View Full Version : OPINION: Autonomy? Think Again (Elliot Sperling)

Free Uyghur
21-07-09, 22:24
OPINION: Autonomy? Think Again (Elliot Sperling)
Times Of India[Monday, July 20, 2009 09:20]
By Elliot Sperling

As if any further evidence were needed of the ways in which China has been running rings around the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile, recent events have made the situation abundantly clear. Last November the Tibetans presented a memorandum to China, meant to demonstrate that the Dalai Lama's position on Tibetan autonomy was wholly compatible with China's existing laws on regional nationality autonomy. The memorandum was vehemently rejected and the dialogue process between the two sides screeched to a halt.

On June 22, there were reports that exiled Tibetan officials were meeting to draft a statement clarifying their stand and, it was hoped, would open a way out of the impasse. The new statement is intended to demonstrate that the Tibetans want to reach an accord with China on the basis of Chinese autonomy laws. Unfortunately, the ignorance with which the authorities in exile deal with China is now on display in embarrassing detail.

The Dalai Lama's chief negotiators, Kelsang Gyaltsen and Lodi Gyari, have met with other officials to hammer out a position that they fantasise will interest China, and Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained expert, has been reinforcing the exiled government's views with his own analysis of the law. But the fact is that all of these people are functionally illiterate in the hundreds of articles and books all in Chinese that constitute the body of interpretive literature on regional nationality autonomy in China. That never seems to have perturbed the Dalai Lama's people as they wander quite blindly around major issues of Chinese policy.

Since the spring of 2008, China has responded to criticism of its historical claims to Tibet by scrapping its common line, that 13th-century Mongol conquerors made Tibet part of China, with the more forceful, take-no-prisoners position that Tibet has been a part of China "since human activity began". Much as this exemplifies the attitude that history is not an objective measure against which to weigh Chinese claims, so too a new debate has opened in China that demonstrates that the laws on autonomy are not to be considered fixed standards against which the government can be challenged. To the contrary, they are tools of the government and party, dispensable when they are not serving the desired political ends.

In April, seemingly unbeknownst to the Dalai Lama's authorities, Ma Rong, a scholar who often writes on minority demographic and population issues, proposed a drastic measure, akin to what was done in the area of history: scrap the regime of regional nationality autonomy laws. The real problem, according to Ma Rong, is that China's autonomy laws derive from a Stalinist heritage (which, in the Soviet Union, included rights to secession and independence), saddling China with a system that alienates minorities from the notion that they are part of the larger Chinese nationality. Now, with uncanny timing, the recent unrest in Xinjiang has underscored his contention.

As Ma Rong puts it, the nationality laws encourage minorities to exclude others from their regions, privilege their own language, assert economic rights of their own and maintain and strengthen the historical consciousness, religions and practices that differentiate them from others, all in accord with Stalin's definition of "nationality". For Ma Rong, this is the crux of the problem: the current system leaves minorities with little or no sense that they are Chinese. Only three other countries, he notes, ever implemented a similar system with specific geographical regions for minority nationalities: the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. It goes without saying that the historical track record is not good.

In contrast, India and the United States provide useful counter-examples. Jawaharlal Nehru in particular is cited for imbuing the members of various groups with the sense of being part of "the Indian nation", while at the same time dulling the areas of ethno-national conflict between them. In the US, the election of Barack Obama is presented precisely because his platform was directed at the benefit of all Americans, with no taint of racial interest. Neither country has regional minority nationality autonomous structures.

The debate that Ma Rong opened up in April is of critical importance to China's Tibet policy. But no one in Dharamsala seems to have noticed. Rather than devote resources to acquiring the databases that would allow them to access the wide range of Chinese materials available online, the Dalai Lama decided in May to send $1,00,000 to Florida International University to support its religious studies programme. Though American dharma students are hardly an endangered species, such are Dharamsala's priorities.

Sonam Dagpo, of the Dalai Lama's Department of Information and International Relations, told a news agency towards the end of June that the Tibetans "want to settle the issue mutually and within the framework of the Chinese constitution, law and national regional autonomy". Best of luck with that one, guys.

Free Uyghur
21-07-09, 22:53
EDITORIAL: China?s ability to ignore the obvious
Monday, Jul 20, 2009, Page 8
Taipei Times

The clashes between the Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang this month left at least 197 people dead and more than 1,600 wounded. The rioting was Xinjiang?s worst ethnic unrest in decades. It not only shook China, but also brought international attention to the problems faced by China?s ethnic minority groups, including Uighurs and Tibetans.
Chinese officialdom cannot see anything wrong with the government?s minority policies and its treatment of minority groups. The official view is that development among the minorities living in Xinjiang is harmonious and calm, therefore it cannot be the cause of the unrest in the region. Chinese officials blame the unrest on exiled separatists and say that it was well planned and co-ordinated to take place at more than 50 locations across the regional capital, Urumqi. They claim that the problems have been incited by foreign forces, whether last year?s riots in Tibetan areas or this year?s unrest in Xinjiang.

These ?forces? have not been identified, but any foreign country, organization, media outlet or individual seen as being prejudiced against China in some way is a possible accomplice. International respect for the Dalai Lama is seen by Beijing as an attempt to strengthen the Tibetan spiritual leader?s prestige and as support for a plot to bring about Tibetan independence. When Forbes magazine listed Rebiya Kadeer, who was Xinjiang?s richest person but was forced into exile in 2005, as one of China?s 10 richest people, Beijing saw this as an attempt to increase her prestige among Uighurs and as a way to oppose Chinese rule and encourage an East Turkestan independence movement.

By externalizing an internal problem, China has not only played down the inappropriate nature of its ethnic minority policies, but has also absolved itself of any responsibility for mishandling the riots by directing the focus of blame away from Beijing. More important, the Chinese authorities have expanded the ethnic minority problem and turned it into an issue of international prejudice. By using nationalism to manipulate the issue and create feelings of insecurity and rising international pressure among the Chinese, the government gains public sympathy and strengthens national unity.

This is China?s standard approach and it usually works. However, redirecting ethnic sentiment also changes the essence of the problem and diminishes domestic criticism of failed policies, political corruption, social injustice and human rights violations. This in turn means that the real, underlying problems are not resolved. This way of handling things will only suppress the current unrest. The result is that the next spark may well set off yet another wave of ethnic unrest.

The unrest in Xinjiang will not be enough to cause China to feel insecure or make the Chinese leadership nervous. Chinese President Hu Jintao (???) once served as Chinese Communist Party secretary in Tibet and thus has firsthand experience in dealing with minority issues. The riots will instead boost the government?s authority as it suppresses unrest.

Another result will be that dissatisfaction with the current economic situation will be redirected toward a new target for nationalist sentiment. Thus the regional problems in Xinjiang will provide an unexpected advantage for the Chinese leadership.

Free Uyghur
21-07-09, 23:07
Countering Riots, China Rounds Up Hundreds

New York Times
July 20, 2009


Free Uyghur
21-07-09, 23:14
Cultural Faultlines in China

By John J. Metzler,
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