(3) The Tibetan Army's First Eastward Invasion

In an effort to make its promises to Tibet a reality, Britain moved to beef up Tibet's military might. It gave the Gaxag government of Tibet 5,000 out-of-date British army rifles, plus ammunition, as a reward for the 90,000 square km of land south of the "McMahon Line." This made it possible for the Tibetan army to be armed with modern equipment for the first time in history. In the meantime, Britain opened a military school in Gyangze to help train Tibetan officers. Tibet also sent people to India to study the use of heavy artillery and machine guns. The Gaxag government then organized the headquarters of the Tibetan army, which expanded from four regiments, totalling 3,000 men, to 11 regiments, totalling 8,000 men. The Tibetan army thus grew in strength.

In the winter of 1914, Domai Gyichao Galoon Lama Qamba Dainda led Deboin Cuike's regiment to Gongbo'gyamda in the east. A regiment led by Deboin Gongran also moved eastward to the 39-Tribe area. Other Tibetan troops followed these eastward moves. These well-equipped Tibetan troops, with strong resentment for the Han, often collided with the Sichuan army. The peace of the area was at risk.

In the autumn of 1917, the Sichuan troops stationed in Riwoqe captured two Tibetan soldiers who had crossed the border" to cut grass. They were escorted to Qamdo. The Tibetan military leaders dispatched a letter to the Sichuan garrison, demanding the return of the two Tibetan soldiers and claiming the Tibetan military court would punish them. Peng Risheng, the commander of the Sichuan army, however, beheaded the two Tibetans. The indignant Tibetan army attacked the garrison and captured Riwoqe and Nganda before closing in on Qamdo and Chagyab. As the Sichuan warlord was busy fighting the Yunnan warlord, only a battalion was sent from the Sichuan border to Peng's rescue. Qamdo fell to the Tibetans in April 1918 and Peng was taken alive. The Tibetan army then moved eastward in a pincer attack, capturing Dege, Dengke and five other counties. In July, the Tibetan army engaged the Sichuan army at Rongbecha west of Garze for over 20 days. The two forces dug in on opposite banks of the Yarlung River. When Cheng Xialing, a Sichuan border official, sent people to Lhasa, they received a letter from the 13th Dalai Lama claiming the Tibetans were "sorry to have offended their patron" and that they were "willing to seek peace."

These battles constituted the first eastward invasion of a Tibetan army during the Republic of China.

The British government was glad to see the Tibetan army defeat the Sichuan army and approach the western bank of the Yarlung River. Eric Teichman, the British vice-consul to China, who was then shuttling between Gansu and Qinghai, was rushed to Tibet under the pretext of mediation. Actually he was charged with assisting the Tibetan army in consolidating its gains in the field. Chen Xialing sent Liu Zanting to negotiate with the Tibetan army at Qamdo, during which Eric Teichman brought out a 13-article peace agreement that he had engineered together with the Tibetans. The agreement included the following provisions:

(1) The Sichuan and Tibetan armies remain on the lands they currently hold. The Sichuan army stays in Batang, Yanjin, Yideng, Derong, Litang, Garze, Xinlung, Luhuo, Daofu, Yajiang and Kangding; and the Tibetan army stays in Riwoqe, Nganda, Qamdo, Toinpu, Dengkou, Dege and Shiqu. Neither should cross the temporarily drawn borderline.

(2) No force is allowed to settle issues surfacing following the signing of this agreement. Instead, the British consulate will be invited to mediate.

(3) This is a provisional agreement. A tripartite government conference should be held between the Chinese, British and Tibetan sides for the conclusion of a lasting peace agreement which, however, should not contain any revised articles of this agreement.

The above shows the British did its best to legalize the fact that the Tibetan army had already crossed the bondery of the so-called "Inner and Outer Tibet", and went on to force the Chinese government to agree with the holding of another tripartite conference so as to sign an official agreement.

With regard to the contents of the agreement, Liu Zanting said that "The conflicts between the Sichuan and Tibetan armies fall under the internal affairs of China, and no outsiders should intervene." (Selected Materials on the History of Tibet, p.308) He refused to sign the agreement. Chen Xialing also refused to sign it on the excuse that "The peace agreement loses authority and hence is invalid." (Ya Hanzhang: Biography of the Dalai Lama, p.230) Meanwhile, Liu dispatched his men to Rongbecha to negotiate with Deboin Gongran of the Tibetan army. In October, both sides signed the Agreement on Ceasefire and Withdrawal of Troops at the Border. Under the agreement, the Sichuan army retreated to Garze and the Tibetan army to Dege; various counties in Xikang that had been captured by the Tibetan army were put under Tibetan control for the time being, with Rongbecha serving as the border for the northern route and Ningjingshan Mountain serving as the border for the southern route; the term of the ceasefire was one year, and was in place awaiting negotiations between representatives of the Chinese president and the Dalai Lama. This provisional ceasefire agreement ruled out the possibility for the British to intervene and stressed that the conflicts were the internal affairs of China. The agreement accepted the Tibetan army's occupation of various counties, with the result that the Sichuan army controlled only 17 of 33 counties in Xikang.

At this point, the Northern Warlords split into the Hebei, Anhui and Liaoning factions. In addition, the political scene included local warlords in the south and the revolutionary forces of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. China was torn apart, with incessant fighting between the various political forces. Under this situation, President Xu Shichang was unable to negotiate from strength. He had no leisure to discuss terms with the 13th Dalai Lama on matters concerning the eastward invasion of the Tibetan army. The crack forces of the Sichuan Army were engaged with the Yunnan army, and therefore had no extra strength to cope with the Tibetan army. The government of the Republic of China and the Sichuan warlord had no choice but to accept the provisional agreement for a one-year ceasefire.

Xagabba does not mention the invalidity of the Qamdo Agreement, but stresses that the wording and the events leading to the birth of the agreement show that Tibet was a power in the region, and the fact that the governments of the three sides involved with the agreement, including the Chinese, pleaded for British mediation testifies that Tibet was independent. This conclusion is, however, unfounded. It is very common for a ceasefire to be the end result of armed conflict between two local forces or between a local force and the Central Government. When one local force has gained a temporary and regional victory, this does not signify that the local power was an independent state prior to the struggle or had become an independent state as a result of the struggle. From 1915 to 1916, Cai E led the warlord armies of Yunnan against Yuan Shi-kai, who had declared himself president for life and emperor of China. The struggles ended with the abdication of Yuan. In this case, no one claims Cai E won independence for Yunnan. So why should the same yardstick be applied in the case of Tibet?