India must proactively start changing the status quo, and let China respond, instead of the other way around.
The philosopher George Santayana famously said: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”.
As we pay our tributes to our (India's) brave jawans (soldiers) who died fighting the Chinese troops at Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020, the proverbial saying acquires a prophetic tone. As we deal with the current round of what is being seen as Chinese ‘expansionism’, it is imperative that we draw lessons from our past and turn the pages of history to look beyond the war of 1962, and imbibe the lessons from the ‘Original Sin’ –– that is, how India ‘allowed’ China to unilaterally change the status quo by annexing Tibet in 1950.
Proof That Tibet Has Historically Been Regarded as an Independent Nation
Not many of us are aware that at the time of independence in 1947, India did not share a common boundary with China in the north, but with two hitherto independent nations –– Sinkiang (present day Xinjiang) and Tibet. In fact, at the time of independence, China was not even considered a threat, as the Northern border was considered settled in accordance with the Simla Convention of 1914 with the Tibetan nation being a signatory to the convention. The Simla Convention defined the boundaries between Tibet and China proper, and that between Tibet and British India (the latter came to be known as the McMahon Line).
This agreement forms the basis of the Indian claims till today.
However, the Chinese rejected the 1914 Simla agreement forthright arguing that Tibet was not an independent nation, hence had no right to enter into any international treaty. Even a cursory glance at history would tell an informed reader that Tibet in itself has been an independent nation from at least the 7th century AD, beginning with the rule of Songtsen Gampo (604–650 CE).
When China ‘Apologised’ to Tibet
In fact, the first time Tibet came under the influence of China was in 1720, when a military expedition from the Qing Empire established a Chinese protectorate over the country.
After the Xinhai Revolution (1911–12) toppled the Qing dynasty, the new Republic of China apologised to Tibet for the actions of the Qing, and the Dalai Lama declared himself ruler of an independent Tibet.
In 1913, Tibet and Mongolia concluded a treaty of mutual recognition, and for the next 36 years, the 13th Dalai Lama and the regents who succeeded him governed Tibet. Tibet even established a Foreign Office in 1942, and in 1946 it sent congratulatory missions to China and India (related to the end of World War II).
In 1947, Tibet sent a delegation to the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi, India, where it represented itself as an independent nation, and India recognised it as an independent nation from 1947 onwards.
Thus, history does not support the Chinese argument that in 1914 or afterwards, Tibet was not a sovereign nation and, on those grounds, the Simla convention is invalidated.