|General Zhang Jingwu near Lhasa (August 1951)|
A cable from General Zhang Jingwu, 'On Issues of Relations between China and India in Tibet' dating October 21, 1953, is one example.
A translation was recently released by Digital Archive of the Wilson Centre (International History Declassified). It belongs to the History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.
Zhang Jingwu was one of the signatories of the infamous Seventeen-Point Agreement between the People's Republic of China and a Tibetan delegation (the so-called local government of Tibet).
Later, General Zhang became the representative in Tibet of the Central Committee of the Community Party of China; in July 1951, Zhang went to Yatung (via Hong Kong) to persuade the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to return to Lhasa. During the following years, he acted as Beijing’s representative in Tibet and was designated as Secretary of the Tibet Work Committee.
A few words about the background of General Zhang’s cable to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing: Nehru wanted to re-negotiate the Simla Convention (of 1914) with China, taking into accounts the new situation: Tibet was an independent nation anymore after the PLA invaded the Roof of the World in October 1950
In September 1952, before his transfer to Cairo, K.M. Panikkar, who had been ‘ambassador in Two Chinas’, had several meetings with Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier. The latter told the gullible Indian ambassador that the downgrading of the Lhasa Mission was only the first step to pave the way for negotiations on ‘all outstanding problems’. The conversion of the Indian Mission into a Consulate General in Lhasa was a tragedy in itself; unfortunately Nehru had readily agreed to the Chinese ‘proposal’.
I quote here from my book: Born in Sin, the Panchsheel Agreement.
During the first months of 1953, Nehru may have felt that the situation was settling down in Tibet and slowly the Tibetans were accepting the invasion of their country by the Liberation Army as a fait accompli.
In September 1953, Nehru wrote to his Chinese counterpart that India was anxious to come to a final settlement about “pending matters so as to avoid any misunderstanding and friction at any time”. Quoting a letter sent one year earlier, he said that “No further steps have been taken since then to negotiate a settlement”.
It appears that different visitors and informants were briefing Nehru about the situation inside Tibet. It was reported that everything was quiet on the Roof of the World. In early December 1953, Nehru mentions that, he had received a letter from George Roerich, the Russian painter and scholar living in Kulu giving him more information. After admitting that “our Intelligence has looked upon them [the Roerich] with some slight suspicion although they have never had anything to get hold of,” Nehru told T.N. Kaul, the Joint Secretary in the China Desk in the Ministry of External Affairs: “His [Roerich] general report to me has been that things are very calm in Tibet and both the people and the Lama hierarchy have adjusted themselves to the new order. This is chiefly so because the Chinese have refrained from interfering in anything. The Tibetans are, therefore, not so apprehensive as they used to be.”
As we have seen in the case of food supply to the Chinese troops and the sacking of the Tibetan Prime Ministers, the report was not completely true. The Chinese had begun interfering actively in the life of the Tibetans. In fact, they started meddling in the internal affairs of Tibet almost immediately after the signature of the 17-Point Agreement.
Nehru considered that the time had come to renegotiate the old Simla Convention signed in 1914 between the British and the Tibetans. He therefore decided to take the initiative and propose negotiations to resolve ‘all outstanding issues’. The talks were to begin in December 1953 in Beijing and were scheduled to last a maximum of six weeks. Unfortunately, they would take four months to reach a conclusion. Kaul, one of the main negotiators in Beijing described the preparations for the Conference thus: “Many meetings and discussions were held and it was decided to sound the Chinese. Not unexpectedly they welcomed the idea. It was decided to send a small delegation to Peking to discuss the matter and reach an agreement, if possible. The spade work had already been done by Panikkar, [N.] Raghavan and me in Peking. The new Indian Ambassador to China, N. Raghavan, was appointed the leader and I the deputy-leader of the Indian delegation. Director, Historical Division, External Affairs Ministry, the late Dr. Gopalachari, was a member. His knowledge of history and facts of the Sino-Indian border was an asset. We were authorised to co-opt such other members of the Embassy as we found necessary. It was a small delegation, as delegations go, but convenient and closely knit.”
