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Chinese War Preparations in Tibet 1953
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Claude Arpi | Date:10 Sep , 2016 1 Comment
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

On April 29, 1954, a ‘momentous’ event took place in Beijing.

An Agreement between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India was signed. 

Prime Minister Nehru later said that it was the best thing he had done in his political career.  

Well, it was not so good for the Tibetans who lost their centuries-old independence. 

It was not good for India too: she ended giving up all its rights in Tibet (telegraph lines, post offices, dak bungalows, military escort in Gyantse and Yatung, etc.), while getting no assurance on the border demarcation from the Chinese government, on the contrary.  

But it was good for China, which consolidated (and legalized) its presence in Tibet. 

The Agreement has remained in history for its ‘lovely’ preamble.

It says: “Being desirous of promoting trade and cultural intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India and of facilitating pilgrimage and travel by the peoples of China and India. Have resolved to enter into the present Agreement based on the following principles:

  1. mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
  2. mutual non-aggression,
  3. mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,
  4. equality and mutual benefit, and
  5. peaceful co-existence.

A two-thousand years old nation disappeared from the world map in the name of these principles.  

Too bad said the diplomats in South Block, principles are more important.
It was the culmination of the Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai era. 

Several authors have written that China later ‘betrayed’ India (one of them is B.N. Mullik, the IB Chief, who wrote: The Chinese betrayal; my years with Nehru). 

But has China really betrayed India or was Delhi simply living in another planet? 

It is not that the corridors of power in Delhi were not aware that China was preparing to ‘defend’ its frontiers.  

Against whom, one could ask, if not India? 

The first PLA troops arrived in Lhasa September 1951. A couple of thousands of them. 

Less than 2 years later, despite the extremely difficult terrain, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reached every border posts of Tibet (north of Lohit, Siang and Kameng Frontier Divisions in NEFA; in the Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, in Taklakot in the Kailash Manasarovar area or in Tashigong, the gate to Ladakh). 

On February 12, 1953, a Top Secret report from the Indian Consulate in Lhasa (A.K. Sen was then the Consul General) was sent to the Ministry of External Affairs (Nehru was holding the portfolio). Probably due to the length of the message, it reached (deciphered) South Block on February 26 only. 

The report refers to a query from the External Affairs Ministry (No. 27641 27th December 1952) asking details about the PLA’s presence on the plateau. 

It shows that as early as February 1953, Delhi knew what was going in Tibet. 

Then, where is the question of betrayal? 

The issue of deployment of the PLA in Tibet was never taken by the negotiators, N. Raghavan, the India Ambassador in China and T.N. Kaul, the Chargé d’Affaires, who for months discussed the content of the infamous Panchsheel Agreement.  

Why? Because India was a peace-loving country!! 

Around the same time, the Ministry of Defence had ordered the Indian Army to cut 10,000 troops every year for a few years. 

This is the sad tragedy of newly-independent India. 

Today, the country still pays the price of the folly of the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai policy. 

It has to be noted that by the end of 1954, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway and Sichuan-Tibet Highway were opened to traffic (earlier India had to supply rice to the Chinese troops posted in Tibet!!). 

In 2014, celebrating 60 years of the ‘bloodlines of Tibet’, China Tibet Online affirmed: “The running of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway and Sichuan-Tibet Highway not only accelerates the social and economic developments in Tibet, but is of great significance to link the plateau with the rest of the world” 

The Qinghai-Tibet and Sichuan-Tibet highways (4,360 km) were both officially opened into traffic on December 25, 1954, “ending Tibet’s history of no modern highway”. 

This Report dates from nearly two years before the opening of the highways. 

Here us the Report. It is quite comprehensive:  

“All map references are to the map of Tibet, sheets Eastern and Western, prepared by the Survey of India.”

1. General
The total strength of Chinese troops in the whole of Tibet is estimated between 20,000 and 25,000 but including road workers the number would exceed. The Chinese admit it was their plan to have a force of 60,000 troops but the supply position forced them to abandon it for the time being although they said the present strength was NOT enough to guard the borders. There is NO doubt that with the completion of the Chamdo-Lhasa Road within the next two years more troops would be brought in. Chamdo is now connected with Kantse [Kangding?] by a motorable road.

Disposition of troops at present appears to be conditioned by

(1) road construction
(2) handling of supplies
(3) regulating movement of troops along important routes
(4) manning border outposts and
(5) garrison duty.

Concentration at the outposts cannot be considered to be heavy. They are well scattered in small detachments and are kept frequently on the move. This mobility would enable them to be concentrated at any place in an emergency with ease.

