necessary permission to built the road.  This is one of 
the established facts of the independent status of Tibet at the time.

In 1930, there was a relations between the Government of Tibet and the 
Kuomintang Government of China.  The Tibetan Government opened its 
embassy at Nanking.  In 1933 when the 13th Dalai Lama passed away, the 
Kuomintang deputed its representative Huang Mu Sung to pay their respects 
to him.  Before he left Tibet for China, Huang Mu Sung discussed the 
Sino-Tibetan border dispute with the Tibetan officials in Lhasa and left 
two of his colleagues to follow on the matter and opened an office.  This 
office had the same status that was equal to Nepalese and British offices 
in Lhasa.

II.  Invasion

In early 1949, fearing that Communist China was likely to takeover the 
government in China, the Tibetan Government called back its 
representative in Nanking, and in July the same year, it asked all the 
officials of the Kuomintang Government to return to China.  Following the 
October 1, 1949 takeover of China, the communists forced the 10th 
reincarnation of Panchen Lama then residing in the Kokonor region of 
Tibet to sent a telegram to Mao Tse-tung to "liberate" Tibet.  At that 
time Panchen Lama was about ten years old.  It was during this time that 
China began regular broadcasts that Tibet and Taiwan must be "liberated."  
The Chinese propaganda announced that in accordance to the wishes of the 
Tibetan people and to get rid of the remaining American and British 
imperialists in Tibet, China would sent the People's Liberation Army to 
help the Tibetan people.  This was followed by the march of Chinese army 
into the north-eastern parts of Tibet.  Likewise, the Chinese army was 
also sent into western Tibet via East Turkestan (Xinjiang).  It was 
because of this dangerous and urgent situation that the Government of 
Tibet began to deploy more of its army in the eastern and other border 
regions of Tibet.  At the same time the Tibetan Government sought help 
from America, Britain and the neighboring state of India.  These 
countries did not respond positively to the Tibetan call.  

The Tibetan Government also sent a delegation to China via India.  In 
India they met officials of the Chinese embassy.  Although the visit of 
the Tibetan delegation to China was confirmed, the Chinese army in June 
1950 attacked Den Chung-gu Gon in the Chamdo area and confiscated all the 
wireless equipment of the Tibetan frontier observation posts.  Then the 
Chinese army attacked Riwochee, Markham, Khamthog Drokhag and other 
important places.  On October 19, 1950, Tibet's eastern town of Chamdo 
was attacked and lost to the Chinese army.  Ngapo Ngawang Jigme and some 
Tibetan civilian and military personnel were taken prisoners.  At that 
time, Ngapo was not only the governor and commander of the Tibetan army 
in Chamdo, but also a cabinet member of the Tibetan Government.  Under 
pressure from the Chinese, Ngapo later sent letters through emissaries 
asking the Tibetan Government to send a negotiating team to Peking.

III.  The Seventeen-Point Agreement

In view of the situation at that time, the Tibetan Government was left 
with no choice but to appoint Ngapo to lead a five-member negotiating 
team.  Being an interpreter to the Tibetan delegation at that time, I was 
a witness to the events surrounding the signing of the "Seventeen-Point 

The members of the Tibetan delegation left Tibet in two groups and 
reached Peking on April 22 and 26, 1951, respectively.  Beginning on 
April 29, and within a period of one month, the Tibetan delegation had 
only four sessions with their Chinese counterparts.  

At the first meeting, the Chinese side distributed a booklet containing 
a ten-point proposal which they had announced and widely circulated in 
eastern Tibet which the PLA had already occupied.  However, when the 
Tibetan delegates presented their proposal for negotiations, the Chinese 
side did not even bothered to look at it, let alone discuss it.  Instead 
in a very aggressive and coercive manner, the Chinese told the Tibetans 
that the discussions would only be based on their ten-point proposal.  

The points in the Tibetan proposal called for the continuation of the 
historical priest-patron (cho-yon) relationship between Tibet and China; 
recognition of the independent status of Tibet and handing over to the 
Tibetan Government territories in Tibet up to Dhartse-Dho, which had been 
seized by the Kuomintang Government of China.  Besides, it stated that 
the border regions of Tibet will be safeguarded by the Tibetan army.  The 
Tibetan proposal also stated that although China may open its embassy in 
Tibet, the number of officials at the embassy must not exceed 100.

