Abstract: Tibet and Mongolia had close historical and religious ties since the times of Genghis Khan who conquered nearly the whole of Asia and Eastern Europe in the 13th century. Tibetan Lamas and the descendants of Genghis Khan developed a unique relationship of “Cho-yon”, priest-patron, where the Mongol’s military power protected Tibet from internal and external attacks and the Tibetan Lamas gave the Mongol chiefs moral and spiritual legitimacy to rule. Later, this priest-patron relationship continued with the Manchu Qing dynasty too. However, at the turn of the century, both Tibet and Mongolia became pawns of the Great Game of the Anglo-Russian rivalry in Asia and the Chinese invasion. Today, we have an independent Mongolia on one side, and Tibet and Southern Mongolia on the other under Chinese occupation. Through systematic suppression of information and distortion of history, China continues to claim sovereignty over Tibet and Southern Mongolia. This paper will examine Tibet – Mongol’s historical, political, and religious ties to challenge the Chinese false claims and resurrect the 1913 Tibeto-Mongolian Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, the real aspiration of the two nations.
Tibet and Mongolia
Tibet and Mongolia existed as independent nations with unique civilizations, languages, and cultures of their own. They were once strong military powers who later adopted the path of peace and non-violence. What was Tibet in the 7th to 9th century, Mongol was in the 12th to 14th century. Although Mongol Khans ruled the eastern empire, including China, under the Yuan Dynasty directly, it left Tibet to the Tibetans. The two shared a unique system of governance, politico-religious theocracy, based on the Buddhist principle of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the Khuthugtu Jetsundampa. The system is still alive and respected, albeit in a different form.
Early Tibetan Military Power
Tibet was once a military power in central Asia in the 7th to 9th centuries. Emperor Srongtsan Gampo (569-650 AD), who united the disarrayed Tibetan princely states, marched the Tibetan army far east into the Chinese territory and claimed the hand of Princess Wencheng Kungchu, and the Tang emperor Taitsung had to acquiesce. To the South, the Tibetan army got into the Indian border to subdue King Arjuna in Bihar for suppressing Buddhist religion and for harassing Chinese goodwill mission. The Tibetan Emperor helped restore King Narendradeva’s reign in Nepal. To the North, Tibetan army went as far as the Tarim basin and captured the four garrisons of Anhsi, present-day East Turkistan. During the time of Emperor Trisrong Deutsan and Emperor Triralpachen in the 8th and 9th centuries, the Tibetan military power was at its peak. In 763, Tibetan troops raided the Chinese capital Changan, present-day Xian, and installed a new emperor, Ta-she. In 778, Tibetans helped Siamese King Imoshun in fighting the Chinese aggression in the region. In 790 Trisrong Deutsan’s army recaptured the four garrisons of Anhsi or Anxi and the area around a lake in the north of Oxus River, present-day Amu Darya in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which came to be known as Al-Tubbat, a little Tibetan lake. During Triralpachen’s time in 821, a peace treaty initiated by the Buddhist monks in Tibet and China was made and the contents of the treaty was inscribed on three pillars erected one at the Chinese capital Xian, one at Tibet-China border Gongumeru, and one in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.
The Tibetan emperors, who united Tibet and sought hegemony beyond borders, saw the need to enrich the moral and spiritual side of the Tibetan empire. Emperor Trisrong Deutsan invited Indian Saint Shantarakshita and Tantric Guru Padmasambhava to teach Buddhism in Tibet. This was followed by the visits of many Indian masters to Tibet and Tibetans to India and Buddhism began to get firmly established in Tibet through royal patronage. However, Wudum Tsanpo, the 43rd Emperor of Tibet, was against this too much influence of religion which he felt was weakening the country and making it precarious to foreign invaders. But his unpopular policy to suppress religious institutions got him assassinated in 842 and thus started the disintegration of Tibet and the land remained without central leadership for about 400 years until the emergence of Sakya Lama’s rule with the help of Mongols in the 13th century.
