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May 23

Is self-determination a tool for liberation in today’s world?

Written by Allen on Friday, May 23rd, 2008 at 4:41 am
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Written by Allen Yu

Increasingly, self-determination is used as a rallying cry for separatist movements around the world, from Kosovo to Tibetan independence. Many separatist movements have leveraged symbols of European Imperialism to cast their cause as a fight for freedom.

On the one hand, such use of self-determination seems to be appropriate. The West conquered a large part of the world over the last 500 years, causing wide devastations and detriments to many peoples across the world. Calls for self-determination by former colonies in the aftermath of WWII rightfully became a rallying cry for all dispossessed people in the world.

On the other hand, today’s zeal for self-determination along religious and ethnic lines may also be fanning unnecessary religious and ethnic divisiveness around the world (see, e.g., book excerpt from the “Self Determination of Peoples” and book excerpt from “Modern Law of Self Determination“). From Rwanda to Serbia to the Middle East to Tibet, heightened religious and ethnic consciousness is stoking unprecedented strife and discord.

Recently, we’ve seen how historically stable societies such as Iraq can degenerate into sectarian violence when religious and ethnic divisiveness is actively encouraged. We have also seen with the Taliban in Afghanistan how overzealous ideologies based on ethnic and religious identity can be used as a tool to oppress rather than liberate.

If we must view the world only through religious and ethnic eyes, we will have to start considering all multi-cultural, multi-ethnic countries including the U.S. as inherently imperialistic. We will have to regard the basic American concept of a “melting pot” as a mere façade for carrying out “cultural genocide” rather than a tool for fostering equality.

The problem with today’s brand of self-determination is double fold. First, it focuses too much on feeding off the differences of people. Because even the most homogenous of societies will include minorities and even the most homogenous of societies will develop differences in identities over time, it is in general far more preferable to foster plurality rather than homogeneity.

Second, by presuming national borders to be arbitrary and easily changeable, self-determination has too often been used as a political tool by powerful nations to meddle in the affairs of weaker nations. The UN and the network of NGO’s not withstanding, the fate of peoples across the world is still inexorably tied to the strength of individual nations, as any traveler in the world can attest. The nation state is still the entity best suited for advancing the life qualities of people across the world – and deserves to be promoted and respected, not denigrated.

In summary, while self-determination can be a tool for liberation, it is too often used as a platform for breeding ethnic and religious divisiveness and undermining national sovereignty. We must not uncritically jump to the bandwagon of political movements that opportunistically fly the banner of self-determination. If exercised carelessly, self-determination will actually be a harbinger for further human sufferings rather than human freedoms.


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69 Responses to “Is self-determination a tool for liberation in today’s world?”

  1. Bing Ma Yong Says:

    much more detailed than what I wanted to say

  2. Buxi Says:

    Good overview, Allen.

    I will just repeat what I’ve said before: self-determination sounds great as an ideology… and it did work to a certain degree with “distant” colonies. But when we’re talking about splitting up immediately adjacent areas that have been integrated for decades, well, I want to see it implemented by the more wealthy, more stable developed West before the developing nations end up as guinea pigs.

  3. JL Says:

    Do you have any thoughts on how we could tell the difference between self-determination for the “dispossessed people in the world” and self determination as something that “is stoking unprecedented strife and discord.”?

    Buxi implies that distant colonies can self-determine in the good way, whereas breaking up “immediately adjacent areas that have been integrated for decades” will lead to disaster.

    But what about the peaceful break-up of Czechoslovakia? Flemish separatists have never been violent towards the Belgian state, nor has it been violent towards them.

    My view is that its relatively simple: self-determinist or anti-self-determinist, you are oppressive if you are willing to use force to stop the other side speaking (assuming they are not very directly and specifically calling for violence, in which case it might be legitimate to shut them up.)

  4. Wu Kong Says:

    Actually the Serbs forms a majority in the northern tips of Kosovo and they want to secede from Kosovo and join Serbia. When Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, they burnt down the UN peace-keeper posts to protest.

    So is the newly formed Kosovo government going to “respect” local Serb’s right for self-determination, a right which they have so vigorously fought a war to pursue?

  5. Allen Yu Says:

    JL: regarding your idea of “self-determinist or anti-self-determinist” – do you mean that as an end or a means?

    Does a people have self-determination if they are only allowed to speak? Is it enough that they are offered some sort of “meaningful” political voice in the governance apparatus of a pluralistic society? Or must be offered a means for declaring unilateral succession?

