The British empire in India came in contact with Tibet after the British occupied the Kumaon and Garhwal in 1815. After further expanding their reach into Punjab and Kashmir and covering Sikkim under their protection in 1861, the British wanted to define the border with Tibet. However, they were unable to carry out any negotiation with Tibet.
The theocracy of Buddhist monks (Dalai Lamas) ruled Tibet under the nominal suzerainty of China. The British began to negotiate with China regarding relations with Tibet. But, Tibet rejected these negotiations, including the trade agreement and border settlement. The British concluded that the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was ineffective and had no effect in practice. The British efforts to establish friendly and commercial relations with Tibet had not yielded any results.
By the time of arrival of Governor-General Lord Curzon (1899-1905) in India, a deadlock had reached between their relations with Tibet. However, the Russian influence over Tibet was increasing. There were reports of Russian arms and communing coming into Tibet. With these events, Lord Curzon felt that Dalai Lama intended to place Tibet firmly within the sphere of Russian influence.
In 1903, after getting alarmed, Lord Curzon sent a Tibet Frontier Commission led by Colonel Francis Younghusband on a special mission to Tibet to oblige the Tibetans to come to negotiations. The Tibetan government, guided by the thirteenth Dalai Lama, refused to negotiate and offered non-violent resistance. In 1904, after negotiations failed, the British expedition under Colonel Younghusband advanced towards Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
Treaty of Lhasa, 1904
In August 1904, Colonel Younghusband pushed his way into Lhasa while the thirteenth Dalai Lama fled to Urga (the capital of Outer Mongolia). In September 1904, Younghusband signed the Treaty of Lhasa, known as the Convention of Lhasa of 1904, and dedicated terms to the Tibetan officials. The treaty provided that:
- The British would be allowed to trade in Gartok, Gyantse, and Yadong. Therefore, Trade marts opened at these places.
- Tibet would respect the frontier of Sikkim.
- Tibet would not grant any concession for roads, railways, telegraph to any foreign state but give the British some control over the foreign affairs of Tibet.
- Tibet would pay an indemnity of 75 lakh rupees at a rate of one lakh rupees per annum.
- As security for payment, the British Indian Government would occupy the Chumbi valley (territory between Sikkim and Bhutan) until the British get paid.
However, on the insistence of the Secretary of State, the treaty was revised later, reducing the indemnity from 75 lakh rupees to 25 lakh rupees and provided the evacuation of Chumbi Valley after three years. With the significance of this whole affair, Curzon’s policy counteracted the Russian schemes in Tibet.