Buddhism in Tibet
Tibet around that time was without a unified central leadership. There were regional power struggles among the small hegemonies and warring chieftains. But this period gave Tibet and the Tibetans a good time to interact with India and Nepal and Buddhism began to bloom in Tibet. With the complete burning and destruction of Nalanda and Vikramshila universities in 1193 AD, Buddhism gradually died in the land of its birth. Fortunately, the teachings found a safe haven in Tibet, where the major Indian texts were translated into the Tibetan language. Buddhism flourished in Tibet and played an important role in maintaining peace among the warring nations of Mongolia, Manchu, Nepal, and China.
Mongols under the leadership of Genghis Khan rose in power in the 12th century and by the next century, most of Asia and Eastern Europe came under Mongolian domination. Mongols established five Khanates to rule the country and the conquered territories: Mongol Qipchag Khanate in Russia and Europe; Ilkhanate in Persia, present-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, etc.; Chagatai Khanate in the area around present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kirghizstan; Ogedei Khanate in the area around the Mongol homeland; and the Yuan Empire in present-day China, Burma, and Korea in the east.
Godan Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan who attacked Tibet 1240, later realized that the Mongol empire is strong but it lacked the deep moral and spiritual hallow of Tibet. His audience with Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsan of Tibet in 1247 at Liangzhou opened Mongolia to Buddhism. Later, Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan dynasty in 1271, further promoted Buddhism in Mongolia with Sakya Phagpa of Tibet as his teacher. China`s Sung Dynasty came under the Yuan Dynasty in 1279, which was a Mongolian dynasty. Therefore, the Chinese claim on Tibet and Southern Mongolia based on the Yuan Dynasty`s conquest is irrelevant and a gross distortion of history. If this logic is to work, then Mongols have a far better reason to claim China and Tibet.
In the later part of the Yuan regime, its grip on power and administration began to wane due to internal feuds, corruption, and discriminatory policy. Ultimately, the peasants’ Red Turban Rebellions (1351-1368) toppled the Yuan regime and the Chinese Ming dynasty took over in 1368. The Mongol Yuan Dynasty survived as the Northern Yuan Dynasty in present-day Mongolia and Southern Mongolia.
In 1644, the Chinese Ming Dynasty collapsed and the Manchu Qing Dynasty took over China just as Mongol’s Yuan Dynasty took over China 365 years ago in 1279. In 1634 with the death of Lekdan Khan, the last Khan of the Great Northern Yuan dynasty, and his son Eiji Khan’s submission of the Imperial Seal to the Manchu Emperor, Mongolia came under the influence of the Qing Empire.
Mongols and Tibetans` Coexistence
Although the Yuan Dynasty disintegrated gradually, remnants of the Great Northern Yuan Dynasty and the divided Mongol Khans played important roles in Tibet’s internal political and religious struggles. When Tibet was engrossed in internal power struggles for temporal and religious leadership, the Mongol tribes under their chieftains sided with the Tibetan factions of their choice. Prominent Mongol tribes involved in the Tibetan infighting around the times were: Qoshot of Oirat Mongols, Dzungar, Chahar, Chogthu, Urluk of Torgut Mongols, and so on. Khuthugtu Khan, also known as Lekdan in Tibetan, the last Khan of the Great Northern Yuan dynasty, was a follower of the Karmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. He along with the Choghtu Mongol tribes tried to suppress the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. But Toru Bayikhan aka Gushri Khan, the leader of the Qoshot Mongolian tribe of the Oirat confederation, intervened and his victory led to the installation of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso, as the temporal and spiritual leader of the whole of Tibet in 1642. This was how the Dalai Lamas began to rule Tibet until the Chinese invasion in 1950.
The Great Game
The great game of Anglo-Russian supremacy in Asia led British India to send a military expedition to Tibet in 1904 and the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia, where he was warmly received and the relations between the two countries strengthened. The Dalai Lama stayed in Mongolia for about a year and became aware of the Mongolian people’s aspiration for a greater and closer union with Tibet and to do away with the Qing dynasty’s influence. Both Mongolia and Tibet saw a prospect of a grand alliance of Tibet and united Mongols under Russian protectorate.
