March 2, 2009 / 5:16 AM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX - Historical ties between China and Tibet

BEIJING (Reuters) - At the heart of the conflict over Tibet’s status within China is the historical relationship.

A Tibetan spins a prayer wheel during the third day of the Tibetan New Year at a community centre in Kathmandu February 27, 2009. REUTERS/Gopal Chitrakar

The Chinese government and Tibet’s government-in-exile offer competing versions of whether the remote, mountainous territory was historically ruled as part of China, or whether it has legitimate claims to independence or autonomy.

Following are some details about the history of relations.


- Most historians agree Tibet’s assimilation into China was established during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). In China’s view, the relationship continued throughout the next two dynasties, the Ming and the Qing.

But the nature of the relationship varied over the centuries depending on the relative strength or weakness of China’s imperial government. The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) emperors were especially weak towards the end of their reign, when British and other foreign forces began making inroads.


- The 13th Dalai Lama expelled Chinese troops stationed in Lhasa in the chaos following the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. He declared independence in 1912, and Tibet largely ruled itself until 1950, when China struggled with foreign invasion and civil wars.

But China’s Republican government maintained its claim to Tibet.

- In support of Tibet’s claim to independence during this period, scholars note it had its own foreign affairs bureau, remained neutral during World War Two and issued passports.

- But neither China nor any major Western power recognised it as independent and China’s government refused to accept the border between British India and Tibet drawn up at the 1913-14 Simla Conference.

- The current Dalai Lama — the 14th — was discovered in 1937 as a two-year-old in a village in Amdo, now a part of China’s western province of Qinghai.


- China says it sent People’s Liberation Army troops to Tibet in 1950 to liberate Tibetan “serfs” and after local leaders refused to negotiate the region’s “peaceful liberation”.

- Under the 17-point Agreement of 1951, China pledged to keep Tibet’s traditional government and religion in place. But Communist land reform and collectivisation left the region in turmoil, and in 1959 the Dalai Lama led an uprising against Chinese rule, despite his initial support for the 1951 accord.

- In 1979, the Dalai Lama, who had by then established a government-in-exile in India, abandoned claims of independence in favour of a “Middle Way” approach that advocates political autonomy for Tibet under Beijing’s rule. Beijing dismisses the “Middle Way” as a sham and says the Dalai Lama has not truly abandoned independence.

- Chinese government officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama have held secretive talks on the Tibet question intermittently since 1979. The last round of talks in November finished with both sides blaming each other for a lack of progress.

- In March 2008, frustrations over Chinese rule saw monk-led protests in Lhasa give way to violent anti-Chinese riots that killed 19 people and triggered unrest in other ethnically Tibetan areas of neighbouring provinces.

- The Dalai Lama ruled out retiring at a six-day conclave in Dharamsala in northern India in November where exiled Tibetans reaffirmed his “Middle Way” approach.

Sources: “The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics” by Elliot Sperling; “Tibet — Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation, by China’s State Council; “Modern China: A Companion to a Rising Power” by Graham Hutchings.

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