A myth foisted on the Western world

Dalai Lama - Tibet - Myth
Below is the National Review article published in 1974 entitled A myth foisted on the Western world. A scan of the article can also be found on the Western Shugden Society website. I’ve typed it out to make it easier to read.

For years the world has swallowed the story that the wicked Chinese suddenly descended on Tibet and forced the Dalai Lama to seek refuge in India. But, according to T.D. ALLMAN, it wasn’t like that at all. The real villains were the CIA, perhaps the Indians, and the feudal class inside Tibet. Here is the second of Allman’s two-part article on Tibet, dispatched from Nepal.

Even the present, restrained degree of Chinese control over Tibet may well have been avoidable. As the prejudices of the cold war fade, it is clear that the events that overtook Tibet in the 1950s and 1960s were not simply a case of a strong Chinese government reasserting control over a region of outer China which its weaker predecessor had ignored. Nor, least of all, were the various Tibetan crises the product of some sinister, communist plot to extinguish Tibetan “freedom”.

Instead, in retrospect, it now is clear that China at first granted Tibet a degree of autonomy that was completely non doctrinaire in its expediency. But this autonomy was exploited not merely by Tibetan tribal groups and the traditional aristocracy. It also was used by the American government, to create a threat to Chinese sovereignty.

This state of affairs as perceived from Peking, eventually became intolerable. The public still remembers the events in Tibet in terms of lurid reports of a Red army expelling the venerated Dalai Lama from his homeland. But the real facts of the 1951 and 1959 Tibetan crises are known only to a few.

The facts, essentially, are these: In 1951, the Dalai Lama’s court, faced with Chinese diplomatic and military pressure, which stopped far short of Lhasa itself, signed agreements by which Chinese sovereignty was re-established over Tibet for the first time since the expulsion, with British support, of the Manchu garrison from Lhasa in 1912.

Under the agreements, however, the spiritual as well as many of the temporal powers of the Dalai Lama remained intact. And no Chinese effort was made to interfere with the internal life of Tibet. Indeed, the Chinese reassertion of suzerainty over Tibet in 1951, loudly lamented as it was in the West, was reminiscent of the combination of threats of force and promises of progress used by Britain, in 1904, to achieve similar ends – in that case the movement of Tibet into the British Indian sphere of influence.

From 1952 until 1959, the Chinese sought to turn the traditional theocracy – notably the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama – into agents of modernization in Tibet. The most striking example of the flexibility of the supposedly doctrinaire Chinese was summed up in the establishment, in 1951, of a preparatory committee. The committee was designed to coordinate Tibet’s relations with China, and to oversee constitutional progress towards Tibetan autonomy under the Dalai Lama, but within the Peoples Republic of China.

The Dalai Lama Mao and the Panchen Lama - 1959Significantly, the Dalai Lama was made chairman of the committee, and the Panchen Lama was made vice-chairman. In 1954, the Dalai Lama attended a major national conference in Peking, where he was treated with great respect by Mao Tse-tung and other communist leaders.

Even the most restrained Chinese efforts, however, inevitably incurred the resentment of Tibet’s feudal elite. And the young Dalai Lama, who was born in 1937 and only attained his majority in 1958, was a child during most of the crucial phases of the Tibetan-Chinese confrontation. As such, he was the tool – rather than the leader – of the traditional elite’s efforts to resist all change.

The uses to which the Dalai Lama could be put were first demonstrated in 1956. That year the Dalai Lama, then 19, was taken by his court to India for a long visit.

There followed a process of negotiation by which fundamental reforms in Tibet were bargained against the return to Lhasa of the Dalai Lama. Those surrounding the Dalai Lama wished to avoid all reforms. The Chinese – and numbers of Tibetans – wanted fundamental reform of Tibetan society. And few today, not even the Dalai Lama himself, deny that reforms were desirable.

Eventually Chou En-lai visited India to negotiate with the Dalai Lama’s court. And when, from Peking, Mao Tse-tung took the unprecedented step, for a revolutionary leader, of pledging publicly to delay reforms indefinitely, the Dalai Lama and his entourage finally returned to Lhasa.

By this time, however, other forces had entered the Tibetan equation, including India, and, most importantly, the United States. In 1959, Khamba tribesman rose up in revolt in southeastern Tibet. The Khambas – it now is known – were supported, directed and supplied by CIA agents working from a series of “forward area bases” in the northeastern Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

This American inciting of tribal uprisings in Tibet was part of an overall US policy of harassing China. The policy included not only insurrection in Tibet, but also support, from Laos, Burma and Thailand, for insurgents in China’s Yunnan province. Under the same program, the CIA supported KMT irregulars in northern Indochina, became involved in the opium trade, and also the smuggling of religious relics from Tibet.

