Friday, March 21, 2008

On Nationhood

To which of the following statements do you adhere?


b) Tibet is a part of China, was a part of China, and always will be a part of China.

1 Nation = 1 State

If you answered a, your reasoning might be,
Any nationality trapped inside a larger nation-state should become a free nation. It's only natural that every nation have it's own state. After all, if the French have France, the Japanese have Japan, then why not let the Tibetans have Tibet?
It may indeed be natural for nations to have states, but is it un-natural for multiple nations to share one state? Look at Switzerland, comprised of 4 groups: French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh. Look at Belgium, shared by French- and Dutch-speakers. Or, look at Canada, made up of English and French speaking provinces. There's also Spain, the UK, Malaysia, India...

All of these are examples of two or more nations successfully mingled in the bosom of a single state with wealth, stability and freedom. So there's nothing unusual about a country having more than one official language, culture, and ethnicity.

However, notice that all the countries just listed are democracies. The citizens of those countries are there by choice, not held by an iron grip. Voters in Quebec, for example, have exercised their choice twice, and both times voted to remain a part of Canada.

Also, most muliti-nation states are federal, where different regions have some self-rule but still within a larger country.

China doesn't play by those rules. Tibetans do not have the freedom to choose their government whether it be independent or within a greater China.

1 China, Indivisible

Now, if you picked option b, you may be afraid that:

If Tibet separates, what's to stop a domino effect from tearing all of China apart completely? The country I know and love will be Balkanized into a patchwork of micro-states and the whole region will be thrown into chaos.

This idea has merit. China has several disparate regions, (bestowed with the progressive-sounding but constitutionally impotent title of "Autonomous Region") where there is not only a unique culture or religion, but downright hostility toward the ruling Han majority. Tibet is one example, but the western Uighur province in another. And here is what one learned world affairs analyst, Robert D. Kaplan, wrote about it in The Coming Anarchy:

Having traveled through much of western China, where Muslim Turkic Uighurs (who despise the [Han] Chinese) often predominate, I find it hard to imagine a truly democratic China without at least a partial break-up of the country. Such a break-up would lead to chaos in western China, because the Uighurs are poorer and less educated than most Chinese and have a terrible historical record of governing themselves.
Kaplan goes further, wondering if the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in '89 had led to democracy, could China manage the same astounding levels of economic growth that it does:
I am not certain, because democracy in China would have ignited turmoil not just in the Muslim west of the country but elsewhere too; order would have decreased but corruption would not have.
The Dalai Lama himself basically agreed with Kaplan's assessment when he said in an interview with Time:
Tibet is a landlocked country, a large area, small population, very, very backward. We Tibetans want modernization. Therefore, in order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China.
1 Country, 2 Systems

Notice that Kaplan's statements above deal with democracy, not self rule. It's one thing to say that China is not ready for federal democracy, or that its provinces shouldn't become independent republics. It's another thing to say Tibet can't have some form of autonomy within China. This already exists in Hong Kong where China holds power over defense and foreign affairs while legal, economic and immigration policies are under local control. The same idea exists in Macau, and if China had it's way it would exist for Taiwan too.

For Tibet, the Dalai Lama favours this policy of "one country, two systems" over full independence, to the chagrin of Tibet's government-in-exile. In the interview with Time he declared that Tibet should accept a partnership with China if it improves the standard of living of Tibetan people:
...In order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China. Provided Chinese give us a full guarantee of preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan environment, Tibetan spirituality, then it is of mutual benefit.
In other words, if China was to create a parallel system for Tibet within China, not unlike that of Hong Kong and Macau, it would be a workable, peaceful solution to allow Tibetans to exercise their religion and unique way of life--including control over immigration--in a way that keeps the greater China politically stable and economically prosperous.

The photo above is a collection of stamps celebrating China's ethnic diversity.

News From Tibet
Throwing Stones


chen said...

Hi, Adam, I am really impressed by your analysis and I could not agree more.

By the way, as a Chinese, I choose b, and I hope our govt will sit down with Dalai and deal with this issue together.

janet said...
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janet said...

The Chinese government and the Dalai Lama need to talk as soon as possible as clearly the younger generation of the Tibetan government-in-exile is getting out of control.

I totally agree with you that what would benefit the Tibetan people and all other Chinese people the most is for Tibet to remain as part of China.

The CCP has never quite figured out how to present itself to the outside world. It did do one thing right though, which was not to follow the USSR in treating ethnic minority groups by eradicating differences and unifying languages and cultures for a common identity.

The Chinese government needs to have more confidence in itself and its own people. The western media should also learn how to accept China as what it is now, not 30 years ago.

Gongtao said...

well said, Adam. I can't agree more.

Kewen said...

well said.

Adam Juice said...

Thanks everyone for the comments.

Janet, it's fascinating what you say about China needing more confidence to really deal with it's issues. I definitely think China's trying to have it both ways in that they want the world to respect them as a modern, wealthy nation--just like any in the West--but on the other hand says, "Back off and mind your own business" when it comes it it's internal challenges. There's a certain immaturity in the way China chooses to address it's problems.

Also, I agree about the Western media. I think they're embarrassing themselves by painting China as the boogyman vs. these pure and innocent Tibetans who, seemingly, can do no wrong.

Let the facts speak for themselves, I say. The cause of Tibet doesn't require distortion to illicit support.

janet said...

Adam, agree to everything you've said...
Nationalism is not the solution to anything, but it's also interesting to observe how strongly younger Chinese who live and study abroad react to this issue this time.
I believe the Chinese government has unblocked youtube as they've also seen how an open forum of information could work to their benefits.
I questioned "in whom we trust" when I first encountered the storm of conflicting information everywhere, but now I feel much more hopeful because there are people like your and Ken who are disseminating facts and base your judgment on facts. Thanks again...

janet said...
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janet said...
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janet said...

check out the link on my blog as I can't post a full link on your space. There was an interview on NPR with China's ambassador this morning, and it was depressing.

Adam Juice said...

Thanks for that Janet. I finally got around to listening to it. It's amazing how stubbornly the ambassador refuses to answer a simple question.
He epitomizes the childish arrogance of the chinese government, wanting positive attention, but no negative scrutiny. ...Can't have one without the other...

Anyway, nice blog!

janet said...

Thanks! Funny how you comment on my blog on your blog, and you know that I'll see it.

Adam Juice said...

Haha. I only did that because I don't have an MSN account to place the comment there. I swear I tried :P