The 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet and the 8th Jetsun Dhampa Khuthugtu played important roles in keeping the two countries independent of Manchu, Russia, and the British. Manchu dynasty who executed the priest-patron relationship with Tibet well in the past became more assertive in laying claim on Tibet. British India fearing that Tibet would come under Russian influence occupied Tibet.
Russia and British-India looked at Mongolia and Tibet as important and profitable buffer states, important to keep the rivals at bay, and profitable to keep their commercial and trade interest. Chinese suzerainty concept helped them to keep each other from occupying the regions and yet maintain their commercial sphere of influence in the regions. The Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of 1904 gave the British considerable rights in Tibet, but China was not happy about this treaty. To mollify China, the Anglo-China Convention was signed in 1906, and finally, the tripartite treaty, the Simla agreement of 1914, and the validity of this agreement is a still debate requiring separate papers. Russia signed an agreement with Mongolia promising to protect its autonomy and non-interference from China in the region’s internal affairs in November 1912. This was followed by the Sino-Russian convention in 1913 and ultimately a tripartite treaty among Russia, China, and Mongolia in June 1915.
The ambiguities surrounding the treatise and the strong resistance from Tibet and Mongol made China assertive and later aggressive. The Republic of China invited Tibet and Mongolia to join the newly formed Republic. But both Tibet and Mongolia believe that though they had certain levels of relations with the Qing regime, it never compromised the sovereignty and independence of their nations. They firmly rejected China’s proposal.
Russian, Tibet, and Mongol Alliance
In this quagmire, Tibet and Mongolia, who were once military powers and later turned into peaceful religious nations, found themselves confronted with the new nation-state concept and the tightening noose of the great game gnawing at their independence. The 13th Dalai Lama’s escape from British invasion and stay in Mongolia and his meeting with the 8th Khuthugtu Jetsundampa and the Mongolian princes in 1904 sparked a close feeling of shared history, religion, and culture. They saw the need to exert their independence and protect their religion and culture. In this direction, they saw hope in Tsar’s Russia, strong and powerful, under whose reign Buryats, Kalmyks, and Tuva enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in practicing their Buddhist religion.
Here, Agvan Dorjiev (1853-1935), a Buryat Mongol, who studied in Tibet and rose to the rank of Tsennyi Khenpo, a debating partner and teacher to the young 13th Dalai Lama, played a very important role in promoting and preserving Tibet and Mongolia’s independence. He advised both Khuthugtu and Dalai Lama to see the Russian Tsar as the ultimate protector of the faith and devoted his whole life to promote the Pan-Buddhist Kingdom under Russia’s protection. Dorjiev visited Russia three times with messages from the 13th Dalai Lama to the Tsar seeking relationship and protection. Russia responded favorably and diplomatically but without making any concrete commitment.
Tibet and Mongolia Declare Independence
Toward the beginning of the 20th century, the great game of British and Russia became more manifest, plunging Tibet and Mongolia into the whirlpool of geopolitics away from their spiritual world of peace and complacency. The geopolitics of the time tried to divide Tibet and Mongolia into outer and inner regions. While this was effected in Mongolia, Tibet withstood the division initially. (However, in 1965 the CCP created Tibet Autonomous Regions with central and western Tibet, and included Amdo and Kham provinces of Tibet into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunan.)
Having lost the Opium War in 1840 with British India, the Qing’s power began to diminish in China and Western colonial powers began to exert their influence in China. Despite the fragile and unstable situation, the Qing emperor held an aggressive policy toward Tibet and Mongolia.