In Tibet, as elsewhere, a communist reaction was inevitable. Before 1959, even the most virulently anti communist observers concede, the Chinese in Tibet made no effort to restrict the use of private firearms and other weapons or to limit the traditional Tibetan trade with India and Nepal. But as the Khamba-CIA insurrection gained force, the Chinese went on the counter offensive.

Units of the People Army were moved in to combat the insurgency, and the Chinese began to regulate the movement of weapons and populations in the rest of Tibet. Tibetans known to be consorting with the CIA were arrested.

It was at this point in 1959, when the Chinese were beginning to restore order in Tibet, that the Dalai Lama, still then only 22 years old, was moved by his court first into insurgent territory, and then to India, where he later was advised, to repudiate the 1951 agreements with the Chinese.

The escape of the Dalai Lama and his court was the occasion for one of the CIA’s greatest cold war propaganda triumphs. Lurid reports of Chinese massacres and desecration were spread through the Western press. The Chinese were accused of destroying priceless relics – which emigre Tibetans later produced for sale in India. The facts of the incident, however, were quite different from the accounts reported at the time.

The truth is that the Dalai Lama’s departure from his own capital was engineered by the CIA American agents who flew air cover for the Dalai Lama’s party, dropping supplies and money, and strafing Chinese positions. Color films of this operation were taken, and the film has been viewed, in the US, by a number of people. This and other documentary evidence makes it clear that it was the Americans who wanted the Dalai Lama to leave Tibet, not the Chinese who wanted to dethrone him.

Dalai Lama fleeing TibetThe ease of the Dalai Lama’s escape – along with an entourage of several thousand, and heavy caravans of art objects, money and gold – cannot be explained, however, solely in terms of CIA intervention. There is no doubt that the Chinese could have blocked the Dalai Lama’s escape, but only at the risk of his death or injury. Rather than risk the stigma of harming the Dalai Lama’s person, the Chinese, while trying to dissuade him from leaving, did not stand in his way.

Interestingly, nowhere in his published works does the Dalai Lama accuse the Chinese of harming him, or threatening him. And until 1964 – five full years after his departure – the Chinese refrained from publicly criticizing the Dalai Lama. Their apparent hope was that, as in 1956, the Dalai Lama could finally be persuaded to return from India to Lhasa. As for the CIA, its support for the Tibetan insurgency continued into the 1960s and through the period of the Sino-Indian confrontation along the disputed McMahon line.

The history of events in Tibet since 1951 is one of the most important, if least appreciated, examples of the exploitation of the aspirations of remote peoples by the great powers. There is no doubt that the Dalai Lama was misused by his own aristocracy, and that the US, and perhaps India as well, took advantage of his youth and inexperience.

Perhaps with this in mind, the Dalai Lama, from exile in India and during his recent trip to Europe, has had little criticism for the Chinese lately. Instead, he has limited himself to expressing the hope that eventual negotiations between his court and Peking will permit his eventual return to Tibet, and the re-establishment of a greater degree of Tibetan autonomy within the Peoples Republic of China.

The tragic irony, of course, is that China offered such an accommodation more than 20 years ago, but it was subverted at the time by the Dalai Lama’s court, with the full-scale encouragement of the US. China has never functioned as a completely unitary state. Instead, China Proper has traditionally flanked itself with the suzerain entities, like Tibet. These states have enjoyed autonomy in many fields, but have never been permitted by any effective Chinese government to become bases for foreign interference in China.

It seems indisputable in retrospect that the Dalai Lama – by allowing himself to become a tool of the American anti communist obsession, as well as his own elite’s implacable opposition to reform – placed himself, and Tibet as a whole, in a position which no Chinese government (communist, nationalist or imperial) would willingly have tolerated.

In the end the initially circumspect Chinese established virtually direct rule over Tibet. And they carried their military power into border territories disputed with India.

China’s display of force in Tibet, and later along the Indian border, was one of China’s greatest cold war propaganda defeats. But, beneath the adverse headlines, the Chinese actions seem to have had the desired effect. In Lhasa, New Delhi and Washington, it was belatedly realized that China could not be harassed with impunity.

The world, since then, has moved on to other conflicts and new perceptions. The Tibetan conflict is half forgotten. But is is worth remembering now that, but for CIA intervention and Indian encouragement, it is possible that the Dalai Lama might still be the leader of Tibet.

It is certainly clear now that, initially, communist China was willing to grant Tibet a far greater degree of control of its own affairs than democratic India was willing to grant to Hyderabad or Kashmir. At the same time, those fading events had the effect of pushing Tibet into an entirely new phase of its history.

Perhaps the governing irony, in fact, is that, but for CIA meddling in what even the Chiang Kai-shek regime regarded as a purely internal Chinese matter, the “revolution” that since has overtaken Tibet under communist rule might have been deferred indefinitely.
Tibetan Guerrilas

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