    Who can demand secession? The fact that there are minorities is not a ground for offering session because even in the most liberal of democracies, the glue that hold these societies together is that the minority must bend to the will of the majority.

    Should homosexuals be offered a right to secede? How about African Americans? How about Spanish speaking Americans? How about the FaLungGong? Or indigenous people like native Americans?

    As one ponders these questions, one should try to apply them to a situation like the American Civil War. Should the war have been settled by a referendum for the South to determine if they wanted to be an independent nation? Should the South have been allowed to vote as a block – or should each state be allowed to vote as a block – or each county, each city, each neighborhood…?

    Finally, if an offer for secession should be made, when should they be made? Any time there are riots? Anytime a charismatic leader demands it? Only when the UN passes a resolution? When a superpower like the US asks for it? Only when the majority of the country affected decides to offer it?

  6. Allen Yu Says:

    Wu Kong, you bring up a very good point – in talking about self-determination – one must self-determination of what?

    Confusion and controversy over the issue of self-determination stems not so much from whether there is such a right, which is included in many international human rights documents, but exactly who is entitled to claim this right—a group, a people, or a nation—and what exactly the right confers.

    Kosovo is such a tragedy … because even if they do achieve self-determination, one have to ask if liberation is truly achieved in a process that required the reverse genocide against the Serbs and new “oppression” of identity against the minority of Serbs within Kosovo …

  7. Anonymous Says:

    *sigh*

    What a disappointing blog. This is just a caricature of the idea of self-determination. You might as well say that the idea makes you uncomfortable, because it may lead to the independence of Tibet, that would be more honest.

  8. Allen Yu Says:

    Buxi – I think the idea of “distant” colonies v. integrated coherent regions is probably overly-simplistic.

    India tried to get a resolution passed that qualified self-determination to be limited to ex-colonies – and was rejected. Self-determination as an international legal concept today applies to all people. Of course what “people” stand for is up to debate.

    But you do have a good point that to apply self-determination to Tibet as a test study is hypocritical.

    Even up until today, the UN has been very, very conservative in applying the concept of self-determination.

    The UN has never supported secessionist movements in the name of self-determination.

    The de-colonization process is a good case study. Almost all the colonies that were de-colonized, the territory boundary of former colonies were always preserved – even though many newly independent countries (India and Indonesia being on the extreme) contained many indigenous peoples sharing little in terms of ethnicity, religion, culture, traditions, and languages.

    Sure, many NGO’s today claim that was a mistake, but I think the UN was/is wise not to press further.

    The UN understands that the main international actors continues to be the nation state.

    When even mighty U.S. cannot stabilize Iraq (which was stable when Iraq was a functioning nation state), are we now to trust a network of NGO’s and UN organizations to stabilize the world by enforcing self-determination?

    The nation state is still the best instrument to advance the quality of people’s lives. Self-determination is a valuable norm for reminding nation states not to oppress its people – not a tool for destabilizing nation states.

    The problem I have with self-determination comes when many people in the west disregard the notion of nation states and want to bypass to NGO’s, NATO, UN, or the US to decide to whether to support secessionist movements in foreign countries.

    If we are not careful here, we are creating a platform for the powerful countries (i.e. the west) to meddle in the affairs of weaker nations. Most of the NGO’s today are western organizations (just like most human rights watchdogs are western organizations, not grassroots organizations from around the world). NATO and US are western entities.

    US, NATO, and NGO’s do not represent world interest.

    Until we get to a world where all people can depend on a world gov’t, we need to depend on individual nations to represent and advance the interest of the people of the world. In that world of nation states, mutual cooperation and respect between nations is required.

    It is insane and dangerous to cherry pick secessionist movements that you like as a jihad or a righteous war.

  9. Allen Yu Says:

    A couple of interesting relatively short background articles on self-determination.

    http://www.stevesachs.com/papers/paper_selfd.html

    http://www.tiraspoltimes.com/opinion/self_determination_sovereignty_territorial_integrity_and_the_right_to_secession.html

  10. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi: “I will just repeat what I’ve said before: self-determination sounds great as an ideology… and it did work to a certain degree with “distant” colonies. But when we’re talking about splitting up immediately adjacent areas that have been integrated for decades, well, I want to see it implemented by the more wealthy, more stable developed West before the developing nations end up as guinea pigs.”

    So did I understand your comment right? Let me see – Self-determination for far away colonies(i.e., the UK and Malaysia) = good. Self determination for neighbouring countries (i.e., China and Tibet) = bad.

