The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922

By Wendy Palace | Go to book overview

7

The China Service and East Tibet, 1914-1918

The Tibetan Question has always been an unpleasant sore in Anglo-Chinese relations.

Sir Eric Teichman, May 1918

The war years between 1914 and 1918 transformed the British Foreign Office by acting as a catalyst for changes within the Service. London diplomats, who had previously enjoyed their greatest prestige before the July crisis, now found their status significantly undermined by their apparent failure to avert war. As the full horrors of the trenches were gradually revealed in the press it became easy to blame old-style secret diplomacy for causing the war, and attempts to reform the way in which the Foreign Office worked led to a major re-evaluation of strategy and conduct, with greater importance being given to trade and commerce than ever before. By 1916 Sir Arthur Balfour had replaced Sir Edward Grey as foreign secretary, Lord Hardinge had left India, and Lord Crewe had retired from the India Office. Viscount Chelmsford as viceroy, and Sir Austen Chamberlain as secretary of state, the new team in India, were obliged to place Tibetan policy on hold while they concentrated on the more urgent problems created by the growing Indian Independence Movement and the future of British rule in India. 1

Although the dramatic events in Europe and India between 1914 and 1918 had little direct impact on north-east frontier policy as such, the preoccupation with the war left the Politicals with special problems and made their uphill struggle to maintain British interests and prestige even more difficult and dangerous, especially as the continuing revolutionary disturbances inside China continued to threaten the security of India's borders, presenting the same problems of control as before but without the same level of support from the Indian government. 2 The Far Eastern Department in London and the China Service in Peking were also greatly affected by the war, which made communication between them much more difficult to maintain. 3 At the British legation Jordan now found himself unexpectedly free to direct Tibetan policy for the first time

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