19.03.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Another update concerning the problem of separatism in China

tibetan-man_22_05_2015Despite the undeniable success of Beijing in important areas of domestic policy, such as economic and social development of the areas of ethno-religious minorities, there are often excesses of various types and scales of occurring in China that may very well be qualified as separatist manifestations.

While separatism problems themselves are inherent, to some extent, in other leading world powers also. For example, they manifest themselves in a variety of ways and often in acute form (including armed struggle) in neighboring India. The worst thing for any major player in the intensifying global game is that such excesses are prone to become events of the international life, and geopolitical opponents never miss an opportunity to interpret every such incident in their own ways.

Until recently, the biggest concern for Beijing was the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the radical Islamist groups from which have repeatedly carried out large-scale terrorist attacks in various parts of China.

Two years ago (at the peak of the Uyghur terrorist activity), Beijing took countermeasures in the territory of XUAR that were met with negative criticism from the US and Japan. Sharp criticism was also made by Turkey, which fitted into an evident “pan-Turkey” trend of Ankara’s foreign policy, and it even went so far as to threaten the second biggest world power with retaliation.

In recent years, there have been separatist manifestations in Hong Kong (holding the status of Special Administrative Region along with Macau), the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Taiwan. The situation in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (where the proportion of actual Mongols is only 20%) seems relatively calm. Whereas a few years ago, the issue of separatist manifestations in IMAR was quite relevant and served as one of the key sources of friction in China’s relations with the Mongolian Republic.

The nature separatism smoldering in Hong Kong is not due to ethnic and religious population characteristics, but the fact that the Hans lived under British rule for a long time (almost 150 years), that is, they were separated from life of the mainland. By the time of the return (in 1999) to the “bosom of the motherland,” they were quite different from the Hans of the latter. The political culture of one of the leading European countries couldn’t help but have a long-term impact on the political and social identity of Hong Kong.

The process of political fitting-in of Hong Kong and the mainland isn’t that simple and is accompanied by various kinds of excesses. The most serious of them, (and, as it turns out, not completely resolved, took place in autumn 2014. It was called as the “umbrella movement” and was considered in HBO before.

Another separatist manifestation associated with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was discovered this time not in the territory of Tibet, but in neighboring India. According to the latest estimates, about 110 thousand Tibetans live in areas of compact settlement here, which accounts for about 3% of the population of TAR. They are mostly refugees (and their descendants) who have left Tibet over the past 70 years. The largest wave of emigration followed the riots in 1959 that were severely suppressed by Beijing.

The most famous refugee was the spiritual leader of world Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama. Since then, the fact of his staying in India and the international activity carried out from the territory of this country under the banner of spiritual care for its followers, has become one of the main problems in Beijing’s policy toward TAR. The second most important factor is that the parliament and government continue to function in exile in the territory of India.

The current Dalai Lama enjoys the open patronage of the US where he went for treatment on January 19 this year. It is more than likely that the 80-year-old Buddhist leader really needs medical assistance. However, according to the chronicle of the website of the Russian representative office of the 14th Dalai Lama, he continues to lead a very intensive way of life in the US, lecturing both at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (where this medical assistance is provided to him), and in American universities.

In connection with his two month visit to the United States, the 14th Dalai Lama was absent at the most important for world Buddhism events in winter 2016 (the most significant of which is, “Kalachakra initiation”, was postponed for a year) that are held in the temple complex in Bodhgaya in north India.

The absence of the Buddhist leader at the celebrations proved to be to the point in one important aspect. The fact is that three popular representatives of Chinese pop culture came to attend them in mid-February. According to one of the Chinese government websites, during the events they were located in an unacceptable vicinity of two chief deputies of the 14th Dalai Lama, as well as members of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Thus, the Chinese pop stars (wittingly or unwittingly) made what appeared to be an act of Tibetan separatism. And if the world Buddhist leader had been at the celebrations, he could not have avoided being in the proximity to them, or even some action in relation to the Buddhist converts from the mainland. Then the negative Chinese reaction to this event would have gone far beyond the article in the Global Times with a didactic title “Holidays are not an occasion for swamps of Tibetan separatism“.