    I guess it was a real big mistake for countries like Ireland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Panama, Slovenia, Lithuania, Finland, Norway, Macedonia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Uruguay, Belgium, Mongolia, Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Portugal, Namibia, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Laos, Cambodia, etc. to ever seek independence from their neighbouring colonisers. Can we have some supporting evidence for this please?

    @Allen Yu –

    “historically stable societies such as Iraq”

    Mesopotamia has been an unstable society since at least the break up of the Caliphate. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was only stable in comparison to what came afterwards.

    “we will have to start considering all multi-cultural, multi-ethnic countries including the U.S. as inherently imperialistic. We will have to regard the basic American concept of a “melting pot” as a mere façade for carrying out “cultural genocide” rather than a tool for fostering equality.”

    This is a straw-man argument, imperialism does not occur in a melting-pot society, but when one society conquers another.

    “Because even the most homogenous of societies will include minorities and even the most homogenous of societies will develop differences in identities over time”

    Evidence? It is equally arguable that societies become more homogenous overtime – see the absorption of ethnic minorities in the UK, US and China to the point where members of that minority forget that it even existed.

    “self-determination has often used as a political tool by powerful nations to meddle in the affairs of weaker nations. “

    This is a somewhat contentious passage – if you wish to refer to US support for the Kosovans, Tibetans and Taiwanese just say so.

    “The nation state still the entity best suited for advancing the life qualities of people across the world – and deserves to be promoted and respected, not denigrated.”

    In what way does the desire of separate ethnic groups to form their own nation-states denigrate or undermine the central idea of the nation-state? Is not the central idea behind the nation-state that it is a state (i.e., a government bureaucracy, armed forces etc.) formed to serve
    a nation (i.e., an ethnic group)?

    “If exercised carelessly, self-determination will actually be a harbinger for further human sufferings rather than human freedoms.”

    Most countries view those who are willing to undergo suffering to win freedom for their people as heroes, it is strange that you choose to divert from that view here.

    @Wu Kong –

    “Actually the Serbs forms a majority in the northern tips of Kosovo and they want to secede from Kosovo and join Serbia. When Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, they burnt down the UN peace-keeper posts to protest.

    So is the newly formed Kosovo government going to “respect” local Serb’s right for self-determination, a right which they have so vigorously fought a war to pursue?”

    This of couse is a far more powerful argument against the over-application of the principle of self-determination. The fact is that whilst Irish, Quebecan and Kosovan nationalists are anxious to see the break-away of their avowed homelands from the nations which they form a part of, they are not willing to allow the break-away of those who do not agree with them from that homeland. The division of Ireland was the result of the British government’s indulgence of unionist sentiment in Ulster, I guess the Chinese equivalent of this is the division of Mongolia into Inner and Outer Mongolia. It is quite clear that limits must be place on the prinicple of self-determination to take account of this. My question is, do you think that this exception to the rule applies to the vast swath of fairly ethnically homogenous land that constitutes Tibet?

    Guys, a lot of people over at CLB were pretty critical of this blog, but I have to say that the opinions expressed here are actually little more slanted than those on CLB. Especially guys like 爱国就回国, whose names alone show that they are pretty much not going to change their minds about anything. The thing that’s great about the way that Dan runs CLB is he pretty much gives no indication of what he actually thinks about the various issues (except when it comes to JVs and investing in Vietnam when he’s pretty much a pure partisan – not that there’s anything wrong about this!). That doesn’t mean that you guys have to follow the same path, especially given that your blog and his have different aims, but hell, you don’t need me to tell you how to do all this!

  11. A Yu Says:

    One of the better papers on Tibetan right to self-determination – http://www.savetibet.org/news/positionpapers/selfdetermination.php

  12. Allen Says:

    @FOARP:

    This is a straw-man argument, imperialism does not occur in a melting-pot society, but when one society conquers another.

    In what way did China “conquer” Tibet? In what way did the U.S. not “conquer” its territories? Remember, self-determination is not a “retaliatory” concept – it has nothing to do with making right a perceived historical wrong.

    This is a somewhat contentious passage – if you wish to refer to US support for the Kosovans, Tibetans and Taiwanese just say so.

    OK – if you prefer, I say so. But of course, I meant it more broadly, that’s why I framed it in generic terms.

    In what way does the desire of separate ethnic groups to form their own nation-states denigrate or undermine the central idea of the nation-state? Is not the central idea behind the nation-state that it is a state (i.e., a government bureaucracy, armed forces etc.) formed to serve
    a nation (i.e., an ethnic group)?