2. Questionnaire
The headquarters of the Army in the whole of Tibet is in Lhasa known as the Military Area Headquarters and is located in Maga Sarpa House.
Local Headquarters are believed to be at

  • Jyekundo (967330) 
  • Chamdo (972312) 
  • Giamda ( 931300) 
  • Nagchuka (920315) 
  • Kongbo (940298)
  • Pemako (953295) 
  • Zayul (973288) 
  • Tsona (921280) 
  • Gyantse 
  • Shigatse 
  • Gurgunsa (Gartok) 
  • and Chumbi Valley.

Outposts known to us are at

  • Shika ( 971284) 
  • Tsona Pome (950300) 
  • Tsari (934287) 
  • Galinkha and Champithang (Chumbi Valley) 
  • Phari (892277) 
  • Penam (892292) 
  • Lhariguo (934308) 
  • Sok (938319) 
  • Pemba Go (950308) 
  • Denchin (955315) 
  • Shobando (959308) 
  • Lho Dzong (963308) 
  • Riwoche (965314) 
  • Taklakot (812303) 
  • Rudok (797335) 
  • Gyanima (808308) 
  • Khoodynath (814302) 
  • Tashigong (796326) [At that time, China was not claiming Demchok as yet] 

Of these outposts Shika is a border post.  

Tsona a garrison post whereas Galinkha and Chumpithang [Chumbi] are for handling supplies and constructing roads as well.  

Duty of the rest would fall under categories 1, 2, 3, and 5 of paragraph 1 above.  

With the information available it is NOT possible to answer all sub paras of the questionnaire in respect of all the posts. Certain conclusions can be drawn from observation at Lhasa, Gyantse and Chumbi Valley.  

These are contained in the following general remarks:-

(ii) Sub para (b) (c) (f):
The basic weapons are rifles Sten TMG pistols revolvers and grenades. Their summer uniforms are of khaki cotton with soft peak cap. In winter cotton padded khaki coat and trousers. Those working in the fields or in colder regions are supplied with woolen trousers and fur lined coat. Officers wear woolen clothes in the winter. Turn-out is untidy as the clothes are seldom properly tailored or ironed.

(iii) Sub para (d) (e) (g) (h):
They are toughened up through a system of training peculiar to the Liberation Army. Apart from an hour of drill very early in the morning almost all are required to perform extensive agricultural work. Discipline is exemplary and is maintained very rigidly. Other exercises include range practice.
NO operational exercise has been reported as yet.

(iv) Sub para (i) (j) (l) (m):
In the initial stage all rations were locally purchased such as barley flour, yaks and sheep the villagers were forced to supply these on payment.

Except for certain quantity of rice which is now transported from South China through India they still depend on local supplies. Procurement points have been established in certain areas in South Tibet and the supplies as also other equipment are moved by pack transport.

Troops are quartered in requisitioned/purchased houses in towns and among villages elsewhere immediately on arrival.

Construction of barracks and camps follow as soon as materials are available.

The chain of command is through Lhasa.

Communication is through a fairly well established wireless link.

(v) Sub para (n) (o):
Some recruitment from the locals in Kham is reported. Three Regiments of the Tibetan Government Army are also under Command of the Chinese Army in Tibet although they are allowed to maintain their entity.

These and the local recruits are being trained in the use of normal arms. The relation between these locals and the Chinese troops is formal rather than cordial.

(vi) Sub para (r) (s) (t):
The troops are told constantly that they are in Tibet to liberate their brethren and must be prepared to endure usual hardships for cause till regular supplies by the overland route is available. The mental state of the Chinese soldiers has to be understood in this context. Undoubtedly the average soldier feels the pinch of inadequate food, long separation from their families. A few had been seen weeping on quiet. Amenities are provided in the form of games and theatrical shows. The latter however reach the bigger establishments only.

Descriptions are few. So far only about a dozen reported.

The strict discipline and death penalty discourage desertion. Cases of execution were reported for loss of arms even.

(vii) Specific information regarding sub paras (a) (k) (p) and (q) in respect of all the posts mentioned in para 2 above are given below. Omission. 

As regards 4 sub para (d) NO information available. Of the special weapons Bazooka has NOT been reported from anywhere while only one outpost according to an unconfirmed report has A.A. guns:-

  •  Shika. 1289500. 
  • Detachment of 50 at Drowa Gompa (971288)
  • 100 at Pogchu (near Sama 970283)
  • 400 at Menkong (983285)
  • 200 at Nguchu (near the Indian border) detachments of unknown strength are also reported to be at Markham (98597)
  • Dayul Gompa (993293)
  • Sango Chyo (973293)
  • Petu (983288)
  • Sama(983288)
  • Rima (971284)
  • Sangu (2 miles North of Sama 970283)
  • and Donge (1 mile East of Shika).

