From the Qing Empire to the People’s Republic, China’s concern for separatism ran high

From the Qing Empire to the People’s Republic, China’s concern for separatism ran high

“It will never allow anyone, any organization or political party to smash any part of our territory at any time or in any form,” he said, standing under a giant portrait of Sun.

It is “our solemn commitment to history and to the people,” Xi said in his 2016 speech, that China will never again be shaken.

Concerns about separatism can be seen in the hardline policies adopted by Beijing in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as an increasingly aggressive stance toward the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Xi has promised to unify with the mainland – by force. . , if necessary.

However, such policies can often be falsified. In Hong Kong, in particular, resentment towards Beijing has grown in recent years. In the last 12 months, since anti-government riots have been combined with strong policing, chants such as “Hong Kong’s independence, the only hope” have been more common among parts of the protest movement.
Such a speech is antithetical to China’s leaders and the need to dispel separatism was given as a key justification for a new national security law. The advent of independence – perhaps even discussion of the issue – may soon become illegal.

Carrie Lam, the city’s general manager, said the law will ensure “Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability”.

States and separatists

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, once argued that “no proper government has ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination,” and even the separatist Confederate States of America it has not it includes a provision in its constitution that allows any member to resign.

Anti-separatism is the norm throughout the world, no matter the desires of many people around the world for a proper country, or the importance of “self-determination” often declared as a principle of international law.

In fact, u Resolution of the United Nations establishing that principle, passed in the 1960s in a wave of decolonization, also states that “any attempt to partially or totally deter the national unity and territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the aims and principles of the Charter of the United States Nations “
While Beijing and Moscow have often accused Washington of supporting separatists in their own spheres of influence, U.S. policy has been equally pro-status quo. As Croatia held an independence referendum in 1991, the U.S. State Department did he declared his commitment to the “territorial integrity of Yugoslavia within its present borders.” That year, President George H.W. Bush around Ukrainians trying to separate the crumbling Soviet Union to avoid “suicidal nationalism,” adding that “freedom is not the same as independence.”
In 1996, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, he said Russia’s brutal war in Chechnya is based on “the proposal that Abraham Lincoln gave to his life, that no State had the right to renounce our Union.” It’s 2014, Barack Obama personally lobbied in in favor of Scotland to vote to maintain a part of the United Kingdom.
This attitude, shared by almost every country in the world – see Spain’s heavy suppression of Catalan nationalism – is part of why, “for all the political turmoil of the last quarter century, the number, the form and the arrangement of countries on the World map was remarkably useless, “writes Joshua Keating in”Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of the Nation. ”

“Since the end of the Cold War, a global norm has prevailed to reinforce cartographic stasis, a freeze in place of the map as it existed at the end of the twentieth century,” Keating said. “This norm also prevails that ethnic and religious conflicts arise in the countries on the map.”

A performer played the role of the Qing emperor during a renovation of an ancient spring festival ceremony in Beijing. Much of China & # 39; s modern boundaries are based on the historical conquest of Qing.

China continues

It is perhaps now that this norm is stronger, or stronger said, than in China.

Writing in the state China Daily this month, Liu Xiaoming, Beijing’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, responded to London’s concern about growing Chinese aggression against Taiwan by saying that the island “has been an inseparable part of Chinese territory from the ‘antiquity’.
While the Republic of China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since its founding in 1949, the historical basis for Liu’s demand can be challenged. Putting aside the fact that an island is a separable part of every country, what we call Taiwan has been experienced for long periods of time. out of Chinese control, during the domination by indigenous leaders and foreign colonizers, including the Dutch and Japanese.

The same is true for other parts of China often called inseparable from the government, including Tibet and Xinjiang. While these territories were also often under Chinese control or influence, it was part of a broader imperial system, completely eliminated by modern conceptions of nations.

The boundary that China considers inviolable today – in the Himalayas, the South China Sea, and around the various “inseparable” territories on its periphery – has not been established. until the end of the 18th century.
This was not due to any unique feature of the Chinese state, but due to the same aggressive expansion that led to the growth of the British, Russian and Ottoman empires. Yet unlike these systems, writes historian Joseph Esherick“China alone has kept its territory intact, since the Qing Empire was transformed, in 1911, into the Republic of China and, in 1949, into the People’s Republic.”

