India-Tibet border came into existence during the period of British rule over India. The British had a very clear concept of sovereignty and to guard their empire and the State of India, they created various alliances, agencies, protectorates and buffer States. NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) was one such agency of British India and acted as a buffer between Tibet and India.
Tibet is a nation of the people of Mongol descent. They were once highly aggressive and King Thrisong De?tsen had invaded China in 763 AD making the Chinese emperor flee his capital Changen (Xian). In 822 AD a 10,000 year lasting peace treaty clearly demarcating the border and stating that Tibet and China were two separate countries was signed by the Chinese emperor Wen Wu Shioa-te (Whang-ti) and the Tibetan King Thri?tsug De?tsen (Ralpa Chen).
Around 750 AD Indian tantric Buddhist saint Padmasambhav went to Tibet and by about 800 AD converted Tibet to Buddhism and that eventually made its population completely peaceful in nature. Padmasambhav was wise enough to make changes in the Indian Buddhism to suit the well developed Tibetan culture and thus came into existence the Tibetan Buddhism, which the Tibetans exported elsewhere e.g.: Mongolia, Phutan, Sikkim, NEFA etc.
Chingis Khan invaded Tibet in 1209 but the Tibetans made peace with him. Later around 1234-40 Godan Khan fully subjugated Tibet but in 1247 he converted to Tibetan Buddhism and thereafter gradually granted Tibet some kind of autonomy accepting the Grand Lama as the religious advisor/Guru. Kublai Khan, after him, went even further recognising Sakia Grand Lama ?Phagpa? as the Lama King of Tibet in 1253 and sovereignty returned to Tibet again. The relations between Mongolia and Tibet have remained harmonious ever since.
The institution of Dalai Lama was jointly created in Tibet by the Mongol rulers and the Tibetan High Priest rulers in the year 1578 when Sonam Gyatso was conferred the title ?Tale Lama? by the Mongol King Altan Khan. Dalai Lama? is the English corruption of the Mongol title ?Tale Lama?.
Interestingly, the Dalai Lama is probably the only ruler in history enjoying absolute power over his people to a long lineage of 14 successors, being the religious, judicial, legislative and executive head of Tibet. Going by the unparalleled popularity and loyalty of their subjects enjoyed by the Dalai Lamas even when out of political power, it is reasonable to assume that they must have given their subjects a fair rule and satisfying religious/spiritual practices leading to inner peace. Mankind knows no other example such as this.
China never ruled over Tibet in history. The Chinese laws were never applicable to Tibet. They never administered the Tibetan State, nor did they collect taxes from them. Chinese claim on Tibet is based on the Mongol and Manchu domination over Tibet.
The Manchus, who were considered aliens by China as they were of a different stock (Tartars by race with a different language too) conquered China in 1644. During their reign over China they also invaded and captured Tibet in 1720.
The Manchu empire collapsed in 1911 and the majority Han Chinese (about 90% of the population) returned to power in China under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. China became an independent republic in January 1912 with Yuan Shih-Kai as their first President. In November 1912 he got the deposed Manchu child Emperor Pu-Yi, issue an edict: ?There should be a union of Five races i.e.: Chinese, Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans and Muhammedans? (people of Sinkiang), purely to put a back dated claim to their territories as also to appropriate some imperialistic gains of the Mongol and Manchu Empires (such as Tibet).
Enter the British with their imperial Chessboard
The British had sent a military expedition to Lhasa under Colonel Younghusband in 1903-4 and after their military victory obtained permanent rights in a signed treaty for trade, communications facilities and stationing British representatives and military garrisons in Tibet. Thus British India enjoyed far more rights in Tibet than what China ever did.
The paranoid fear of the Russians attacking India through the Central Asian route prompted the British to sign a convention with the Manchus in 1906 (giving them artificial strength and stature) and with the Russians in 1907 behind the back of the Tibetans (in spite of their 1904 Anglo-Tibetan Treaty being alive and in existence), where the word ?Suzerainty? made its first appearance. The Manchus picked this word from there and the Chinese took it from them.
To reinforce their weakened rights over Tibet after the British expedition, Manchu army under General Chao-Erh-Feng invaded Tibet in 1910 and came into parts of NEFA in Walong and in Chumbi valley near Sikkim alarming the British. To demarcate the borders in the North East they convened a tri-partite conference with the Tibetans and the Chinese at Shimla in1913-14 under the chairmanship of Sir Henry McMahon, the then British-Indian Foreign Secretary. During the talks both the Tibetan and Chinese representatives tacitly accepted the McMahon-suggested watershed principle running along the highest crest of Assam Himalayas to define the border between Tibet and NEFA and the famous McMahon line came into existence. The Tibetans also agreed to give away Tawang to the British, provided they would get the Chinese to agree to satisfactorily fix their border in Szechuan province with Tibet. The British never complied with that and therefore when they occupied Tawang in 1938, Lhasa made such hue and cry.
After independence India automatically received all the signed rights over Tibet. In 1951 independent India occupied Tawang. At that time the Dalai Lama was still the sovereign ruler of Tibet. He never raised any objection to the Indian occupation and peacefully withdrew his dzongpens, indicating his assent. Even the Chinese, who had militarily occupied Tibet in 1950 itself but avoided ruling the country, made no protest and ignored Indian occupation of Tawang giving an impression that they had no objection to India'sclaim. ?China had won Tawang in the 1962 war with India but returned it back immediately after cease-fire?.
In conclusion, the Chinese claim over Tibet itself is not justifiable because it is based on the legacy of the Mongol (who respectfully gave Tibet back their freedom) and Manchu (who never ruled over Tibet) empires and hence their claim on NEFA is even more so. Besides, Tibet'sreligious influence/ties over some of the peoples of NEFA can'tbe a basis for the Chinese claim.
(The writer is Director, Centre for Strategic Studies, Nerul, Navi Mumbai and can be contacted at [email protected])