HL Deb 24 February 1910 vol 5 cc51-4

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for India the Question which I have put on the Paper—namely, whether he can give any information to the House about the reported flight of the Dalai Lama of Tibet to India, or about recent affairs in Tibet; and whether he proposes to lay Papers before Parliament. I may say that it is about two years, if not longer, since last we had any Papers about Tibetan matters laid before either House of Parliament.


My Lords, I think it is quite natural that the noble Lord should put a Question on this subject, because the incident is, no doubt, a most remarkable and interesting performance. The Dalai Lama left Peking on December 21, 1908, and is reported to have arrived at Lhasa on December 25, 1909. Very little is known of his movements between those two dates, but he appears to have spent two months at Nagchuka (eight or nine days journey from Lhasa) before proceeding to the capital. It had been rumoured for some time that there was considerable friction between the Tibetan Government and the Chinese officials. This was said to be increased by the activity of Chao Erh Feng, former Viceroy of Szechuen, who had been appointed Amban in March, 1908, and with a Chinese military force was slowly advancing in Eastern Tibet, where he had been for some months in the neighbourhood of Batang, awaiting no doubt the arrival of the Dalai Lama.

No information at all has reached Calcutta how the crisis was precipitated. But about January 30 the British trade agent at Gyantse received a visit from a Tibetan official specially sent by the Dalai Lama, and this official stated to our agent that the Chinese army was at Chiamdo (about 400 miles from Lhasa), the Tibetan troops being massed half-a-day's march from it. Nothing more was heard until February 17. The British agent telegraphed that day that forty Chinese mounted infantry had arrived at Lhasa on the 12th, that the rest of the Chinese army was close to the city, and that the Dalai Lama had fled the same night in the direction of India. He arrived at Phari (accompanied by three Ministers, three shapés, and about 100 men) on the 17th, after a fight with the Chinese at Chaksam. He stayed at the British dak bungalow. He arrived at Yatung, which, as the noble Lord knows, is in the Chumbi Valley, on the 20th, pursued by the Chinese, and left the next day for Gnatong, whence he is expected to arrive at Darjiling, in British India, on the 27th, three days from now.

On receiving news of the Dalai Lama's flight the Government of India at once issued orders to the British Agents at Gyantse and Yatung, and to the Political Officer in Sikkim, to maintain an attitude of strict neutrality. This has been scrupulously observed. The only communication that has been received from the Lama since he quitted Lhasa is a message left by him with our Trade Agent at Yatung to the effect that he was proceeding to India to consult the British Government, to whom he looks for protection. He gave no indication of the cause of his flight, except that the people of Lhasa had been greatly oppressed by the Chinese, mounted infantry having arrived and fired on the Tibetans, killing and wounding some of them. He thanked the British Government for the courtesy with which he had been treated.

I ought to tell your Lordships that about ten days ago a Tibetan deputation arrived at Calcutta, and a similar deputation waited on the British Minister at Peking on the 21st instant. Both of these parties had left Tibet before the crisis, however it arose, became acute, and came to Calcutta and Peking for the purpose of notifying the Dalai Lama's return to Lhasa, and representing the grievous trouble the Tibetans were in. Upon arrival at Darjiling the Dalai Lama will be invited to occupy Hastings House at Calcutta until other arrangements can be made. Strict neutrality will continue to be observed; but he will be received with the courtesy and respect due to a ruler of high spiritual authority, who is an object of veneration to many millions of His Majesty's Indian subjects. His Majesty's Government at home are in communication with the Chinese Government with regard to the unexpected situation which has thus been created. They have no information beyond the very meagre information I have been able to give to the House which could with advantage be laid before Parliament. The noble Lord asks for Papers. My impression is that there are no Papers really worth producing, or which it would be advantageous to produce at the moment, but I will look carefully into the matter.


Are there no Papers throwing any light on the situation at Lhasa? I gather from the statement of the noble Viscount that Lhasa has been virtually occupied by a Chinese force, with the result that this high official, whom the noble Viscount properly describes as being an object of veneration to many millions of His Majesty's subjects, has been forcibly expelled from Lhasa and has taken refuge in British territory. I should have thought that there would have been some information available as to that fact, and whether Lhasa has been occupied by a Chinese force.


I think it would be premature to say that the Dalai Lama has been forcibly expelled. Of course, the most meagre and curt statements have been supplied to us, and what they amount to is that he has fled. The exact and precise reasons why he fled we do not know, nor do we know exactly when the Chinese either marched into Lhasa or assailed the Tibetan force. The state of the Tibetan mind was explained to the Government of India by deputations, but I will look further, and if I can find Papers worth producing I will certainly not fail to produce them.


I should like to ask whether the Chinese Government has given any reasons for marching this force to Lhasa.


No; the communications with the Chinese Government have only just begun. They are conducted, as the noble Earl knows, by the Foreign Office. When anything occurs at Peking which is of interest to your Lordships and can be prudently put before the public, I will, of course, take the opportunity to do so if the Foreign Secretary consents.


By Papers I do not mean Papers merely about the transactions which have culminated in the incident which the noble Viscount has described. I mean Papers carrying forward the history of the policy of His Majesty's Government towards Tibet from the date when the last Papers were laid before Parliament. As far as I remember, this was done just before we had the debate on the Anglo-Russian Convention two years ago, and since then His Majesty's Government have been pursuing a policy towards Tibet about which we know very little, but which will most likely and properly come under the attention of Parliament. It would help us materially if we had all the Papers on that aspect of the subject.


I understood that the noble Lord did not refer only to this new incident, but that he wanted all the Papers since the present Government took office.


Yes, if we can.


I will look into that subject.

House adjourned at a quarter before Five o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.