The act of information countering the last of its manifestations was the public expression of thanks to the current Panchen Lama of his “patriotism and the contribution to the national unity and ethnic solidarity” expressed on behalf of the Chinese leadership on March 2 this year. In response, the Panchen Lama said he would follow the instructions of the CPC Central Committee General Secretary Xi Jinping, which he received from him during last year’s meeting.

It should be noted, however, that the legitimacy of the current monk’s occupation of the second most important post in the hierarchy of world leadership in Buddhism is denied by the milieu of the 14th Dalai Lama.

As for Taiwan, the validity of using the term ‘separatism’ in relation to certain aspects of political life of the island depends on the background of the one who is speaking on this topic.

If these are official representatives of Beijing, then anything preventing the resolution of one of China’s key challenges in the foreign policy (which is reduced to “return to the heart of the motherland of the lost and rebellious province”) is interpreted as a manifestation of separatist tendencies varying in severity

In this regard, ,the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that won a decisive victory in mid-January this year and its leader Tsai Ing-wen (who will take the post of the president of Taiwan in May) are suspected of separatist tendencies Not as explicitly as in the two thousands, under the former leader of the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian, but nonetheless. To say anything more specific than nonetheless will only be possible once the practical work of the new Parliament and the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen has begun.

It appears that the main initiator of the Taiwan separatist manifestations (Tsai Ing-wen) will be notably congratulated by the initiator of the Tibetan version (the 14th Dalai Lama). In a letter to Mrs. Tsai from January 17, 2016, the world’s Buddhist leader particularly wrote: “Surely the fact that democracy is firmly rooted in the land of Taiwan, is encouraging. This is an example worth following, and a source of inspiration for all nations aspiring to freedom and democratic governance”. In these words one can easily see a subtext, which Beijing doubtfully appreciated.

Meanwhile, a certain bill, proposed in February of this year by MPs from the DPP looks like a trend in the attitude of the Taiwanese and has given Beijing great cause for concern. It states that schools and government establishments in Taiwan must remove all images of the official “Father of the (Chinese) nation” and founder of the Kuomintang party, Sun Yat-sen.

Furthermore. On February 28 at the headquarters of the Kuomintang party in Taipei (the victim crushing defeat in the January elections) bottles with “Molotov cocktail” were thrown into the premises by unknown perpetrators and cans of paint were showered on the sculpture of Chiang Kai-shek (the successor of Sun Yat-sen) located in the Hall dedicated to his memory.

This leads us back to the fact that in the history of Taiwan, February 28, 1947 is the date of an unprecedented tragedy, when two years after being freed from Japanese occupation and the island joining China, the Kuomintang Government brutally suppressed the Taiwanese demonstration against the “dominance of occupants from the mainland.”

The exact number of those dead and missing is yet to be reported, but it is in the tens of thousands. A military regime of terror was established on the island, which subsequently grew into a dictatorship of the Kuomintang party, which lasted until the end of the 80s.

And while, in 1995, the party leadership spoke words of sincere remorse for the incident on February 28, and the current KMT is hardly in any way like Kuomintang Chiang Kai-shek, the consequences of those events years ago still come back to haunt the party today. Its shadow will only deepen in the event that the Kuomintang will not be able to overcome the image of (for the most part incorrect) Beijing’s puppet

In this case, history returned with the irony of casting a 69 year-old shadow of this tragedy on the CPC, although it had no connection with it. Simply because, the CPC is head of the same mainland and professes the principle of “one and united-China”, which was the basis of ideology, “the Kuomintang Chiang Kai-shek.” For this reason, Beijing is forced to react sharply to both the bill in question and the acts of vandalism in Taiwan on Kuomintang property, as well as recent sculptures of Chiang Kai-shek, China’s worst enemy.

In conclusion, we reiterate that, as for any major world power, China has its own complexly organized skeletons in the closet, including the one in charge of the separatist manifestations. Due to changes in the domestic and foreign political climate, the surviving separatist skeleton is beginning to periodically rattle its bones. – Somehow you need to build relationships with it.

Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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