THE POTOMAC CONFERENCE, October 5-6, 1992
SINO-TIBETAN RELATIONS: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
October 5, Morning Session
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES I. History Pre-1959
Sino-Tibetan Relations prior to 1949,
Sovereignty, Chinese Policy in Tibet from the 1950s:
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]
PHUNTSOK TASHI TAKLHA
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
HISTORICAL SINO-TIBETAN RELATIONS, 1949-1951 AND
THE SEVENTEEN-POINT AGREEMENT
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 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
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
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.