A reader of our blog asked this question on a previous thread:
To Buxi and CLC:
Thanks for your replies. WRT Tibetan independence, some Tibetans seek it, presumably as they see it to be to their benefit. PRC opposes it, as they see it as a detriment. I would like to explore the second part. I’ve read the historical justifications for Tibet being within China, such as the territorial relationship dating back hundreds of years at least. There’s also the point that the PLA moved in to liberate Tibetan serfs and slaves. In moving forward, the principle of “One China” drives policy. My questions are the following:
1. If a majority of the residents of present day Tibet do not want to remain in China (I realize that is a major assumption, and the act of accurately determining that ie a referendum is not a realistic option for the CCP circa 2008), how does it benefit China to keep this territory in the fold? It’s like keeping a bad apple employee within a company: wouldn’t company performance, and the morale of remaining employees, improve by removing said bad apple, such that all who remain truly want to be there, and are willing to wholeheartedly contribute to the “business” of improving China?
2. “One China” is a euphemism I don’t understand. There was, is, and ever will be only one China. The question is what geographical parts you include. Does a region that at one time was considered part of China, need to forever remain so, for the present and future benefit of the whole?
I (Tang Buxi) will take a shot at answering these two questions, although I encourage more discussion in follow-on comments as well.
1. If a majority of the residents of present day Tibet do not want to remain in China how does it benefit China to keep this territory in the fold?
Let’s start by agreeing at least that “benefit” can not be calculated in this sense from an accounting point of view. China has already invested billions of dollars in Tibet, and despite Western activists desperate to find an economic motive, there isn’t one… there’s simply no way, short of legalizing gambling, that Tibet could be anything remotely resembling a profit source for China as a whole. At best, Tibet could generate enough economic activity to allow its people to continue to develop without more funding from the rest of China.
I think the benefit to China is that we show our dedication to building a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation.
China contains 56 nationalities; of these, there are numerous nationalities that are very meaningful and significant to the Chinese nation as a whole. Tibetans are a minority amongst minorities in China, really. We have the Muslim Hui, widely distributed throughout China, and impossible to carve out. We also have the Miao (or Hmong). For that matter, if we even look closely at just the Han, we’ll also find numerous linguistic and cultural differences. The Han of Guangdong province are very different from the Han of the northeast, for example.
If we declare that the Tibetans deserve independence because their cultural is “very unique” … what then? Are the cultures or language of the Hakkas or Shanghai-ese not unique? Is the Islamic-infused culture of the Hui not unique? Does this also mean that the rest of China can get rid of all pretenses of a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural country (since everyone not independent by that point “wants” to be Han), and we can start assimilating everyone?
The example of other minorities in China is also why I’m optimistic about the situation in Tibet. I believe the “problem” with Tibetans seeking independence can be resolved, given time. Much of the 19th century, and the early 20th century in China was spent fighting various race and religious wars. See this Wikipedia entry describing the Muslim wars; also the Taiping Rebellion was led initially by a Hakka Christian cult. I can’t find an English version, but see this description in Chinese of Miao uprisings throughout the Qing dynasty.
But happily, although mistakes have been made and some tension does still exist (as they do in every other multi-ethnic nation that I’m aware of)… the Hui, Hakka, and Miao population have largely found a way to balance their cultural background with their Chinese citizenship. I believe the right thing to do is focus on building a generous country that allows minorities the ability to preserve their unique cultures, while giving us all a shared platform for mutual success and strength.
Shouldn’t this sort of co-existence be the hallmark of a modern nation? Isn’t it too late to return to the era of “ethnically pure” countries?
2. Does a region that at one time was considered part of China, need to forever remain so, for the present and future benefit of the whole?
I don’t pretend to have a good answer to this one. I have my own feelings, but I don’t know if there’s a common view on this.
History has clearly moved on from the past, so I don’t think there are any firm rules on what year’s Chinese borders should be the correct ones. For better or worse, my only answer can be… let’s talk about where we are today. When I talk about “One China”, I’m saying that we should maintain the borders that we have today.
Do these territories need to remain “forever” part of China? I’ll let my children’s and grand-children’s generations answer that question. I will tell them why I believe “One China” is important today, but if they feel differently in 50-100 years… well, I won’t be around to be angry about it.