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Tibet China relations

22nd June, 2024 International Relations

Tibet China relations

Source: ThePrint

Disclaimer: Copyright infringement not intended.

Context: controversy over Tibet-China Dispute Act passed by US Congress.


  • In June 2024, the US Congress passed the Resolve Tibet Act, calling for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over the status of the Himalayan state, which Beijing refers to as Xizang. US President Joe Biden has to sign the bill to make it an Act.

History of the dispute over Tibet

How China invaded Tibet and annexed it

  • Chinese troops advanced into Tibet on October 7, 1950, most Tibetans were unaware of the invasion.

China’s motivations for capturing Tibet

  • Even before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949,the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had made it a top priority to annex Tibet.
  • There were both ideological and pragmatic motivations behind this.
  • The communists wanted to shore up China’s southwestern border and access Tibet’s plentiful natural resources.
  • Ideologically, for the CCP, Tibet was a feudal-theocracy whose people needed “liberation”. Also, Tibet’s annexation was seen as the culmination of a historical project — Tibet had alwaysbeen a part of China, and for the newly assertive Chinese state, Tibet’s incorporation was simply fulfilling the call of destiny.
  • But Tibet’s history was different. Prior to 1950, Tibet had historically existed independently of Chinese control, with its own unique culture, language, and religion.
  • Even after 1720, when the Qing dynasty established its suzerainty over Tibet, Tibetans remained largely free of any direct Chinese interference in their affaires. And after the end of Qing rule in 1911, Tibet became a de-factoindependent state.

How the communists’ invasion progressed

  • Tense negotiations were underway between Lhasa and Beijing for much of 1949-50.
  • China had a three-point proposal:
  • That Tibet be regarded as part of China.
  • That China be responsible for Tibet’s defence.
  • That China be responsible for Tibet’s trade and foreign relations.
  • Simultaneously, the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) steadily built up forces at Tibet’s eastern border.
  • The idea was to force Tibet’s hand in negotiations.
  • Tibet had a small, ill-equipped army, which was no match to the might of the PLA. Its borders were porous, and the population relatively small and spread out. In case of an invasion, Tibet did not stand a chance without foreign support — and none seemed to be coming its way.
  • The PLA crossed the Jinsha (Yangtze) river and entered the province of Kham in October 7, 1950.
  • By October 19, it had captured the town of Chamdo, and neutralised the Tibetan garrison there. Over 3,000 Tibetans were made prisoner, and at least 180 died in the fighting (although some sources put casualties at over 3,000).
  • China stopped hostilities soon after — the point had been made. It sent the defeated governor of Chamdo, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, to Lhasa to reiterate its proposal to the Dalai Lama, who was then only 15 years old.

Tibet was forced into subjugation by the Chinese

  • In May 1951, under a great deal of duress, Tibetan plenipotentiaries signed what is commonly referred to as the The Seventeen Point Agreement. The agreement effectively subordinated Tibet to China, allowed the PLA to take position within the country, handed over all international affairs to Beijing’s control, and allowed China to “reform” the economy.
  • However, it also assured non-interference in domestic administration, Tibetan culture, and religion. “The Tibetan people have the rights to exercise national regional autonomy under the unified leadership of the Central People’s Government,” point 3 of the agreement stated.
  • But the Chinese began violating it. With the PLA a threatening presence across Tibet, Chinese interference in Tibet grew take away at the Tibetan administration’s autonomy and soon, large-scale communist “reforms” were introduced in Kham and Amdo.

National uprising and the Dalai Lama’s exile

  • By 1954, resistance in Tibet was growing, as the Chinese began destroying monasteries and imposing collectivisation. There was interference in all aspects of Tibetan life, from schooling to cultural beliefs. There also emerged a steady stream of refugees into Lhasa and central Tibet, especially from the eastern regions where the effects of the reforms were felt the hardest.
  • Growing frustration among the Tibetan population came to a head in March 1959 when a revolt erupted, first in Lhasa. Amidst fears that the CCP might arrest the Dalai Lama, protesters thronged Lhasa’s streets and clashed with the PLA.
  • On March 23, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, never to return, as the city was taken by the Chinese. Even as he was being taken to India (Tawang, in present-day Arunachal), the young Dalai Lama repudiated the Seventeen Point Agreement and proclaimed himself as Tibet’s sole legitimate representative.
  • Since 1959, China’s hold over Tibet has been absolute. It has crushed dissent, installed its own people in religious positions, and facilitated an influx of Han Chinese immigrants into Tibet, changing both its demographic and cultural makeup.
  • The people of Tibet have been fighting for full autonomy since 1959. Since then, the current Dalai Lama has been running a government-in-exile, which China does not recognise

What parts of Tibet are under dispute? 