Taking advantage of weak and unstable Tibet after the British invasion in 1904, breaking the historical sacred priest-patron relationship, the Qing army invaded Tibet (1906-1910), looted the country, and brought immense destructions of monasteries and properties. The 13th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India, where he negotiated with the British India to support Tibet to expel the invading Manchu forces. In October 1911, China’s decade long civil wars and the Xinhai Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen toppled the Qing Dynasty and China became a republic. This enabled Tibet to drive out the invading Manchu force and break all relationships with the Manchu based on the priest-patron principle. Although Tibet has been an independent nation since ancient times, the geopolitics and the needs of international diplomacy made the 13th Dalai Lama declare Tibetan independence on February 13, 1913.
Similarly, when the Qing regime adopted an aggressive policy to control the western frontiers, including Outer Mongolia, through stringent administration and cultural assimilation, the Mongols revolted. The Qing’s colonial ethnic and cultural assimilation policy was greatly resisted by the Mongolians. The 1911 revolution in China and the fall of the Qing dynasty gave Mongols a good opportunity to revolt and reject the Qing`s authority. Mongolia declared its independence and installed the 8th Jetsun Dhampa Khuthugtu as the temporal and spiritual head of Mongolia on November 30, 1911.
Sun Yatsen, the first Chinese President of the Republic of China, who took over the Qing regime rightly said that historically China has fallen under foreign rule twice, the first time under the Mongol’s Yuan dynasty and the second time under the Manchu’s Qing regime. He treated Manchu as a foreign power and declared Chinese republic and invited Mongolia and Tibet, even Nepal to join the republic.  But both Khuthugtu and the Dalai Lama claimed their independence and rejected the proposal.
The implication here is that China overthrew the Qing regime, which was a foreign entity, and the Republic of China was born. This helped Tibet and Mongolia also to shake off any influence or authority that the Qing regime had been claiming over the two regions. Just as the Manchu Qing regime was a foreign invader for China, as declared by Sun Yatsen, it too was a foreign intruder for Tibet and Mongolia. With the collapse of the Qing regime, China won its independence, and Mongolia and Tibet too declared their independence in 1912 and 1913, respectively.
Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of 1913
The Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of January 11, 1913, signed at Urga, present-day Ulan Bator, came as a response to the indifferent, condescending, and aggressive attitudes adopted by Russia, British, and China toward Tibet and Mongolia. The two countries realized that they were used as pawns in the selfish game of the three powerful neighbors. They found it odd that despite their independence since ancient times, why do they need the endorsement of foreign countries. So, they recognized each other`s independence from any foreign influence and promised to help each other against foreign invasion, and bound themselves to work for the promotion of their faith and values. The preamble of the agreement reads:
“Mongolia and Thibet, having freed themselves from the dynasty of the Manchus and separated from China, have formed their own independent States, and having in view that both States from time immemorial have professed one and the same religion, with a view to strengthening their historic and mutual friendship and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nikta Biliktu Da-Lama Rabdan, and the Assistant Minister, General and Manlai baatyr beiseh Damdinsurun, as plenipotentiaries of the Government of the ruler of the Mongol people, and gudjir tsanshib kanchen Lubsan-Agvan, donir Agvan Choinzin, director of the Bank Ishichjamtso, and the clerk Gendun Galsan, as plenipotentiaries of the Dalai Lama, the ruler of Thibet, have made the following agreement.”
Articles one and two of the agreement succinctly declare the formation of independent Tibet and Mongol States and recognized and approved the authority of the Dalai Lama and the Khuthugtu as the head of the respective states.
The remaining seven articles discussed how the two nations should collaborate and work together to safeguard their territories and faith from foreign intruders and how trade and commerce should be conducted for mutual benefits.
The three powerful neighbors received this treaty with a mixed feelings of doubt and concern. Instead of respecting the aspiration of the two countries, the great game used it to gain control and claim over the regions through the use of “autonomy” and “suzerainty” concepts and they questioned the validity of the treaty.
