The Status of Tibet in International Law - From the 1840s to the 1950s

Chenyu Wang

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


The dispute over the status of Tibet between the Chinese government and the Tibetan government in exile has lasted for many years, and it attracted the attention of international society. For the Tibetan government in exile, Tibet was an independent state until 1950 when the Chinese annexed it by force. In contrast, the Chinese government claimed that Tibet has been a part of China since the 13th century, and the military operation in 1950 was only to regain its control over this land. This thesis aims to clarify the development of Tibet’s status from the 1840s to the 1950s under international law. This thesis first briefly discusses the Sino-Tibetan relations within the framework of the tribute system and concluded that Tibet formally became a part of China in the late 18th century. It then shows how the British influence penetrated Tibet and gradually put the latter under its sphere of influence in the early 20th century by analysing a series of Tibet-related treaties concluded between Britain and China. Although China’s sovereign rights over Tibet declined during this period, neither any third states nor the Chinese government recognised the independence of Tibet. The last part of the thesis discussed Tibet’s status from 1912 to 1951 in the context of the Sino-Tibetan armed conflicts. By applying the theory of non-international armed conflicts into the Sino-Tibetan interactions, it concludes that Tibet existed as a de facto state and the Dalai Lama’s regime was a belligerent in international law during the Chinese Republican era.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Ryngaert, Cedric, Primary supervisor
  • Spijkers, Otto, Co-supervisor
Award date22 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2021


  • Tibet
  • Status
  • International Law
  • Independence
  • Sovereignty
  • Suzerainty
  • De facto state
  • Belligerent community.


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