Memorandum from U.S. State Department to British Embassy in Washington, 1950


The attention of the British Embassy is invited to the Department's aide-mémoire of May 15, 1943 summarizing the United States attitude toward Tibet, that is that the United States has born in mind the Chinese claim to suzerainty over Tibet, that this Government had never raised a question regarding that claim, and that it did not at that time desire to open a discussion of the matter.

In 1943 likewise, the United States sent a mission to Tibet, with the invitation for the mission to visit Lhasa negotiated through the Indian Government and channeled through the British Political Officer in Tibet.  At that time no application was made to the Chinese National Government for a permit to visit Tibet.

It does not appear that the United States has ever taken an official public stand in respect to the legal position of Tibet.  It is observed, however, that the Chinese claim to authority over Tibet would have been derived through succession to rights exercised previously by the Manchu Dynasty in China.  Tibet itself successfully undertook in 1912, after the Chinese Revolution, the expulsion of Chinese troops by force, declared its independence in the same year, and at the Simla Conference in 1914 Tibet was a party to an agreement accepted likewise by the Chinese and British representatives, which provided for the autonomous status of Tibet.  It is understood that the Chinese Government's refusal to acknowledge the signature of its representative at the Simla Conference derived from border questions and was not due to opposition to the proposal that the Tibetans should enjoy an autonomous status.  It is recognized universally that Tibet has exercised de facto autonomy from 1914 particularly, to the present date.

The United States, which was one of the early supporters of the principle of self-determination of peoples, believes that the Tibetan people has the [same] inherent right as any other to have the determining voice in its political destiny.  It is believed further that, should developments warrant, consideration could be given to recognition of Tibet as an independent State.  The Department of State would not at this time desire to formulate a definitive legal position to be taken by the US Government relative to Tibet.  It would appear adequate for present purposes to state the the US Government recognizes the de facto autonomy that Tibet has exercised since the fall of the Manchu [Qing] Dynasty, and particularly since the Simla Conference [of 1914].  It is believed that, should the Tibetan case be introduced into the United Nations, there would be ample basis for international concern regarding Chinese Communist intentions towards Tibet, in either the UN Security Council of the UN General Assembly.

Department of State
December 30, 1950

DO 35/3094.  Also printed in Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. VI (1950), pp. 612-3.

Source: Goldstein, Melvyn; A History of Modern Tibet: 1913-1951; 1989; University of California Press; pp. 754-755.