Canada’s Stance on Tibet’s Independence

With today being February 13th, Tibet’s Independence Day, and the 100th anniversary of the day when the 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed the restoration of Tibet’s independence, it got me thinking; while Tibet was proclaiming its independence, what were other countries’ views on Tibet’s independence at that time? It then reminded me of a project I had worked on while working for the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet about 7 years ago. I was a part of a small team who researched through the Canadian government’s archives at Library and Archives Canada to find any formerly secret communications by Canada related to Tibet’s status as an independent nation, which are now available because of the Access to Information Act.

I remember the process being a tedious one – lifting heavy box after box full of old documents back and forth from my table to the records administrators, and hours and hours hunched over dusty, old papers decades old – no Google or ‘Ctrl-F’ function to help us out. It was frustrating at times, and you really needed a lot of patience, but when you struck gold, there was no better feeling.

We were able to find numerous documents that helped illustrate Tibet’s status through Canada’s eyes. The Canada Tibet Committee published many of these documents, which span from 1944 to 1969. I can’t recall why it was only these years that were published or if we found documents outside this time range at all, but regardless, here are a few of the notable sections.

“China is determined to swallow…Tibet…”

– Secretary of State for External Affairs, January 8, 1944

“Inner Tibet, the domain of the Dalai Lamas, which is ruled by priests and completely pervaded by religious influence, is certainly no natural exercising-ground for Communism. The lamas and nobles, whose grip upon the country has so far, I believe not been loosened…”

– Leon Mayrand for Acting Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, March 7, 1949

“External say Dalai Lama is in Lhasa with no present intentions of fleeing and that National Assembly is in emergency session there…”

– High Commissioner for Canada, New Delhi, India, November 7, 1950

“I find it hard to see how the question of suzerainty comes into the matter. First of all the Chinese never ratified the agreement by which Chinese suzerainty but Tibetan autonomy were agreed to. In the second place even if it had been agreed to, suzerainty is hardly the same as sovereignty, particularly when autonomy is part of the bargain. In the third place, if China owned Tibet, there would be no point in having discussions with the Tibetans about mutual relations and certainly no point in sending an army to conquer it. The sending of an army is surely a confession that the matter is not domestic.”

– High Commissioner for Canada in India, New Delhi, November 16, 1950

“In view of the possibility that the problem of Tibet may be discussed in the United Nations, a memorandum on the international status of Tibet has been prepared in the Legal Division. A copy is being forwarded for your information by bag. The concluding paragraph reads as follows: “The question is, should Canada consider Tibet to be an independent state, a vassal of China, or an integral portion of China. It is submitted that the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet is not well founded. Chinese suzerainty, perhaps existent, though ill-defined, before 1911, appears since then, on the basis of facts available to us, to have been a mere fiction. In fact, it appears that during the past 40 years Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state.”

– Secretary of State for External Affairs, November 21, 1950

“In 1912, the new Chinese Republic reasserted the Chinese claim with the declaration that Tibet would, in the future, “come within the sphere of internal administration.” This declaration was repudiated by the United Kingdom government…”

– Chiefs of Staff Committee Paper, Department of National Defence, October 6, 1950

“There has been a history of intermitten strife and guerilla warfare in Tibet ever since the Chinese Communist invasion in 1950.”

– Chiefs of Staff Committee Paper, Department of National Defence, October 6, 1950

These are just a few of the notable sections you can find in the report. Also found were letters written to the Canadian government from the Tibetan government around China’s invasion. I remember finding it, at the same time, fascinating and extremely difficult when finding letters written by a young Kundun to the Canadian government asking for support from China’s aggression. The letters from the Tibetan government all indicate a sense of urgency and difficult-to-swallow desperation, fearing China’s ultimate bloody conquer.

Along with letters to and from the Canadian government, you can find information about United Nations meetings and votes about Tibet, and the varying stances of other governments. It’s also really interesting to note how Canada’s position on Tibet fluctuates from 1944 to the 1960’s (and to compare this to the present government’s as well).

Just like how Students for a Free Tibet has been able to get the 1913 Proclamation of Tibetan Independence translated into numerous languages, to spread the reach of our assertion of independence, I wonder if people in other countries have done similar research into what has been communicated by their countries regarding Tibet’s status as an independent nation. It would be really interesting to compile this and have real, concrete evidence readily available as to the matter of Tibet’s independence, similar to what Jamyang Norbu la has compiled in his ‘Independent Tibet’ document, to add to our ammunition to counteract China’s relentless and baseless claims to Tibet.

If you want to take a look at some of what was conjured up during the research into the Canadian government’s communications about Tibet, the Canada Tibet Committee published the documents on their website, which you can find here:

Hope everyone had an eventful Tibetan Independence Day with their flags raised loud and proud!