The map will mean little even to most who actively proselytise the cause of Tibetan independence, so let me explain its implications. The area which is generally known to the world as Tibet is the bit in yellow, the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The other provinces on the map never had Tibetan majorities and were never under Tibetan rule apart from a brief period when Tibet became an imperial power, and controlled, also, a large swathe of areas now within the Indian republic. It is absurd for the Tibetan government-in-exile to claim that all of these regions, which constitute together a fourth of the total area of the People's Republic of China, belong in an independent Tibetan state. Is it any wonder that the Chinese government looks upon the Dalai Lama not as a holy man desirous of gaining autonomy for his province but as a dangerous secessionist?
Tibet as an independent nation"As recently as 1914, a peace convention was signed by Britain, China and Tibet that again formally recognised Tibet as a fully independent country." The sentence I have quoted is from the introduction to Tibet's history on the government-in-exile's website. It is an outright lie, and the fact that the Dalai Lama has done nothing to alter it in all these years makes me think less of him. Media reports favourable to the separatist cause invariably quote the 1914 treaty as ground for considering Tibet a once-independent state.
Before 1914, all agreements regarding Tibet's boundaries were signed between Britain and the Qing emperor, proving that Britain did not consider Tibet an independent nation. In 1914, when the Qing empire had crumbled, a conclave was held in Simla between representatives of British India, Tibet and the weak new Chinese government. The final draft agreement provided for Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, and marked boundaries between China, Outer Tibet (more or less what is today the Tibetan Autonomous Region) and British India.
The first lie Tibetan activists tell, then, is that the treaty defined Tibet as a "fully independent country". The 1914 document cannot possibly be interpreted to mean any such thing, containing as it does the sentence, "Tibet forms part of Chinese territory". The Chinese envoy, moreover, rejected the draft. The second lie in the government-in-exile's statement is that all three parties signed on to the deal.
In 1914, Britain had an extant agreement with Russia, which included a commitment that all agreements about Tibet would be signed with China. Since the Chinese did not sign the Simla agreement, London believed it contravened the Anglo-Russian pact. As a result, Britain itself did not publish the accord as an official document till the Anglo-Russian treaty ended in 1938. The basis of Tibet's claim to independence, then, rests on an agreement that did not offer Tibet sovereignty, was not signed by China, and rejected for decades by the very power that drafted it, Britain.
Arunachal PradeshThe recent diplomatic spat between China and India was sparked by the Dalai Lama's trip to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, an area China has never accepted as a settled part of India. Tawang has an interesting history. The boundaries drawn by the British in the late 19th century placed all of Arunachal in Tibet. Later on, British India moved north, but Tawang stayed a part of Tibet. Only in the 1914 agreement was the boundary of British India shifted further to swallow up Tawang. China, remember, never signed on to the agreement. The dispute over boundaries was central to its refusal to sign. The man who drafted the accord was Lieutenant-Colonel Henry McMahon, and the boundary he drew is called the McMahon line. It was a classic colonial land grab. Unfortunately, after 1950, the independent republic of India, which repudiated similar land grabs where they were found inconvenient, took the position that McMahon's border was the settled international boundary between India and China.
China was willing to talk the issue through, but after India gave the Dalai Lama asylum in 1959, relations between the nations soured, eventually leading the Chinese to undertake a land grab of their own. During the 1962 war, Chinese forces overran Arunachal, and India's military fled pretty much all the way to Calcutta. Afterwards, however, China voluntarily withdrew from almost all the areas it occupied, including Tawang.
In an impassioned editorial page article in the Times of India last week, the activist Tenzin Tsundue wrote, "For India to keep Arunachal, based on the McMahon Line, the only choice is to recognise Tibet's independence. It cannot legitimise the McMahon Line border otherwise." His argument is that, while McMahon's boundary is unjust (Tawang ought really to be in Tibet), the 1914 accord, signed by the 13th Dalai Lama's envoy, commits any future Tibetan government to respect that border, something China will never do.
I believe the opposite is true. The current Chinese regime is open to a final settlement of the international border with minor adjustments. Their forces have had control of Tawang in the past and withdrawn. India is helped by the fact that the citizens of Arunachal Pradesh have no great love for China. The situation would change radically if Tibet became a sovereign republic. Historically, geographically, culturally, linguistically, Tawang is closer to Lhasa than to Delhi. Instantly, secessionist movements would arise in Arunachal and Sikkim demanding to be part of the newly created Tibetan nation. At that point, a number of Tibetan officials would doubtless discover that the 1914 accord was, in fact, imposed by a brutal colonial regime, and must therefore be rejected.