Local Headquarters is at Zayul.
(1) Special weapons – 3 inch mortars, M.M.G., L.M.G. and large quantity of ammunition.
Defensive trenches reported to be constructed at Shika.

(2) Details about Zayul and Pemako NOT available.

(3) Tsona
Troops- 3000 Detachment of 500 at Naysimbi (exact location NOT indicated in map but somewhere in 9228) 500 at Takpo (929289). Special weapons – L.M.G., 2 inch mortar. Mountain guns reported.

(4) Pome
Troops – 200. Local Headquarters at Kongbo. Special weapons – mountain guns.

(5) Tsari
Troops- 200. Local Headquarters at Kongbo.

(6) Kongbo
Troops – 200,

(7) Chumbi Valley

Headquarters at Galinkha 4 miles towards Phari from Yatung. 

Troops at Galinkha and Chotenkarpo, about a mile South is 1000. Detachment of 100 at Chumbi South of Yatung,

900 at Rinchengang (889275), Geiling and Pema (nearby),
400 at Champithang (Indo Tibetan border).

Special weapons – mountain guns, L.M.G., M.M.G., 3 and 2 inch mortars, A.A. guns (at Galinkha – report unconfirmed),

Telephone line between Galinkha and Richengang erected.

Barracks under construction at Galinkha, Chotenkarpo, Chumbi.

Rinchengang and Champithang.

17 store – houses built at Chotenkarpo and 20 wooden sheds with tarpauline covers at Champithang.

Rations also stored at Rinchengang, Chema South of Chumbi, Chumbi and Galinkha.

A party of about 121 were reported to be constructing she is similar to those in Champithang near Langmarpo (Tibet – Bhutan border, 8 miles from Yatung).

hey were armed with bren and rifles.

(8) Phari
Troops – 800.

Important supply procurement point and station for facilitating troop movement. Local Headquarters at Gyantse. Special weapons – L.M.G. 2 and 3 inch mortars.

Trenches dug around the houses requisitioned.

A wireless station ha s been established at PANGDATSANG’s house (Tibetan Trade Commission at Yatung).

(9) Gyantse
Troops including small supply of equipment

  • Detachments at Tuna (893280)
  • Dochen(993282)
  • Kala (895284)
  • Samada (896285)
  • Khangma (898286) – 15 to 20 hundred. Special weapons- L.M.G. and light mortars.
  • Wireless station at Phunkhang house with internal telephone. Barracks under construction. 

(10) Penam
Troops – 500.
Local Headquarters – Gyantse.

(11) Shigatse
Troops about 3 to 4 thousand.

Special weapons – L.M.G., 3 inch mortars. Wireless station established. Accommodation in PANCHEN LAMA’s summer residence.

(12) Lhasa

  • Troops including Dechen (914299)
  • Medu Gongkar about 30 miles N.E. of Dechen – 5 to 7 thousand. Special weapons – L.M.G., mountain guns, light mortars.
  • Wireless station link with China at Mentopa house.
  • 11 sets for internal communication, 2 working for 24 hours. Accommodation in about 10 houses purchased and in camps. Barracks under construction.
  • Installations: A hydro-electric power station is to be installed soon. A number of pill boxes accommodating 8 sentries each erected in Lhasa town.

(13) Giamda
Troops – 350.
Road workers 5 to 10 thousand. Barrack construction.

(14) Lhariguo
Troops – 30.
Local Headquarters – Giamda.

(15) Nagchuka
Troops- permanently stationed – 200. A Commissariat office to arrange transport and supplies for troops moving from towards Lhasa reported. Supplies received from Jyekundo.

(16) Sok
Troops – 400,
Local Headquarters – Nagchuka.

(17) Pembago
Troops – 50.
Local Headquarters – Chamdo.

(18) Denchin
Troops – 400.
Local Headquarters- Chamdo.

(19) Shobando
Troops – 30.
Local Headquarters – Chamdo.

(20) Lho Dzong
Troops – 100.
Local Headquarters – Chamdo.

(21) Chamdo
Troops – 500
Wireless station established.

(22) Riwoche
Troops – 100.
Local Headquarters – Chamdo.

(23) Jyekundo
Troops – about 5000 including 1700 locals.

(24) Western Tibet
Information as to Western Tibet relatively scanty unfortunately. In 1950 the Chinese advanced towards Rudok and Taklakot with about 500 troops. The present strength could NOT have been increased beyond 2 to 3 thousand due to difficulty in obtaining supplies. They are reported to be at Rudok, Gyanima, Gargunsa (Gartok Headquarters), Taklakot, Khojernath, and Tashigong.

