India v. China II: Tibet

For this entry, I decided to look into the question of Tibet, and came across references to a meeting very few have heard of.  It was probably the last meeting at an international forum that Tibet represented itself as an independent country.

The meeting I refer to is called the Asian Relations Conference of 1947. references to it seem to be strewn all over the net, with speeches of Nehru, Gandhi, and the Tibetan representative being quoted.  Surprisingly, these documents do not mention what representatives from other countries said!!  One prominent expert on the subject states that most countries, including China, had differences of opinion with India, and made them clear at the Conference.

Interestingly, one other write-up on the event also mentions something relevant to the current border dispute regarding Arunachal Pradesh.  It appears that when Tibet was invited to the Conference as an independent nation, it thought the Conference was primarily about border delimitation.  “They collected seven boxes of original documents relating to the Indo-Tibetan borders, including the original Simla Convention documents. They thought that they could eventually claim back some parts of the NEFA (today Arunachal Pradesh) and perhaps also Darjeeling, Kalimpong.”  This statement gives some historical context to the current border dispute between China and India in that region.

Immediately prior to the conference, the Chinese objected to the Tibetan delegation appearing independently.  They objected saying that they would represent Tibet and that it was not necessary to have a separate delegation of Tibetans.  However, the Indian government, after consulting on this matter at the highest levels, decided to allow the Tibetans to represent themselves independently.  Nehru himself replied to Menon a few days before the beginning of the Conference:

“Unable to understand Chinese attitude to Asian Conference when Conference Organisers have fully explained the position which is in no way injurious to Chinese interests. Non-official cultural conference cannot be expected to consider political niceties. We are unable to say whom Tibetans represent till they come.

This statement, and the government’s step of consulting internally without bothering to clarify the particular anxieties of China and Tibet reflects a serious lack of knowledge about diplomatic niceties.  Another criticism levelled against Nehru and his conduct of foreign policy was that because he was head and shoulders above most others in the country in matters of foreign policy, he never invested enough in creating a cohesive institution to deal with foreign affairs.  For a long time, he handled both foreign affairs along with his job as Prime Minister.  His, and the government’s lack of application to a tangible border problem (as well as Tibet) must have only served to heighten tensions between China and India.

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