The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922

The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922

The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922

The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922


British intervention in Tibet was one of the last chapters in the 'Great Game' between Britain & Russia, but it also took place at a time when Japan & the U.S. were emerging as world powers. Wendy Palace reassesses Britain's policy in Asia & also considers the impact of the intervention on Tibet itself.


Minto shrewdly assessed the temperament of the Secretary of State and set himself to counteract its dangers. His aim was, by patient argument and adroit suggestion to get Mr Morley to believe that the policy of the Government of India was initiated by Whitehall.

John Buchan, of Lord Minto, in Lord Minto: a Memoir

In December 1905 Anglo-Tibetan relations entered a new phase when a Liberal government came to power with a new approach to India's northeast frontier.

While in Opposition during 1903 and 1904 the Liberal party had joined with Radicals and Irish nationalists in vociferously condemning the Younghusband mission as aggressive imperialist expansion, although the Liberal front bench had resisted the temptation to vote against the Unionist government when it became clear that, having come so far, Younghusband could not retreat from Tibet without incurring a loss of face or even loss of lives. Once in power, however, the Liberals were determined to withdraw from all entanglements in Tibet, which they believed would almost certainly jeopardise their chances of achieving a permanent settlement with Russia and so put a stop to the Great Game which was proving so costly to Britain, both in financial and political terms.

Meanwhile, at the Far Eastern Department of the Foreign Office in London, concerns about Chinese activity in East Tibet began to create a climate of anxiety about the possibly detrimental effect British involvement in Tibet might have upon Anglo-Chinese relations, and the situation was being closely monitored from Peking by British minister Ernest Satow and his consular officers stationed at Chengdu in Chinese Sichuan, close to the East Tibetan border.

The Younghusband venture, and the persistence of Curzonian forward policy after he left Lhasa in September 1904, had long-term consequences for the British as well as for the Tibetans and soon began to affect both countries in different ways. For the Tibetans this meant having to adjust to the presence of British agents and troops on their soil; for the British one

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