The latter 3 act as check posts. Caravans of dzos, yaks, camels carrying supplies from Lhasa via Shigatse reported. Some supplies are also obtained from Sinkiang. Special weapons – (noticed at Khojernath) L.M.G.
Wireless link with Lhasa.

3. Communications.
(a) The overland route to China from Lhasa via Chamdo and Kantse is under construction.

Motorable road up to Chamdo from Kantse has been completed.

At the time of writing reports indicate that it was extended 2 stages beyond Chamdo towards Lhasa. The Giamda – Lhasa road is also nearing completion. Other roads under construction are: Medu Gongkar – Lhasa road, Nathula – Gyantse via Phari and Yatung. Contemplated projects are: Giamda – Chamdo, Chamdo-Shika, Gyantse – Shigatse, Shigatse- Gartok, Rudok – Yarkand ( a start is reported to have been made), Nagchuka – Lhasa, and Shigatse – Shekar Dzong (871286).

(b) In Shika: Menkong – Rima track was widened. Shika – Somchu track improved for 2 way mule traffic. In Chumbi Valley: Champithang – Yatung track is kept in constant repair for mule traffic carrying rice from India. A cart road between Phema and Chotenkarpo constructed.

(c) In Chumbi Valley: Bridge on the river Amugam (Brahamaputra) under construction. The bridge near Yatung Bazar to be strengthened to take load of bullock carts. In Shika:

  • Wodden bridge over Lohit river near Shika
  • At Sapchu between Sama and Sangu and
  • A number of wooden bridges between Rima and Sama capable of bearing load of pack mules constructed. Wooden bridges over 2 rivers near Nagchuka built.

4 and 5. Transport.
The normal transport are pack animals. The Chinese still depend on local transport supplied by the villagers without putting a great strain on the resources of the people.

Circumstances indicate the Chinese are forming pack transport units of their own. One such unit of 80 dzos (cross between yak and cow) was seen at Gyantse.

Camel caravans were reported between Lhasa and Chusul (40 miles South of Lhasa) and towards Shigatse.

Number of animals at the following posts are known to us:-

  • Lhasa: 5 to 7 hundred mules and ponies, 500 camels.
  • Chumbi Valley: 2 to 3 hundred mules believed to be loaned from the PANCHEN LAMA’S Estate for transport of rice.
  • Phari: about 50 mules.
  • Gyantse: 100 mules.
  • Penam: 150 mules.
  • Shigatse: at least 600 camels. The total strength of animals now with the Chinese is believed to be round about 5 to 6 thousand.
  • 3 jeeps were reported to have been brought into Lhasa of which two are seen.

6. Airfields and landing grounds.
An airfield is reported near Chamdo. Two planes are said to be arriving daily from China. Air dropping near Giamda and Pembago reported. NO information is available about landing grounds or air strips in any other area. The proposed site for constructing a landing ground for Lhasa Area is said to be near Medu Gongkar.

7. Nothing to report.

8. Propaganda.
(a) Through lectures, theatrical shows, posters, leaflets.

(b) (i) The main object of the propaganda directed towards the troops is to build up their morale stress on the strength of new China and her powerful ally the U.S.S.R. and as such is quite effective.

(ii) The local people are still mentally hostile towards the Chinese. The Chinese propaganda, at times puerile, does NOT sink into the religious Tibetan minds. There had been instances of destruction of the posters an d leaflets displayed by the Chinese. But the Chinese believe in harping on whatever they have to say with the strongest of conviction. Future results unpredictable.

Deciphered 27/2/53 


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One thought on “Chinese War Preparations in Tibet …in 1953

  1. Mr Claude Arpi the fault lines lie at the very birth of Independent India. The British just up stuck and left in a hurry leaving a mass of humanity which they ruled for 200 years in lurch. Nehru was a weak leader, unaccustomed to international diplomacy, strategically misplaced, a visionary with a faulted vision and a pacifist. It’s because of people like Nehru we never officially welcomed back the Army which had a major share in defeating the Germans, Italians and the Japanese in WW II. There was never a memorial to those who died in the great war – such seemed his abhorrence of the military. India was actually without leadership, without seasoned diplomats, without a civil service worth its name – it was pretty much without anything since the British left. There were loose ends everywhere – that’s why the mess which got steeped into our establishment that it continues till today. We still don’t understand the Chinese and I am at least 50% sure that they will initiate a military incident that will spiral into something like a 1962 déjà vu – and seek a final solution to the boundary issue. It will continue to play Pakistan against India so that its armed forces stay divided in attention, and the there is no parity achieved by India vis a vis the Chinese.

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