Exactly 72 years ago, on 23rd May 1951, the “Seventeen-Point Agreement” was signed between the representatives of the independent Tibetan Government in Lhasa and the Chinese Communist Government in Peking.
Tibetans have always maintained that the “agreement” was signed by their representatives “under duress”. His Excellency Lukhangwa, the lay Tibetan Prime Minister, plainly told Chinese Representative Zhang Jingwu in 1952 that the Tibetan “people did not accept the agreement”. Nevertheless, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, who was a young teenager at the time, decided to work with the Chinese “in order to save my people and country from total destruction”, as he wrote in his memoir, ‘My Land and My People’.
For eight years, the Dalai Lama tried to abide by the terms of that document. The Tibetan Leader even relieved his Prime Minister Lukhangwa from his post, who had made no secret of his staunch opposition to the Chinese aggression.
In 1954, the young Dalai Lama visited Peking. During his nearly 6 months of stay in mainland China the Dalai Lama had meetings with many Chinese leaders, including Chairman Mao Tsetung and Premier Chou En-lai on a few occasions. Both of them gave assurances to him on Tibet’s good future.
However, the Chinese leaders did not keep their words. The situation across Tibet was getting worse as Tibetan resistance against the invading PLA forces led to fierce fighting. The young Dalai Lama finally escaped Tibet into exile in March 1959 in India, where he set up the Tibetan Government-in-exile.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first press conference in India, in Mussoorie in 1959, repudiating the 17 Point Agreement which was signed under duress in Beijing on May 23, 1951.
Sikyong Penpa Tsering, President of the Central Tibetan Administration, has been saying that the 17-point “Agreement” is “illegal” under the international law. On the 63rd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, Sikyong Penpa Tsering delivered his administration’s Official March 10th 2022 Statement and said, “When the Chinese communist assumed power on 1 October 1949, it announced the so-called “peaceful liberation” of Tibet. Soon after in 1950, the overwhelming Chinese communist forces attacked Chamdo and defeated the Tibetan army. The whole of Tibet was brought for the first time under its occupation after coercing Tibetans to sign the 17-Point Agreement in 1951.
THE AGREEMENT OF THE CENTRAL PEOPLE’S GOVERNMENT AND THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OF TIBET ON MEASURES FOR THE PEACEFUL LIBERATION OF TIBET
The Tibetan nationality is one of the nationalities with a long history within the boundaries of China and, like many other nationalities, it has done its glorious duty in the course of the creation and development of the great motherland. But over the last hundred years and more, imperialist forces penetrated into China, and in consequence, also penetrated into the Tibetan region and carried out all kinds of deceptions and provocations. Like previous reactionary Governments, the KMT [Kuomintang] reactionary government continued to carry out a policy of oppression and sowing dissension among the nationalities, causing division and disunity among the Tibetan people. The Local Government of Tibet did not oppose imperialist deception and provocations, but adopted an unpatriotic attitude towards the great motherland. Under such conditions, the Tibetan nationality and people were plunged into the depths of enslavement and suffering.
In 1949, basic victory was achieved on a nation-wide scale in the Chinese people’s war of liberation; the common domestic enemy of all nationalities–the KMT reactionary government–was overthrown; and the common foreign enemy of all nationalities–the aggressive imperialist forces–was driven out. On this basis, the founding of the People’s Republic of China and of the Central People’s Government was announced. In accordance with the Common Programme passed by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Central People’s Government declared that all nationalities within the boundaries of the People’s Republic of China are equal, and that they shall establish unity and mutual aid and oppose imperialism and their own public enemies, so that the People’s Republic of China may become one big family of fraternity and cooperation, composed of all its nationalities. Within this big family of nationalities of the People’s Republic of China, national regional autonomy is to be exercised in areas where national minorities are concentrated, and all national minorities are to have freedom to develop their spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their customs, habits, and religious beliefs, and the Central People’s Government will assist all national minorities to develop their political, economic, cultural, and educational construction work. Since then, all nationalities within the country, with the exception of those in the areas of Tibet and Taiwan, have gained liberation. Under the unified leadership of the Central People’s Government and the direct leadership of the higher levels of People’s Governments, all national minorities have fully enjoyed the right of national equality and have exercised, or are exercising, national regional autonomy.