As the Chinese side would not listen and had even rejected the Tibetan 
proposal, the Tibetan delegation had no choice but to engage in a 
discussion on the ten-point proposal put forward by the Chinese 
delegation.  They, nevertheless, asked for clarification on some of the 
points in the Chinese proposal.  But the Chinese side instead of making 
clarifications, responded to the Tibetan queries with harsh words and 

For instance, during one of the meetings, the head of the Chinese 
delegation, Li Wui Han, reacted by threatening the Tibetan delegation 
whether they wanted a peaceful or a violent "liberation" of Tibet.  He 
said, "If you want a peaceful `liberation,' then you must agree to our 
proposal.  But if you want a violent `liberation,' then all Peking had to 
do was to send a telegram to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) stationed 
in occupied areas of Tibet.  We have no problem." This led to the 
termination of the meeting between the Tibetan and Chinese delegations 
without any further discussion.  The Tibetan delegation was not even 
given the opportunity to consult their Government in Lhasa, the capital 
of Tibet.

A few days later, a Tibetan working for the Chinese Government mediated 
between the two sides, and thus the meeting was resumed.  Meanwhile the 
Tibetan delegates also realized that if they did not listen to the 
Chinese proposal, China would in any case use force against Tibet, 
thereby leading to the destruction of  Tibetan religion and culture.  It 
was to avoid such a disaster that the Tibetan delegation on May 23, 1951, 
yielded when the Chinese side threatened to use force to "liberate" Tibet 
if the Tibetans did not sign the "Seventeen-Point Agreement." 

Among other things, the Chinese side had insisted that the history of 
the Panchen Lama should be included in the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" 
for the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet.  The Tibetan side, however, 
disagreed by maintaining that it is an internal matter of the Tibetans.  
But the Chinese were adamant, and so the subject of Panchen Lama also was 
included.  It was thus under such a circumstance that the unequal 
"Seventeen-Point Agreement" was forced on the Tibetans by the Chinese.  

A significant point to note here is that since it was not a fair 
agreement on an equal footing between the two governments, Ngapo, the 
head of the Tibetan delegation, did not affix his official seal of the 
Kashag (Tibetan Cabinet) on the "agreement" paper, although he had 
brought it with him.  The Chinese side, therefore, forged duplicate 
Tibetan seals in Peking.  They made five identical seals for each of the 
Tibetan delegation members with their names on them.  These seals were 
then stamped on what became to be known as the "Seventeen-Point Agreement 
on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet." 

Before signing the document, the Tibetan delegation asked the Chinese 
what would happen if His Holiness the Dalai Lama left for abroad and 
later returned to Tibet. The Chinese said that in this case, they could 
sign two protocols.  It may be stressed here that the Chinese side wanted 
the Tibetan delegation to sign the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" as soon as 

The first protocol would be about the flight of His Holiness abroad and 
his return to Tibet with the same status and power.  The second protocol 
would be the stationing of about one army corps of the People's 
Liberation Army in Tibet, with a chief Chinese commander and one or two 
deputy commanders to be appointed by the Chinese from among the Tibetan 
Kalons (cabinet members).  Delegate Khemed Sonam Wangdu in his book on 
the "Seventeen-Point Agreement," wrote: "The Seventeen-Point Agreement 
noted that if the agreement was not approved by His Holiness the Dalai 
Lama, the Tibetan Government and the people, then they have to again 
negotiate on the contents of the agreement." (Source: rGyal-kham Nyel-wai 
Lo-rGue 'Bel-gTam - Narrative of Travels).

The Tibetan delegation at that time had demanded that the two protocols 
also be included in the main body of the "Seventeen-Point Agreement."  
The Chinese, however, maintained that since the "Seventeen-Point 
Agreement" was to be publicized to the outside world, it would not be 
fitting to include the two protocols and that doing so would create more 
problems.  The Chinese also said that to avoid any misconception, the 
side agreements must be kept secret.  The protocols, therefore, were not 
included in the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" and until recently, the 
outside world has little knowledge about them.