“The boundaries of Modern China do not correspond to the historical boundaries of the common culture of ethnic Chinese (or Han) people, nor to the boundaries of the premodern Chinese state,” Esherick writes in “How the Qing Became China.” .

“Completely half of the territory of present-day China was acquired for conquest during the Qing dynasty, a dynasty in which the ruling house was not Han Chinese, but Manchu intruders from beyond the Great Wall. Most of this expansion was done only in the 18th century. “

Sam Crane, president of Asian Studies at Williams College, said many states and territories that paid tribute to the Qing Empire and were under its sphere of influence would not be considered a part of it. of China or Chinese civilization from Beijing.

“Imperial political control has not assumed a singular, common, modern national identity,” he said. “Once we arrived in 1949, the claim that Tibet and Uyghur are part of the‘ Chinese nation ’was set at a much higher level than under the Qing, and political interests to demand a greater autonomy are, therefore, much higher. ”

Chinese President Xi Jinping saw it during a meeting in December 2019. Xi advanced an increasingly nationalist policy as the leader of China & # 39;


The modern idea of ​​a nation-state – of a people united by common culture, language or ethnicity – is traditionally applied to a series of treaties in the mid-17th century, when the Holy Roman Empire recognized independence. of two non-monarchists. states, Switzerland and the Netherlands

That marked, according to Keating, the point after which nation-states have become more “the most significant unit in international politics,” becoming more important than governments or empires in the midst of an increase in nationalism throughout the world. continent.

This did not take place immediately and the rise of the great empires of Europe did not take place until the twentieth century. Even in Asia, it was not until the Qing was challenged by the new assertive nation-states, particularly Britain, France, and Japan, that the conception of empire began to move in a similar direction.

Despite its adoption of imperial borders since the fall of the Qing, China has fully reinvented itself as a modern nation-state, advancing an idea of ​​comprehensive Chineseness – a system of language and education that encourages all members of its borders to identify who are part of China.

Since the transition from socialism to a market economy in the 1980s, nationalism has become a more important source of legitimacy for Chinese leaders, and many traditional symbols of the imperial past have been rehabilitated as is part of that. Beijing’s demands to speak out for China and the Chinese people often extend well beyond the country’s borders, conflicting ethnicity with the citizenship of the People’s Republic.

The concept of the nation-state has also developed over time, so that the ancient imperial territories such as Tibet and Xinjiang, whose traditional peoples had little connection ethnically, linguistically or culturally to those in the East of China, they have become “part of the country since ancient times.” as Liu and other Chinese officials have discussed.

Despite this, the boundaries of the Qing dynasty were not proven completely inviolable under the Republican government. After the collapse of the empire, Mongolia broke up, gaining formal independence from China in 1921 with the support of the Soviet Union. While some Chinese nationalist figures sometimes speak of claiming “outer Mongolia,” Beijing has long Ulaanbaatar recognized and cultivated strong trade and diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor.

Writing on the global norm in favor of the status quo, Keating said that “the hypothesis was that if the secessionist movements were successful, it would open a box of Pandism for dangerous separatism.”

This is perhaps particularly true in China, where a single independent domain could manage a cascade of territorial unrest.

Beijing has addressed the desire for independence in Xinjiang and Tibet, in part, by encouraging the massive migration of Han Chinese into the two territories, as well as advancing policies of Significance in education, language and religion. The ethnic makeup change of the two areas makes it more difficult to argue for self-determination based on an idea of ​​a racial or cultural difference to China itself, with millions of Han Chinese living in the two regions.

Hong Kong and Taiwan threatened the status quo differently. Both are mostly Han Chinese, and antipathy towards Beijing in these areas is based not only on nationalism but as a rejection of the continent’s political system. Whether each territory to become fully independent, this could undermine the PRC’s claims of legitimacy, based on the idea that a historical China still exists and should exist.

Challenge to the idea is controversial everywhere – in China as in the UK in Scotland, Spain in Catalonia, or in Russia and Ukraine in the Crimea. But as Keating writes, “Existing countries in the world are not good in themselves; they are useful as long as they help provide security and general well-being for the people who live in them, and also for the world as a whole. .

“When they fail, our first impulse should be to ask how they can improve, not just to say they need to be preserved.”

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