August 21, 2017 By Tsering Shakya, South China Morning Post

On February 16, 1768, the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London wrote to Warren Hastings: “we desire you to obtain the best intelligence you can whether cloth and other European commodities may not find their way to Tibet, Lhasa and the Western parts of China.” This spurred the British exploration of the Himalayas, an effort that has led today to the face-off between the two giant armies of India and China, who now stand on the brink of war.

During the 18th century, chambers of commerce in towns across Britain met and demanded the British government build roads to open up Tibet. They envisioned a future in which the people of Tibet would be “wearing clothes manufactured in Manchester and eating with cutlery produced in Sheffield, and the caravans bearing silk and tea of China [would] come saving half the time and expense through the passes of Sikkim and Bhutan”. The British dreamt merchants from Paisley, Dundee, Bradford and Aberdeen “shall dip their pitchers into the sacred stream, and deal out its bounty to the people of the land”. Captain G. Chenevis, the British trade agent in Leh, wrote that “in the direction of Tibet, a commercial invasion of that mystic country with riches of Szo Chan and Kansu and Shensi in China as the objective, would I believe, be profitable”. The Bradford Chamber of Commerce declared such an outcome would boost the wool trade, while the British-run Calcutta Chamber of Commerce spelt out the international implications of this thirst for wealth: “there should be no power vacuums, no border Alsatias, which could be filled by others.”[Source]

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