After signing the Agreement, a letter signed by Kalon Ngapo was handed 
over to Premier Chou En-lai.  In the letter, Kalon Ngapo requested that 
other Tibetan areas incorporated into other Chinese provinces be returned 
to Tibet and put them under the Lhasa Tibetan Administration.  A few days 
later, Premier Chou replied verbally to the Tibetan delegation that other 
Tibetan areas had already been "liberated" for sometime and they had a 
better understanding of the Revolution while Tibet was still yet to be 
"liberated," and that the level of social and economic development in 
these areas were higher than that of Tibet.  After few years, when 
situation changed, there would be no objection from the central 
government to return these areas to Tibet.

The Tibetan delegation, because of the urgency of the situation, could 
not inform the Tibetan Government about the circumstances leading to 
their signing of the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" and the two side 
agreements.  As such, the "agreements" were not accepted by the Tibetan 
Government and the people.  For instance, after the "signing" of the 
"Seventeen-Point Agreement," the Chinese delegation member, Chang 
Chin-wu, on July 16, 1951, left with Tibetan delegation members Khemed 
Sonam Wangdu and Lhawutara Thupten Tendhar, to the southern Tibetan town 
of Dromo where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was staying at that time.  
Chang had a request for His Holiness to send a telegram to the Chinese 
Government and Chairman Mao felicitating the signing of the 
"Seventeen-Point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of 
Tibet," and of His Holiness' desire to abide by it.  His Holiness 
however, told Chang that until Ngapo, the leader of the Tibetan 
delegation, reached Lhasa, he would not sent the telegram as requested.  

After His Holiness returned to Lhasa from Dromo, Ngapo reached the 
Tibetan capital via Kham in northern eastern Tibet.  Finally, on October 
24, 1951, three months after his return to Lhasa, His Holiness was left 
with no alternative, but to send the telegram, as proposed by the 
Chinese.  By that time the Chinese army was not only present in full 
force in Lhasa and other important Tibetan areas, but more troops were on 
their way to Tibet.  

IV.  Aftermath of the Seventeen-Point Agreement

The people of Tibet never accepted the "Seventeen-Point Agreement." And 
they were totally against the presence of the Chinese troops in Tibet.  
Through wall posters and letter campaigns, the Tibetan people demanded 
the withdrawal of all the Chinese civilian and military personnel from 
Tibet so that negotiations on an equal footing could be held between the 
two nations.  They also voiced their protest to the Chinese 
representative in Lhasa, Chang Chin-wu, and pasted copies of their letter 
in and around the city.  

The Chinese accused the two Tibetan Prime Ministers Venerable Lobsang 
Tashi and Lhukhangwa of having provoked the Tibetan people.  They asked 
His Holiness and the Tibetan Government to immediately expel the two 
Prime Ministers and said the two were agents of America and British 

The reason that the Chinese were extremely upset with the Tibetan Prime 
Ministers is that the two were against the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" 
right from the beginning.  They also said that if the Chinese army were 
allowed to remain in Tibet, the Tibetan people would have to face a lot 
of problems, including food shortages.  They compared the Chinese 
presence in Tibet to that of an irritation in the eyes or small stones in 
the shoes.  

Eventually, under pressure from the Chinese, the two most highly 
respected Tibetan figures were asked to resign from their post of the 
Prime Ministership.  This is just one example of the violation of the 
terms of the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" by the Chinese themselves.  
Henceforth, the Tibetan people began to further doubt the reliability of 
the Chinese, and they continued their protests with more vigor.  The 
agreement had stipulated that the leadership of Tibet would not be 
changed by the Chinese Government.  

Although the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" stated that China would help in 
the development of Tibet, the Chinese, far from helping Tibet and 
improving the living standards, inflicted tremendous atrocities on the 
Tibetan people.  From 1954 to 1965, in the guise of "democratic reforms," 
thousands of  monasteries were destroyed and the personal possessions of 
Tibetans were confiscated in the Kham and Amdo and areas lying east of 
Drichu.  Hundreds of ordinary Tibetans also were killed.  