    Here I think we get into differences in worldviews – which may be what all this discussion boils down to.

    In the Western perspective, the natural state of the world are states made of relatively homogeneous ethnic groups. Throughout most of Europe’s history, the continent has been politically fragmented along ethnic/religious lines. The few times Europe did see unification (Napoleon, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Union) have come about through brutal conquests. When Europe tried multi-pluralism, it embarked on a quest of world domination. In the aftermath of WWII, the West went back into its roots to seeing a natural world as one where political units are fragmented along ethnic/religious lines.

    On the other hand in Asia, China has achieved remarkable political unity for thousands of years. Unlike Europe, Chinese history includes many periods of political unity that have brought great prosperity. These periods have all been marked by peaceful coexistence its various ethnicities. Even the Dalai Lama had admitted, at least prior to him fleeing in 1959, that the relationship between Tibetans and other Chinese nationalities up to the late 1950’s had been friendly if not brotherly.

    In the Chinese experience, periods of unity had brought prosperity. Periods of fragmentation have brought about suffering and despair.

    I don’t dispute that the international order is still dominated by the western experience and seems to be tiling toward political fragmentation along ethnic/religious lines.

    But that doesn’t mean China must develop under the experiences of the West. China should be given an opportunity to experiment with her own destiny…

    Most countries view those who are willing to undergo suffering to win freedom for their people as heroes, it is strange that you choose to divert from that view here.

    OK – here we are going to get into the adage that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. I don’t have much to say except to say, in any political struggle, you are sure allowed to show sympathies – with or without reason.

  13. FOARP Says:

    @A Yu – I have a few problems with the line of reasoning that they use in that piece, especially when they say things like this:

    “Thus if Tibet can show that she was sovereign prior to the Chinese invasion, then she is entitled to continued and future sovereignty, which means she has the right to decide on her future political, social, cultural and economic status.”

    So basically, any state that has ever been sovereign ever has the right to be independent, no matter how long ago and how small that state was and how brief its existence. By this logic every part of the UK, including the former kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Northumberland, is entitled to continued and future sovereignty, as the UK, like many countries including China, was formed out of many kingdoms which slowly coalesced into one country. It is much better to argue that independence is something which arises from a combination of separate ethnic and geographical identities and a desire for independence amoungst the people.

  14. FOARP Says:

    “OK – if you prefer, I say so. But of course, I meant it more broadly, that’s why I framed it in generic terms.”

    Fair enough, I suppose you might also throw in Russian support for South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria as well.

    “In what way did China “conquer” Tibet? In what way did the U.S. not “conquer” its territories? Remember, self-determination is not a “retaliatory” concept – it has nothing to do with making right a perceived historical wrong.

    Okay, I am not an American so excuse me if I have this wrong, but I always thought that the concept of the ‘melting pot’ refered to America’s assimilation of immigrants, and not to its (far less successful) attempts to assimilate the populations of territories which it has conquered.

    As for the peaceful nature of China’s history, I’m sure you have met many Vietnamese and Koreans who love to dispute this – I know I have.

  15. Allen Says:

    @FOARP

    “Thus if Tibet can show that she was sovereign prior to the Chinese invasion, then she is entitled to continued and future sovereignty, which means she has the right to decide on her future political, social, cultural and economic status.”

    Sorry – I am not sure which passage you are getting that from.

    But if your question is – does history have anything to do with self-determination, I’d say yes – at least to the extent of what is a “people.”

    For the Chinese, China has been unified for so long: whether China is to be fragmented requires a vast majority of the Chinese people to agree.

    This can’t be over-emphasized: many of us Chinese really believe that the “Chinese people” is a “people.” It is not an empire of several “peoples” – e.g. hans, Tibetans, Mongols, Manchus, Huis, etc. – that happened to be lumped together by accident or under the barrel of a gun. No, the Chinese people is a bona fide people.

    The West (through the European experience) tend to see people in reductionist terms – in terms of ethnicity – but the Chinese don’t. Some may claim that I’m being facetious and that this concept of Chineseness is just a ploy to consolidate the China empire.

    But if we look in good faith into the history of China, we will see that a pluralistic Chinese society is a common theme that runs throughout all Chinese dynasties. I do not recall any dynasty that oppressed an ethnicity at the expense of another. All rulers knew that to rule China, the ruler have to embrace the different nationalities as true brothers. This is partly why and how the Confucian ideals of harmony came to dominate the Chinese political landscape.