They purported that the treaty was invalid because it was signed by Avgan Dorjeiv, a Mongol Buryat and citizen of Russia, on behalf of Tibet. Some believed that the Dalai Lama had not authorized Dorjiev to sign such a treaty. We must know that Avgan Dorjiev was a respected scholar, tutor, and advisor to the 13th Dalai Lama, and his role as an emissary of Tibet is well documented. He escorted the Dalai Lama to Mongolia in 1904 when the British invaded Tibet. Moreover, the two other signatories, Donir Ngwang Choezin and Gendun Galsang, were authorized representatives of the government of Tibet posted in Mongolia. Tibetans have sometimes downplayed Dorjiev’s role while dealing with the British officials, but this was more of a diplomatic move to assuage the British fear. Whereas in reality, the 13th Dalai Lama and Tibetan Kashag (cabinet) at that time relied heavily on Dorjiev’s advice and his mission to Russia and Mongolia.
Doubt on the authority of Dorjiev to sign came up when Sir Charles Bell, British India`s Ambassador to Tibet and a noted Tibetologist, wrote that Dorjiev`s authority was based on a letter given to him by the Dalai Lama in 1904 when the latter was fleeing from the British expedition to Lhasa and the letter contain only religious matter and nothing of treaty making authority. However, from the several letters and authorizations that the 13th Dalai Lama had given to Agvan Dorjiev, Prof. Jampa Samten clarifies that it was the letter of August 1912, not 1904, that authorized Agvan Dorjiev to sign treaties on behalf of Tibet and the letter did mention treaty making authority.
Dr. Michael van Walt van Parag, a noted international lawyer and a Tibetologist, made a legal examination of the treaty and endorsed the treaty as a valid international treaty made by the two nations who satisfy the treaty making criteria under international law. He concluded his finding with:
“The government of Mongolia today and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet and the government in exile constitute continuity in relation to the parties that concluded the 1913 treaty as the legitimate representatives of their respective nations. The question that then remains to be answered is whether and to what extent the 1913 treaty persists in its validity today. If the intention of parties is to give expression to the continuity of the profound bonds that unite them, ways of usefully implementing, reaffirming and building on the 1913 treaty today can be explored.”
The important point to note here is: Mongols have played a far wider help in the form of priest-patron relations than the Manchus. Starting from the sacred intimate relationship between Mongols and Tibetans from Sakya Pandita and Godan Khan (1247) to Phagpa and Kublai Khan (1254), the third Dalai Lama and Altan Khan (1578), the fifth Dalai Lama and Gushri Khan (1642) and so on, Mongolia and Tibet enjoyed far deeper relations and Mongol Khans provided greater service to Tibet in the form of priest-patron relations. The 4th Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso, was a Mongolian and the Mongol’s spiritual heads both the 8th and 9th Jetsun Dhampa Khuthugtu were Tibetans. If any military influence and conquest in the past justify a claim on the sovereignty of another country, then Mongolia has a much better reason to assert a claim over Tibet.
There is an urgent need to study and research the roles played by the Mongol Khans and the Tibetan Lamas to explore the working of the priest-patron relationship, which kept the two communities close, yet without infringing on each other’s sovereignty. This may help the modern world to understand the concept of politico-religious governance and peaceful coexistence.
Tibet and Mongolia, who were once military powers realized the horror and destructive nature of war and embraced the path of Ahimsa, non-violence, as taught by the Buddha. If the world wants to see a future without wars, it must follow the path adopted by Tibet and Mongolia.
China is a great civilization with rich history, culture, and potential to contribute positively to promoting peace, arts, and learning. The communist leadership should respect this great ancient civilization and refrain from rewriting and distorting the history of the nation and the occupied territories to legitimize the doings of the communist regime and suppression of freedom and democracy. The Chinese communist regime’s irredentist claim on Tibet and Mongolia based on the vicissitudes of past relationships the two countries had with the Qing regime is not valid.