  • The Dalai Lama has sought autonomy, not political independence, for the current Tibet Autonomous Region and four other provinces: Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan.

What does the US want with the Resolve Tibet Act? 

  • The Resolve Tibet Act is a bipartisan bill to enhance US support for Tibet and promote dialogue between the People's Republic of China and the Dalai Lama without preconditions.
  • The US will send more funds to non-governmental organisations in Tibet to promote "sustainable economic development, cultural preservation, and education".
  • The US State Department officials will actively and directly counter disinformation about Tibet from the Chinese government.

How has China reacted to the Resolve Tibet Act?

  • In April 2024, China said it would talk only with the representatives of the Dalai Lama and not the officials of the Tibetan government in exile based in India.
  • Anyone or any force who attempts to destabilise Xizang to contain or suppress China will not succeed.
  • "The US should not sign the bill. China will take resolute measures to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests.

Why is the Tibet dispute significant for the US? 

  • The US has long used the dispute over Tibet as a tool to regulate its relationship with China. Just like it has in the case of a similar dispute over Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, and a significant section of the locals demand independence.

What is India's position on Tibet?

  • Since the 1954 Sino-Indian Agreement, also known as the Panchsheel Agreement, India has recognised the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. 
  • The agreement lapsed in 1962, but India's stance hasn't changed on paper. However, India continues to support the Tibetans living in exile, including the Dalai Lama.

China’s stance in Indian Territory

  • While China supports Pakistan on a variety, China has never officially challenged India's sovereign claim over Kashmir. 
  • However, China has repeatedly claimed the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as its own.
  • In April 2024, China recently decided to rename 30 locations in Arunachal Pradesh. In response, India decided to rename 30 places in Tibet

Delegation of U.S. lawmakers met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader

  • A delegation of U.S. lawmakers met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in India’s northern town of Dharamsala.
  • The meeting annoyed China, which urged the United States to “fully recognise the anti-China and separatist nature of the Dalai clique” and refrain from “any form of contact with it”.

Why is the delegation in India?

  • The United States has long supported the rights of the Tibetan people to practice their religion and culture, and has accused China of human rights violations in the remote Himalayan region that borders India.
  • A bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives aims seeks to push chaina to hold talks with Tibetan leaders, stalled since 2010, to secure a negotiated agreement on Tibet and spur China to tackle Tibetan aspirations on historical, cultural, religious and linguistic identity.
  • Among the delegation are the two authors of the act, titled ‘Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act’ or the Resolve Tibet Act, along with Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • The delegation also met officials of Tibet’s government in exile, which functions from India.


  • Born in 1935 as Lhamo Thondup, the Dalai Lama was identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor at the age of two, and enthroned in 1940 as the 14th Dalai Lama in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
  • Beijing invaded Tibet in 1950, and the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against its rule, since when he has lived in exile in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala.
  • He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Why is the visit controversial?

  • It has riled China at a time when Beijing and Washington are struggling to improve ties, and India’s relations with China have also been strained since a military standoff on their Himalayan frontier killed 24 soldiers in 2020.
  • S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the Resolve Tibet Act soon, in a bid to find a resolution for the dispute, although Washington considers the Tibetan Autonomous Region to be a part of China.
  • “This visit should highlight the bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for Tibet to have a say in their own future,” the chief of the U.S. delegation, and one author of the bill, Michael McCaul, said ahead of his departure from Washington.


Indian Express, TheHindu,DDnews


Q. The Seventeen Point Agreement often mentioned in news is associated with which of the following countries:

A. India and Tibet

B. USA and China

C. China and Tibet

D. USA and Tibet

Answer C