It is because of the harsh and violent methods to enforce "democratic 
reforms," that the people in Kham and Amdo rose up to fight the Chinese.  
The fire that originated in the eastern parts of Tibet gradually spread 
to different parts of the country.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the 
Tibetan Government, however, consistently and constantly advised the 
Tibetan people not to take up arms against the Chinese invaders.  

The Tibetan protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet culminated 
in the March 10, 1959 national uprising in Lhasa.  Prior to this, His 
Holiness the Dalai Lama on several occasions wrote to General Tan 
Kuan-sen, the Second General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 
Tibet, not to use force against the Tibetan people.  But the Chinese 
reaction to the Tibetan protests progressed from bad to worse and the 
suppression of the Lhasa uprising resulted in the death of hundreds of 
Tibetan men, women and children.  

On March 17, 1959, following the Chinese army's decision to shell the 
Norbulingka Palace, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, prominent government 
officials, and thousands of people were forced to flee their country.  
Two days later, between 3 a.m.  and 6 a.m., the Chinese army fired bombs 
and countless bullets from machine guns at the Norbulingka Palace, the 
Potala Palace, Chakpori (Medical Center), and the city of Lhasa in 
general.  The same day at about 3 a.m. thousands of Tibetans trying to 
escape the Chinese firing line were killed while trying to cross the 
Tsangpo River, south of the Norbulingka.  Because of continued artillery 
firing, visibility was also reduced and the people stepped over one 
another.  The dead bodies of human and horses alike remained on the same 
spot for several days.  Such an _en masse_ human massacre in Lhasa had 
never occurred in the past history of Tibet.

The same day after the shelling on March 19, 1959, the Chinese military 
leaders entered the Norbulingka (summer palace of His Holiness).  All 
those who had managed to survive were arrested.  The same night and the 
following morning, the Chinese even checked the dead bodies of every monk 
and clean head shaven men in order to "identify" His Holiness the Dalai 

From then on, the Chinese authorities began confiscating everything in 
Tibet and brought the country under their firm control.  

V.  Sino-Tibetan Relations after 1959

After his arrival in India in 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent 
several memorandums to the United Nations.  The UN passed three 
resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961 and 1965.  The resolutions called for 
an end to Chinese human rights violations in Tibet and respect for the 
Tibetan people's right to self-determination.  China, however, did not 
implement the UN resolutions on Tibet.

Instead, in 1960, the Chinese deprived the Tibetan Government, the 
aristocracy, and the monasteries of all their rights and privileges.  The 
Chinese introduced the commune system and declared the serfs owners of 
the country and said they could now enjoy all the happiness they lacked 
earlier.  Since then, for the first time in its history, Tibet suffered 
the worst forms of famine and hunger.  Moreover, the people also had to 
experience untold ill-treatment at the hands of the Chinese.  
Particularly, beginning in 1965 and for about 10 years, the Chinese 
authorities confiscated all the wealth and all the belongings of the 
Tibetan people.  They also announced that their suffering was because of 
His Holiness and that he was the leader of the "reactionaries." 

In exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1971 has made repeated 
appeals for friendly relations between Tibet and China.  The Chinese 
response, however, has not been positive.  

In 1979, Deng Xiaoping invited Mr. Gyalop Thondup, the elder brother of 
His Holiness, to visit Peking.  Deng told Mr. Thondup that, aside from 
the issue of Tibet's independence, the Sino-Tibetan problem could be 
discussed and resolved.  In May 1980, the General Secretary of the 
Chinese Communist Party, Mr. Hu Yaobang visited Tibet.  After seeing the 
reality in Tibet, he made apologies to the damage done to Tibetan culture 
and religion, and the lack of improvement of the Tibetan standard of 
living for the past 20 years.  He blamed the leftist hard-liner officials 
in Tibet for the suffering brought to the Tibetan people.  He also said 
the Chinese had acted like colonialists in running the affairs of Tibet.  
Hu Yaobang's bold admission was appreciated by the Tibetan people in and 
outside Tibet.  Had he still been alive and vested with the same power, 
Hu Yaobang definitely would have helped in resolving the issue of Tibet 
on the basis of international norms.  Likewise, he also may have avoided 
the 1989 massacre at the Tiananmen Square.  We, however, still hope that 
China will follow the pragmatic road to democracy that is being pursued 
all over the world.