    It is because of our history that many Chinese like me get so emotional when people talk about applying a Western conception of self-determination, based on ethnicity, to Tibet. It’s not just about pride or power. It’s about our identity – the fact that our identity is being defined and distorted by a framework of thought that is alien to us – that is defined by the Western experience – that is not ours.

  16. Allen Says:

    Okay, I am not an American so excuse me if I have this wrong, but I always thought that the concept of the ‘melting pot’ refered to America’s assimilation of immigrants, and not to its (far less successful) attempts to assimilate the populations of territories which it has conquered.

    Yes, the melting pot is about assimilation into the dominant culture of America. The concept applies to both native Americans as well as immigrants.

    As for whether the territories of the U.S. (in which the melting pot concept applies) was peacefully acquired or conquered – well … I think you know the answer.

  17. S.K. Cheung Says:

    I think self-determination not only “sounds” great, but is great. I certainly agree that the realization of it is not always perfect, but I don’t feel that the virtues of the principle are in any way diminished.
    I feel that “self”-determination has to be viewed from the vantage point of those concerned, and not necessarily by others. So although religious and ethnic plurality is something espoused and valued in North America, those values needn’t be shared by others in other lands, and in fact should not be imposed upon them. So if the Kosovars and Tibetans don’t want to live in religious harmony with others, it is exactly for them to decide. Who are we to tell them? If we tell them, how do they get to determine for themselves?
    Iraq has degenerated into sectarian violence. It can be argued that the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds NEVER would’ve gotten along, had it not been the forceful merging of the groups under Husseins’ dictatorial rule. Now that the dictator is gone, those groups are merely refreshing their historical differences. Although we may disagree with their principle, and probably with their methods, bottom line is it is for them to decide. If they don’t want to get along, in a democracy, that’s their choice.
    North Americans for the most part like our “melting pot”; but that’s what we’ve chosen, and for the majority, it hasn’t been rammed down their throats. Self-determination doesn’t mean the exclusion of pluralism; it is always an option for the individuals (and societies) in question to choose for themselves.
    “it is in general far more preferable to foster plurality rather than homogeneity”. I agree. But it isn’t our role to impose that on everyone. Hopefully, others will see the virtue of that in time. I would also submit that pluralism is much more durable and strong if a people come to that conclusion themselves, rather than having it foisted on them.
    Self-determination also needn’t weaken nation states, so long as such states allow freedom to those who don’t share the central vision. The US is a strong country, and has all the self-determination one could handle. And if the common refrain is that “developing” countries aren’t ready for same, my response is: if not now, then when? And who gets to decide that? The ones who want to exercise self-determination, or the ones trying to suppress it?
    “self-determination can be a tool for liberation, it is too often used as a platform for breeding ethnic and religious divisiveness” to which I would ask again, if that is what the people want, who gives you, me, or anyone else the right to deny them?
    Of course, to discount self-determination is the logical move if one were to try to deny Tibetan independence. To which I again ask, who should get to decide? The irony, as I’ve said elsewhere, is that Tibetans may “determine” themselves that they actually DON’T want independence. But one can’t possibly know that without asking them.
    I agree with JL that physical proximity, or not, has no bearing on self-determination. The former USSR forcibly incorporated numerous “republics” which were and remain adjacent to Russia, but their subsequent independence after the fall of the USSR remains stable today.
    To Wu Kong: absolutely, northern Kosovo in my opinion should be allowed to do whatever they please. If that means rejoining Serbia, good on them.
    To Allen: in theory, if one accepts self-determination, then all the groups you’ve listed “could” seek to secede; but as I’ve said before, just because you can doesn’t mean you should, or would. Logistical and practical impediments are abound. Also, it’s not like there is a “homosexual” state in the union, or a “African-American” state. Practically, you need a defined territory. Your examples don’t convey that, but Kosovo and Tibet do. Your question of timing is reasonable. But again, apart from Tibet, I wasn’t aware of similar clamorings throughout the world, particularly now that Kosovo has done it already.
    I absolutely agree that a new state will create a new group of minorities. And it absolutely behooves any such new state to respect those minorities and provide rights, freedoms, and protections. But such necessary considerations, in my mind, should not form a barrier to self-determination.
    We simply disagree that self-determination “weakens” a nation state. I think a nation state is inherently weak if it can’t tolerate her people exercising self-determination. In fact, if you deny self-determination, how does any group of people (up to and including the 1.3 billion in CHina) justify whatever it is that they may seek?

  18. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    to your 1045 post, I would simply ask, what of Tibetan identity, should they choose to pursue it?
    as for 1053, I would say that if a US state wanted to secede, they should be so able. But where is the expression of such interest?

