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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Interview: Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of 1913, a proof of Tibet's independence

November 13, 2008

"The treaty (Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of 1913) begins with Tibet and
Mongolia attesting to their having emerged from under Manchu
domination and constituted themselves as independent states."
By Phurbu Thinley
Phayul
November 12, 2008

For centuries, Tibet and Mongolia had shared a strong cultural and
historical relationship. Following the collapse of the Manchu (Qing)
Dynasty in 1911, Tibet and Mongolia declared independence and,
subsequently signed a treaty of friendship and recognition of each
other's independence in 1913.

For sometime the existence of the treaty between Tibet and Mongolia,
as having been concluded in early 1913, was considered questionable
by some writers.

Recently, the original Tibetan (but not the Mongol) text of the
Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of 1913 was rediscovered, making one important
part of the original document available to scholars for the first time.

In an interview with Phayul, Prof. Elliot Sperling sheds more light
on the treaty and its historical significance vis-à-vis the vexed Tibet issue.

Prof. Elliot is a faculty member in the Dept. of Central Eurasian
Studies at Indiana University, where he directs the Tibetan Studies
program. Recently he was in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan
Government-in-exile in India, to present public lectures on the
Treaty, the rediscovery of its original text and its significance. He
has also been giving numerous lectures on the subject at various
universities in the west in recent times.

////////

Q: What exactly is the Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of 1913?

Elliot Sperling: The Treaty is exactly what its appellation states it
to be. It is a treaty signed and sealed by representatives of Tibet
and Mongolia in January 1913. The treaty begins with Tibet and
Mongolia attesting to their having emerged from under Manchu
domination and constituted themselves as independent states. It goes
on to different short articles which deal, among other things, with
the provision of mutual aid and assistance, as well as commercial and
financial matters.

Q - The original Tibetan text version of the treaty was rediscovered
sometime last year. From where and when exactly? Why was it not
officially available before?

The original Tibetan text of the "Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of 1913" was
rediscovered in Mongolia (presumably in the state archives), with
copies beginning to circulate only in 2007. Prof. Elliot Sperling
says the delicate political situation of Mongolia, for most of the
20th century, could have played a role in keeping the original
version of the treaty inaccessible before that. (Phayul/File)

E.S. - The treaty was found in Mongolia. It was likely in the state
archives (it bears the seal of the old foreign ministry); with copies
beginning to circulate only last year. No doubt the delicate
political situation of Mongolia, for most of the 20th century
(positioned as it was between the USSR and China) played a role in
keeping the original version of the treaty inaccessible.
Nevertheless, other versions of the treaty were available in English,
Chinese and Mongol. There was even a Tibetan version, translated
(like the Chinese version) from English (!), by Tsepon W.D.
Shakabpa—and until the original Tibetan text appeared this was the
only version available to Tibetan readers. The English version itself
was a translation from Russian, and the Russian version in turn is
assumed to have been based on an unofficial Mongol rendering of the
original. None of these other versions really match the full meaning
of all parts of the original Tibetan text exactly, but the degree to
which they come close to the sense of the original is surprising. To
sum up, the chain of translation went from the Tibetan original to
Mongol, then to Russian, then to English, and then from English
separately to Chinese and (via Shakabpa) back into Tibetan (but as a
different text than the original).

Q - What is the historical significance of this treaty of 1913?

E.S. - Since the very existence of the treaty was sometimes called
into question, its rediscovery has historical significance. The fact
that it constitutes an official document wherein both Tibet and
Mongolia recognize each other as independent in the wake of the
collapse of the Qing Dynasty is central to its significance.

Q - China dismisses the existence and the validity of this Treaty. On
what grounds?

E.S. - Chinese writers have generally disparaged the treaty, though
not all do so using the same terms. One Chinese language work takes
pains to refer to the treaty as an "agreement," implying that it had
no international validity. (The same lexicographical attitude is
evident in the 17-Point Agreement of 1951, where the term "agreement'
was used to show that the document in question represented an
internal arrangement between parties within one sole country and was
not to be construed as an international instrument.) Other Chinese
writers, in disparaging the Tibeto-Mongol Treaty, rely on the account
of Charles Bell, who stated that the 13th Dalai Lama had explicitly
neither sought the conclusion of such a document nor, afterwards, ratified it.

Q - There is no dispute that Tibet was entirely independent of
foreign control between 1911 and 1950. Also the Thirteenth Dalai Lama
made a formal declaration of Tibet's independence in 1912. However,
the existence of the treaty between Tibet and Mongolia, as having
been concluded in early 1913, was considered questionable by some scholars.

E.S. - Again, this is largely owed to Bell's account. Alfred Rubin
dismissed its validity, "[e]ven if the treaty did exist," while Tom
Grunfeld described it with the adjective "alleged." In the 1987
edition of his book on modern Tibet he said of the treaty that "It
appears to be a classic case of 'disinformation' on the part of
Russian colonial officials in Mongolia." He omitted this evaluation
from the 1996 edition.

Q - Since the original text is now rediscovered; what are its
prospects, if any, vis-à-vis Tibet issue among Tibet scholars?

E.S. - That remains to be seen. It certainly cannot be dismissed out-of-hand.

Q - What conclusion can you draw after obtaining the original text of
this much debated and lesser known treaty?

E.S. - The treaty is real; it does exist and it is signed and sealed
by officials acting in the capacity of Minister-Plenipotentiaries of
the Dalai Lama, with full authority to conclude it. This is evident
from the content of the treaty. In spite of the suspicions voiced
about it, particularly on the part of Charles Bell, it seems
inconceivable that the Tibetan signatories would have fabricated
evidence of the Dalai Lama's permission for them to do what they did
and then embedded the fraud (i.e., reference to their empowerment by
the Dalai Lama as plenipotentiaries) in the very wording of the
document itself. As for Bell's statement about the Dalai Lama
downplaying his role in the treaty, we may perhaps assume that in the
wake of the events that sent him into exile twice, he had no
illusions about the balance of power around Tibet: when British
displeasure with the rumored treaty became evident he chose to
equivocate about it to Bell.

- Thank you very much, Prof. Sperling.
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