“In former times Tibetans were a war-like nation whose influence spread far and wide. With the advent of Budhisim our military prowess declined…” Dalai Lama
23 October 1950: A Telegram from Lhasa – An interesting original document recently came to light1: a coded telegram from the Tibetan Kashag in Lhasa to the Tibetan representative in Delhi. The cable was sent through the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) which forwarded it to the head of the Tibetan mission with a covering letter stating “with compliments”.
A first remark: this telegram, routed through the MEA, shows to what extent the communications to and from Tibet were in fact a monopoly of the Government of India.
The telegram was an answer to a cable sent by the Delegation to Lhasa. Thubten Gyalpo2 and his colleagues had asked for directions in the talks with Yuan, the Chinese Ambassador who, on September 16, had proposed a three-point plan to solve the Tibetan issue. During this first meeting with the Tibetan delegates, Yuan had threatened that China would invade Tibet if the following points were not immediately accepted:
The delegates were bluntly told that if the answer was not favourable, the Chinese troops massed on the eastern bank of the Yangtze would attack Tibet, while if the Tibetans accepted the proposal, Tibet would be “˜liberated peacefully.
- Tibet must accept that it is a part of China.
- Tibet’s defence must be handled by China
- All political and trade matters concerning foreign countries must be conducted through China.
The delegates were bluntly told that if the answer was not favourable, the Chinese troops massed on the eastern bank of the Yangtze would attack Tibet, while if the Tibetans accepted the proposal, Tibet would be ‘liberated’ peacefully.3
The Tibetans tried to gain time and referred the matter to the government in Lhasa who took more than one month to answer.
By the time the reply from Lhasa came (23 October), the Chinese had already crossed the Yangtze, Chamdo had fallen and Ngabo, the Governor had been taken prisoner. Here is the answer from Lhasa:
“On the eleventh day of the ninth moon, we sent a telegram, instructing you to proceed immediately to Beijing with our response to the three points. The response — as decided through a discussion between the ruler and ministers and referred to the National Assembly — was cabled to you so that you would have no problem in carrying out your mission. Now that you have received the telegram, you must be preparing to leave. However, His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested that we should consult the unfailing Gems4 through a dough-ball divination to decide whether or not to accept the first Communist demand for suzerainty over Tibet, this being an important issue relating to the well-being of our religious and political affairs, and needing a decision that would not harm our short and long-term interests. Seeing the important merit of this suggestion, a dough-ball divination was conducted in front of the statues of Mahakala and Palden Lhamo in the Mahakala shrine at Norbulingka. The divination predicted that out of the three demands of the Communist government, the first one for Chinese suzerainty over Tibet should not be accepted as this will harm our religious and political interests in the short- and long-term. Since the dough-ball divination is unfailing, you should proceed to Beijing without delay, as instructed in the earlier telegram.”
The instructions are very clear: the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet should not be accepted. The decision which took more than a month was taken in consultation with all the different parties involved in decision-making in Lhasa, including the young Dalai Lama, the Kashag, the National Assembly and the god-protectors. The telegram continues:
The following week, the delegates were told not to proceed to Beijing as the battle was shifted to the United Nations where an appeal was made.
“There, you should meet important leaders of the Communist Government and regularly report their statements to us. In order to make your work convenient, we will reply immediately to each point of your report. On the first point, concerning the demand for acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, you should not make the mistake of using any word that may suggest acceptance. The second and third points should be discussed without deviating from the instruction [given] in the earlier telegram.”
As this is the last document available regarding the policy to be followed for negotiations with the Chinese, we can assume that some of the modalities for the negotiations remained the same. It is very clearly stated here that the delegates should “regularly report their statements to us [Lhasa].” The procedure laid down here was not followed during the negotiations held in Beijing.5
The telegram went on to mention Mao’s letter quoted earlier claiming the ‘lost’ Tibetan territories west of the Yangtze river.6
“Your telegram of last night said that the National Assembly’s letter to Mao Tsetung would cause harm. But this letter was the product of a unanimous decision of the Tibetan National Assembly. Therefore, you should take this letter and hand it to the concerned person immediately on your arrival in Beijing. As a matter of fact, you are well aware that you were selected from the best ecclesiastical and lay officials. The dough-ball divination confirmed your selection, showing that your karma puts you in the position to undertake this mission. Now, as this is a matter of our national interest, you should not be faint-hearted and narrow-minded in your discussion with the Chinese. If you keep the instruction of your government, as spelled out in the earlier telegram, in your mind and develop courage and farsightedness, our polity will not suffer in the long run. Therefore, you should work with sincerity and diligence. You should not worry since we over here have been conducting a great deal of ritual prayers.
The instructions are very clear: the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet should not be accepted.
On the twelfth day of the ninth moon in the Iron Tiger year [23 October 1950]”
The last remarks refer to the reluctance of Shakabpa to go to Beijing due to the bad experience he had in 1948 during the Trade Mission’s visit to China and further because he did not agree with Lhasa intransigence. He felt, for example, that Tibet had no choice but to accept the first point.