In order that the influences of aggressive imperialist forces in Tibet may be successfully eliminated, the unification of the territory and sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China accomplished, and national defence safeguarded; in order that the Tibetan nationality and people may be freed and return to the big family of the People’s Republic of China to enjoy the same rights of national equality as all other nationalities in the country and develop their political, economic, cultural, and educational work, the Central People’s Government, when it ordered the People’s Liberation Army to march into Tibet, notified the local government of Tibet to send delegates to the Central Authorities to hold talks for the conclusion of an agreement on measures for the peaceful liberation of Tibet.
In the latter part of April 1951, the delegates with full powers from the Local Government of Tibet arrived in Peking. The Central People’s Government appointed representatives with full powers to conduct talks on a friendly basis with the delegates of the Local Government of Tibet. The result of the talks is that both parties have agreed to establish this agreement and ensure that it be carried into effect.
- The Tibetan people shall be united and drive out the imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet; that the Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the motherland–the People’s Republic of China.
- The Local Government of Tibet shall actively assist the People’s Liberation Army to enter Tibet and consolidate the national defences.
- In accordance with the policy towards nationalities laid down in the Common Programme of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Tibetan people have the right of exercising national regional autonomy under the unified leadership of the Central People’s Government.
- The Central Authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet. The Central Authorities also will not alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama. Officials of various ranks shall hold office as usual.
- The established status, functions, and powers of the Panchen Ngoerhtehni shall be maintained.
- By the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama and of the Panchen Ngoerhtehni is meant the status, functions and powers of the 13th Dalai Lama and of the 9th Panchen Ngoerhtehni when they were in friendly and amicable relations with each other.
- The policy of freedom of religious belief laid down in the Common Programme of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference will be protected. The Central Authorities will not effect any change in the income of the monasteries.
- The Tibetan troops will be reorganised step by step into the People’s Liberation Army, and become a part of the national defence forces of the Central People’s Government.
- The spoken and written language and school education of the Tibetan nationality will be developed step by step in accordance with the actual conditions in Tibet.
- Tibetan agriculture, livestock raising, industry and commerce will be developed step by step, and the people’s livelihood shall be improved step by step in accordance with the actual conditions in Tibet.
- In matters related to various reforms in Tibet, there will be no compulsion on the part of the Central Authorities. The Local Government of Tibet should carry out reforms of its own accord, and when the people raise demands for reform, they must be settled through consultation with the leading personnel of Tibet.
- In so far as former pro-imperialist and pro-KMT officials resolutely sever relations with imperialism and the KMT and do not engage in sabotage or resistance, they may continue to hold office irrespective of their past.
- The People’s Liberation Army entering Tibet will abide by the above-mentioned policies and will also be fair in all buying and selling and will not arbitrarily take even a needle or a thread from the people.
- The Central People’s Government will handle all external affairs of the area of Tibet; and there will be peaceful co-existence with neighboring countries and the establishment and development of fair commercial and trading relations with them on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territory and sovereignty.
- In order to ensure the implementation of this agreement, the Central People’s Government will set up a military and administrative committee and a military area headquarters in Tibet, and apart from the personnel sent there by the Central People’s Government it will absorb as many local Tibetan personnel as possible to take part in the work. Local Tibetan personnel taking part in the military and administrative committee may include patriotic elements from the Local Government of Tibet, various district and various principal monasteries; the name list is to be prepared after consultation between the representatives designated by the Central People’s Government and various quarters concerned, and is to be submitted to the Central People’s Government for approval.
- Funds needed by the military and administrative committee, the military area headquarters and the People’s Liberation Army entering Tibet will be provided by the Central People’s Government. The Local Government of Tibet should assist the People’s Liberation Army in the purchases and transportation of food, fodder, and other daily necessities.
- This agreement shall come into force immediately after signatures and seals are affixed to it.
[Signed by the representatives of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on 23 May 1951]
Facts about the 17-Point Agreement Between Tibet and China