Why Did China Invade Tibet?

The People's Republic of China's stated goal in invading Tibet in 1950, sometimes referred to as a re-annexation, was to liberate the Tibetans from a repressive system of feudalism and to improve economic development and education within the region. The leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, also stood to obtain political benefits from the international community, such as a recognition of legitimacy for the new government, by reclaiming the region without any visible interference from foreign powers or organizations. The re-annexation of the region carried a symbolic meaning for the Chinese Communist Party and helped to extend the spirit of confidence gained after their victory in the civil war fought against the Nationalists.

The invasion was preceded by a breakdown in negotiations between the de facto independent government of Tibet and the new People's Republic of China. Mao's representative at the talks communicated the proposal that Tibet be considered as a region within China with the P.R.C. maintaining responsibility for the region's trade and foreign relations in addition to providing defense. The implication was that a refusal of the proposal would lead to a liberation of the region by China's military forces, or People's Liberation Army. The Tibetan position was to maintain the older relationship in which China played the role of a patron and, if needed, a protector. The Tibetans did not see a need for Chinese troops to be stationed within the region unless requested in response to a threat from a foreign invader.

The Tibetans continued to refuse to accept the Chinese proposal and sought foreign support. During the stalled negotiations, the People's Liberation Army eventually crossed the Jinsha River and surrounded the outnumbered Tibetan defense forces, effectively giving China control over the region.