Free Tibet and Mongolia are very important to guide us to explore and further this non-violent path of governance and peaceful coexistence. War is not a solution to solve our differences, mutual respect and dialog are. H.H. the Dalai Lama has on numerous occasions said that the 20th century was the century of wars, we must make the 21st century a century of dialogs. Tibetans and Mongolians were way ahead in realizing this, but the modern world has kept them captive and chained. A free Tibet and Mongolia and H.H. the Dalai Lama`s proposal of the Tibetan Plateau as a Zone of Peace will greatly contribute to promoting peace in Asia and the world.
*Dr. Arya Tsewang Gyalpo is the Representative of the Liaison Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama for Japan and East Asia. He is former Secretary of the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) and former Director of the Tibet Policy Institute of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). The paper was presented at the Second Mongol-Tibet Cultural and Religious Symposium organized to commemorate the 110th Anniversary of the 1913 Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of Friendship and Alliance at the University of Tokyo, Japan on July 15, 2023.
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- Jampa Samten, The Legality of the Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of 1913, Tibet Journal, LTWA, India
- Tashi Tsering, The Tibeto-Mongol Treaty of January 1913, Amnye Machen, Lungta Spring 2013, Dharamsala
- Anglo Russian Convention of 1907: https://history.blog.gov.uk/2017/08/31/anglo-russian-entente-1907/
- Editors: Ann Heirman and Stephan Peter Bumbacher, The Spread of Buddhism, Brill, 2007 https://ia802902.us.archive.org/19/items/thespreadofbuddhismaheirmanandspbumbacheredsbrillarticles_444_t/The-Spread-of-Buddhism%20A-Heirman-and-S-P-Bumbacher-eds%20Brill%20%28Articles%29.pdf
 Shakabpa Tsepon WD, Tibet A Political History, p-26
 ibid p-28
 ibid, p-30
 ibid, p39
 ibid, p-44
 DIIR, The Mongols and Tibet, p-9, p-20
 1) Ann Heirman & Stephan Peter Bumbacher (editors), The Spread of Buddhism, p-395. 2) Encylopedia.com
 ibid, p-387 (Klaus Sagaster, The History of Buddhism Among the Mongol)
 Shakabpa, Tibet A Political History, p-103-105
 ibid, p-111
 Dr. Tsedendamba Batbayar, Mongolia and Tibet in the British Great Game
 1)Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, p-503. 2)Alex Mckey, Tibet and the British Raj, p-63
 Nikolai S. Kuleshov, Russia’s Tibet File, p-44, 47
 Eric Her, p-64, p-65
 DIIR, Tibet, Proving Truth from Facts, p-5
Nikolai S. Kuleshov, Russia’s Tibet File, p-6, p-43
 1) Jampa Samten & Nikolay Tsyrempilov, From Tibet Confidentially p-57. 2) Alex McKay, Tibet and the British Raj, p-84
 1) ibid, p-9. 2), Nikolai s. Kuleshov, Russia`s Tibet File, p-7
 Sreemati Chakrabarti, China, p-15
 T.G. Arya, Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume, p-18
 DIIR, Tibet, Proving Truth from Facts, p-5
 Dr. Michael van Walt van Parag, A Legal Examination of the 1913 Mongolia-Tibet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, p-18.
 DIIR, Tibet, Proving Truth from Facts, p-5
 Nikolai S. Kuleshov, Russia`s Tibet File, p-42 (Russia Foreign Policy Archives f.1464 p-36)
 DIIR, Political Treaties of Tibet (821-1951), p-23
 Charles Bell, Portrait of a Dalai Lama, p-388; Alex McKay, Tibet and the Bristh Raj, p-62
 1) Warren W. Smith Jr, Tibetan Nation, p-154. 2) Tashi Tsering, The Tibeto-Mongolian Treaty of January 1913, Lungta Spring 2013, p-21-22
 Dr. Michael C. van Walt van Parag, A Legal Examination of the 1913 Mongolia-Tibet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, p-28
 Jampa Samten, The Legality of the Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of 1913
 Dr. Michael C. van Walt van Parag, A Legal Examination of the 1913 Mongolia-Tibet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance
 ibid p-28
 cf. p-6