Most of the correspondence or instructions during the following months was routed through Kaul, one of Nehru’s Kashmiri blue-eyed boys.
In early December, the Secretary General put up a Note in which he defined the main points for discussions at what became known as the Beijing Conference. The points were:
- The question of India’s frontier with Tibet,
- Indo-Tibetan trade and trade agencies,
- Freedom of movement of Indian and Tibetan traders and pilgrims,
- Passports and visas,
- Telegraph, post office and hospitals
- Security guards and escorts and
- Special position of Bhutan.
Though Panikkar had been transferred more than a year earlier to Cairo, Nehru was still keen to consult him on China’s affairs. The former Ambassador had suggested a step further, he had written: “if China insisted on reopening the whole issues of the frontier, the Indian delegation could walk out of the conference and break off the negotiations.” Nehru was not as extreme as Panikkar, he did not recommend walking out of the Conference, his instructions were: “We should avoid walking out unless the Chinese insist on taking up this question. If such an eventuality occurs, the matter will no doubt be referred to us.”
To agree to discuss the border issue was for Panikkar an admission that there was a problem. But can wishful thinking take away an issue?
Nehru also believed that it was important to keep the trade marts alive as he envisioned an increase in the commercial exchanges with Tibet in the future. He wrote: “Tibet is our natural market and we should develop it normally.” He was in favour of keeping the trade agencies functional: “Gartok is important. Yatung especially, and, to some extent, Gyantse are likely to become more important as trade between India and Tibet increases. They are on the main route. Therefore, it is eminently reasonable that we should have some trade agents there or at least at Yatung.”
In October 1953, General Zhang sent his perceptions on these questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. At that time, China was getting ready to seat for new negotiations with India.
Some points have to be noted:
• In 1953, China still needs India, not only ‘for some international’ issues, but to supply the PLA in Tibet [see my post on the supply of Indian rice to the PLA]. It is only a year later that the Qinghai-Tibet and the Sichuan-Tibet roads will be opened rendering the PLA in Tibet non-dependent on the trade with India.
• General Zhang speaks of China’s “insufficient understanding of imperialist privileges in Tibet”, but during the following months and years, Beijing will learn very fast; at the same time, India will be fooled in abandoning all its ‘privileges’ accrued from the Simla Convention. This is a great tragedy.
• Zhang understood that the time was ripe to make China’s occupation ‘official’: “delaying the settlement of these issues is not good”. Beijing need to officialize its presence on the Roof of the World through a Treaty/Agreement. A few months later, the Panchsheel Agreement would be sign.
• Zhang then brings Tawang “which is Indian according to the 1914 Simla Accord”. He says that if Beijing agrees to “the absence of territorial disputes”, China would “implicitly acknowledge and legitimize India’s occupation.” It is a fact that earlier, China has never complained about the Indian administration of Tawang and Kameng Frontier Division. It is probably in 1953 only that Beijing realized the Indian move by Major Bob Khathing and his men.
• Zhang mentions that in July 1948 (in fact it was in July 1947] India notified the Tibetan government “that it would succeed the privileges of Britain in Tibet”. According to Zhang: “Tibet replied in October  that signing a new treaty was acceptable but India must first return the lands occupied by Britain, e.g. Tawang, Bhutan, and Sikkim.” This obnoxious ‘offer’ is unfortunately true. In fact, Lhasa added Ladakh to the list. The Tibetans were living in another world.
• Zhang states that “according to the discussions with Ngapoi [Ngapo Ngawang Jigme] and Liushar, such treaties were secretly signed and the Kashag, the Tibetan Cabinet did not know about the maps, when Tibet was forced to sign them”. This is obviously not correct because Lochen Shatra, the Tibetan Plenipotentiary in Simla, had informed Sir Henry McMahon that he had received his instructions from Lhasa to sign the maps. It is however possible that the Kashag in the 1940s was unaware of the details of the Simla Agreement, particularly the pilgrimage area south of the Line. I had dealt with this in detail in my book, 1962, the McMahon Line Saga.
