Since 1813 Central Asia had been a area contested by England and Russia. While the conflict had been focused on Afghanistan in the 19th century by 1900 the contested area moved eastwards to Mongolia and Tibet. The British were afraid of a Russian invasion of their crown colony of India and also feared China as well. In 1902 the British Viceroy of India sent Major Francis Younghusband on an expedition to Tibet to settle a border dispute. This invasion led to a massacre where more than 5,000 Tibetans may have been killed against British casualties of five. Russia sent a secret agent to China to collect intelligence on the prospect of instituting reform and modernization. In 1907 the Anglo-Russian Agreement of saw the two empires form an alliance to protect their regional interests against the growing strength and influence of Germany. Russia began to encourage Mongolian moves against China.
With the Chinese Revolution of October 1911 Mongol princes declared Mongolia’s independence from China. Russia provided the Mongols 15,000 rifles, 15,000 sabers and 7.5 million cartridges. In November 1912 Russia signed an agreement with Mongolia pledging to maintain Mongolia’s autonomy. Through its relationship with Mongolia Russia would be able to exercise direct influence in Tibetan affairs. Because Tibet was considered a buffer state situated on India’s northern frontier, Britain viewed Russia’s support for Mongolian autonomy as an attempt to expand Russian influence in the region and therefore a potential threat to their colonial interests there such as India and Afghanistan.
On January 11, 1913 Tibet and Mongolia signed a mutual defense treaty in which they proclaimed their independence from China. Tibet and Mongolia “from now and for all time afford each other assistance against external dangers.”