Since 1979, four Tibetan fact-finding delegations have visited Tibet and 
two high-level exploratory delegations went to Peking for a Sino-Tibetan 
dialogue.  But nothing concrete has happened to resolve the basic issue 
of the Tibetan people.

From the Tibetan side, to resolve the issue of Tibet, His Holiness the 
Dalai Lama initiated several proposals on equal terms with China.  In 
1987, he proposed a Five-Point Proposal in Washington, DC  In 1988, he 
made the Strasbourg Proposal.  [Editors' Note:  For the full text of the 
Strasbourg Proposal, see Appendix 5.]  And in 1991 he declared the Yale 
Initiative.  Even during those occasions, the Chinese leaders refused to 
respond positively.  Instead, they reiterated their same old stand 
regarding His Holiness and the issue of Tibet.  Consequently, a solution 
to the issue of Tibet is still not in sight.  His Holiness, nevertheless, 
continues in his effort to peacefully resolve the issue on the basis of 
mutual trust and dialogue between the Tibetan and Chinese sides.

VI.  Future Prospects of Sino-Tibetan Relations 

Positive and dramatic changes are taking place around the world.  
Therefore, change in China vis-a-vis Tibet is inevitable.  About the 
future of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made it amply clear in 
his wide-ranging speeches to Tibetans and around the world.  He has 
proposed making Tibet a Zone of Peace between India and China.  This is 
not only in keeping with the historical experiences, but also the only 
practical arrangement for ensuring a lasting peace and prosperity for 
China as well as India.  For instance, until 1951, because of the 
existence of an independent Tibet as a buffer, there was no dispute 
between the two Asian giants, India and China.  However, after the 
Chinese invasion of Tibet, China and India fought a border war in 1962.  
Since then the relations between the two countries have not been cordial.  
So a solution to the issue of Tibet is the key to a solid ground for 
peace between India and China.  

In his guidelines for future Tibet's polity, His Holiness the Dalai Lama 
has also said that Tibet will not be influenced or swayed by the policies 
and ideologies of other countries but remain a neutral state in the true 
sense of the term.


The present time has proved that bigger and powerful countries can no 
longer continue to dominate smaller and less powerful countries.  The age 
of colonialism is coming to an end with the rising number of independent 
states.  For instance, even the erstwhile Soviet Union has broken up into 
several republics and taken the right step of respecting the aspirations 
of its people.

The time also has come for China to honor the Charter of the United 
Nations which stipulates respect for human rights and the people's right 
to self-determination.  As historically and culturally Tibet was once an 
independent country, the Tibetan people deserve and have every right to 
stake claim to their right to self-determination.  Respect for the 
Tibetan right to self-determination will lead the way to a sound 
Sino-Tibetan relations in the future.  

As His Holiness has often mentioned, the Tibetan people are not fighting 
against any ideology or the Chinese people.  What we are against is the 
domination of one people by another people in our own land.  While in 
London, I have met many Chinese students and scholars.  Their common 
concern seems to be how will the Chinese inside Tibet be treated if the 
country became independent.  My answer to them is that the Chinese will 
not face any problem as long as they respect the laws of the land and the 
Tibetan culture.  Also if the Chinese people are good to the Tibetan 
people, the Tibetans in return will reciprocate once Tibet regains its 

For the past few years, and especially after the Tiananmen Square 
massacre, the Chinese people, particularly students and scholars are 
taking interest in, and supporting the issue of Tibet.  This is very 
encouraging.  In tune with our Buddhist teachings, such gestures of 
goodwill will be repaid when the time comes in the future.  

Finally, to resolve the issue of Tibet, the most logical and universally 
acceptable step for the Chinese leaders would be to let the Tibetan 
people decide their own destiny and turn Tibet into a Zone of Peace.  
Peace in Tibet will not only benefit China in the long-run, but also 
improve its international standing, and ensure friendly relations between 
the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.


gv. A