• Zhang makes 3 propositions to settle the border: abolish the Simla Accord, India’s withdrawal from Tawang and Lower Luoyu [Loyul, i.e. Siang Frontier Division] and China and India must discuss the dividing lines between both countries. Zhang concludes “It is in our interest to delay the settlement of these issues.”
• Zhang admits that discussions have been held with Ngabo and Liushar, with both expressing their agreement. There is no doubt that, as the Chinese established their presence in Tibet, several Tibetan officials were on the Chinese side against India …and against Tibet. But this is another story.
• Zhang’s suggestions are that India should drop all its so-called privileges in Tibet and in counterpart China should gain new privileges in India. It is what Nehru agreed to during the following months. It is called ‘negotiations with Chinese characteristics’, 'you lose everything and China wins everything'.
|The Dalai Lama with General Zhang Jingwu in the 1950s|
Here is General Zhang Jingwu’s cable dated October 21, 1953.
To the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Your correspondence dated 7 October  and the two types of Indian documents have been received. Research shows that the assumption that “India intends to capitalize this opportunity to have some benefit in Tibet,” as mentioned in your correspondence, is very accurate. Based on the information that we have at hand about Tibet, we still need Indian cooperation in some international issues. However, India is capitalizing on our temporary difficulties in Tibet, particularly our insufficient understanding of imperialist privileges in Tibet and the ideal solution to border disputes, as well as our need for India’s cooperation in various areas, to gain benefits by offering a general solution to the Tibet issue.
As a matter of fact, there have always been disputes on some issues, e.g. commercial exchanges and representative offices, because we have always claimed our sovereignty over Tibet. Delaying the settlement of these issues is not good and therefore a solution to them is applauded. If such disputes continue to occur in the years to come, our relations with India may be aggravated with the instigations of some bad-willed nations. Therefore, it is correct to engage in negotiations with India as mentioned in your correspondence.
According to the Indian documents, they emphasize that “India and China have no territorial disputes” (Nehru, the Indian politician, also stated so during his speech in the Upper House of the Parliament). This is where the plot of India lies. Today, India occupies the Dawang [Tawang] Region according to the 1914 Simla Accord. However, it claimed the absence of territorial disputes just to force us into implicitly acknowledging and legitimizing their occupation. We must stay alert in this regard.
According to the information at hand and the results of negotiations with Ngapoi [Ngawang Jigme] and [Thupten Tharpa] Liushar, they reiterated that there were no public or secret treaties with foreign countries except for the Simla Accord. We assumed the Dalai [Lama] might have purchased arms from Britain and India but it is hard to make sure if they have signed any formal treaty. After its independence, India notified Tibet in July 1948 that it would succeed the privileges of Britain in Tibet. Tibet replied in October that signing a new treaty was acceptable but India must first return the lands occupied by Britain, e.g. Tawang, Bhutan, and Sikkim. In December, India replied and asked Tibet to promise to maintain the status quo then regarding India-Tibet relations before a new treaty was established (i.e. the old treaties should remain effective). Otherwise, trade between Tibet and India would be out of the question (the document has been delivered to me). This is the base of Tibet-India relations.
Other than some conventional practices, the so-called ‘status quo’ is based on the Simla Accord among Britain, India, and China, the Tibet-Britain commercial treaties, and the Tibet-Britain declaration and attached maps (these documents have been delivered to me. Please refer to the correspondences dated 16 September for details). The accord includes eleven articles. It recognizes the effectiveness of the treaties established on 1809 [probably meaning 1890], 1904, and 1906 and repeals the two commercial treaties signed in 1893 and 1908. According to the discussions with Ngapoi and Liushar, such treaties were secretly signed and Xiazha (the signatory [the Kashag, the Tibetan Cabinet] did not know about the maps) when Tibet was forced to sign them. It is also said that “such treaties shall be abolished if India recognizes that Tibet is part of China.” The so-called McMahon Line was established in the Simla Accord. However, Tibet later found that two holy mountains were located in the Indian territory land and raised its demurral. Britain then agreed to shift the line southward and have Sera [Sela?] as the border (some of the documents have been delivered to me). However, this line is already over Sera [Sela?] and reaches Tawang now.
According to the foregoing information, one of the main Tibet issues facing India involves these treaties and the bilateral borders, i.e. the Simla Accord and the so-called McMahon Line. We are of the opinion that:
- We must declare abolishment of the old accord, i.e. the Simla Accord, which was not recognized by the former Chinese Government;
- India must withdraw from Chinese Tawang and Lower Luoyu [Loyul] which it currently occupies;
- China and India may discuss the dividing lines between both countries. It is impossible to fundamentally settle the issues regarding the accord and the border. It is in our interest to delay the settlement of these issues. However, we have to make further declarations. Otherwise, we would be deemed to have implicitly acknowledged the status quo and hence be put in a rather disadvantaged position.
- Indian troops and officials should be withdrawn.
- Postal facilities shall be taken back. The local postal administration of the Tibetan Government has reached Pali [Phari Dzong]. With our assistance, the postal services will not be a problem even after the Indian postal facilities are withdrawn.
- Indian radio facilities shall also be withdrawn or transferred to us (at a reasonable price). Cabled facilities shall be transferred to us at a reasonable price. We have established our telecommunication facilities at Yadong [Yatung] , Gyantse, and Lhasa and international telecommunication services may also be established there. The telephones may be withdrawn by India or transferred to us.
- All posthouses [Dak Bungalows] relating to posts and telecommunications shall be withdrawn.
- The Xiasima [?] administration shall also be withdrawn.
- Commerce in Gartok [Western Tibet] cannot be stopped right now and shall be continued. The Indian commercial representative may acknowledge the conventional practice, i.e. conducting trade where designated during a certain period in the year. However, we must dispatch our commercial representative to Simla or Kalimpong in exchange.
- As a consulate general already exists in Lhasa, the Indian commercial representatives in Yadong and Gyantse shall be cancelled. If India still asks to maintain them, they may be converted into consulates although only Yadong may be allowed to accommodate them and we must have a consulate or formal commercial representative in Kalimpong in exchange. We believe having one representative facility in Kalimpong is to our benefit.
- Regarding the radio stations that the Consulate General of India has in Lhasa and the possible establishment of radio stations by India’s representative facilities at Yadong and Gartok in the future, we believe that our representative facilities in India must also set up radio stations in exchange. Otherwise, neither side shall set up radio facilities. We have a telecommunication bureau (Ngari Prefecture Government has dispatched personnel to the radio station) and we can send the telegraphs.
- Trade locations: trade shall be conducted at Gartok and Puguanzong [Purang Dzong] in Ngari Prefecture and in Yadong, Gyantse, or Lhasa. India proposes Kalimpong, Calcutta, Simla, Gandu [Gangtok?], or Siliguri as its trading places.
- Regarding frontier entry and exit for trading purposes, we are of the opinion that free entry and exit may be allowed on a mutually beneficial basis, without the need for any passport or visa. However, both countries shall issue a license to their respective merchants as evidence. When it becomes mature one or two years later, relevant rules on entry and exit visas may be established.
- Taxation issue: we recommend following conventional practices one to two years before the Customs is established, i.e. no import and export taxes shall be levied.
- Locations shall be designated for pilgrimage purpose: we designate Mt. Kailas and Lake Manasarovar in Ngari and India designates Lumbini (where Sakyamuni died) and Varanasi (where Sakyamuni recited sermons for the first time) for pilgrimage purposes. Both countries may further designate the routes of pilgrimage.
- It is recommended that both countries establish relevant articles or agreements to replace historical treaties and accords regarding the foregoing issues.
Please consider the abovementioned proposals and provide your feedback as soon as possible.
[General] Zhang Jingwu
21 October 1953