  19. Allen Says:

    S.K. Cheung – I’d love to hear your thoughts on comment 15 read in light of comment 12… Thanks.

  20. Allen Says:

    S.K. Cheung – ok I think you just did…

    what of Tibetan identity, should they choose to pursue it?

    Curious what others think. I’d say no – at least not now. China should be allowed to develop in its own way, under its own time frame. As China develops, it will find its voice.

    The future may be a fragmented China or a unified China. But if the best thing for China is a fragmented China, it needs to allowed to come to that conclusion on its own, not under lecturing by the West.

    if a US state wanted to secede, they should be so able. But where is the expression of such interest?

    There is no such expression now – because the US is a strong country today. But what if the US were under actual political threat – such as a Civil War? Was Pres. Lincoln wrong to fight the war? Should he have held a referendum regarding whether the South (or each state of the South) should secede (see comment 5)?

  21. Jiong Says:

    A really well written article! I thought about Taiwan when reading the part about the differences within even the most homogeneous societies. I still remember how baffled I was when I first learnt about the ethnic differences and sometimes even tension between the local Taiwanese (Bensheng ren) and others who came to Taiwan post-1949 (Waisheng ren) in Taiwan. The two groups are genetically, culturally and linguistically really just one people, with a common Chinese identity. Yet they can become so divided when their differences are exaggerated and manipulated by politicians for their political gains. It is horrible to think what will happen if this kind of “democracy” is adopted in mainland China. In a territory that is over 250 times larger and has a much greater diversity within the population. We will just go back to where we were in the 1920s and 30s.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    @Allen

    I do not recall any dynasty that oppressed an ethnicity at the expense of another.

    That’s it. An amazing statement that shows that you absolutely clueless in Chinese history except what you were taught in high school.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    @Allen

    Throughout most of Europe’s history, the continent has been politically fragmented along ethnic/religious lines.

    Another money quote. The fragmentation of Europe before the modern era had very little to do with ethnicity. The “homogenous” nation state is a very recent phenomenon in Europe. Read up.

  24. Allen Says:

    Anonymous – for the purpose of this discussion, I am willing to concede that I may only have a high schooler’s knowledge of Chinese and European history. I hope you will take the opportunity to enlighten me with your superior insights and knowledge.

  25. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    I agree with your reasoning in post #12 and #15, if one were to assume a China-centric perspective. THe difficulty, as we’ve discussed before, comes when a minority chooses to challenge, or at least not conform, to that perspective. Similarly, while you feel (and I believe that you are being completely sincere and honest about it) that all Chinese are one people, some of the minorities you listed may not share that sentiment. The million dollar question, of course, is what then, and for that I’ve no answer.
    As for the Civil War example you’ve cited, that is indeed a very good one, and based on my principles, you’d be right to extrapolate that I’d have preferred Lincoln offer the South a referendum rather than war. My civil war knowledge is limited. But perhaps both sides fought to impose their values on the other, and the Confederates happened to lose.

  26. Buxi Says:

    Allen,

    Indeed, several dynasties have had what would be called very “racist” policies in contemporary times. Beginning with the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and expanded later under the Manchu Qing, the Han Chinese majority were often very much the lower class… kept out of major political positions, and given very limited rights. Sun Zhongshan’s revolution did have a strong ethnic component to it initially.

    Historically speaking, China wasn’t alone in having these racial conflicts. But Sun came to reflect on his position, and made equality of the “five” races a critical part of his vision for China. I think the important point is that starting with the modern Republican era, and extended under Communist rule, we’ve crafted a new national identity (zhonghua minzu) that the vast majority of Chinese now fully embrace.

    As you say later, the Chinese are a “bona fide” people.

    The US is a strong country, and has all the self-determination one could handle.

    S.K. Cheung, this statement is simply wrong. There’s convincing evidence that historically at least, the United States had zero tolerance for separatism. There’s also zero evidence that today, the United States (as a society) would have any tolerance for “self-determination”.

    I don’t know if you saw my reference to this earlier, but:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_separatism

    Basically, the United States was fortunate that it had a moderate, and more charismatic Dr. King to rally around. But there’s zero indication at any point that American society was going to let the black community “self” determine their national status.

  27. Buxi Says:

    But perhaps both sides fought to impose their values on the other, and the Confederates happened to lose.

    The only value that the Confederacy had was a desire for independence. They perceived cultural differences between the North and South, and they didn’t want outsiders potentially deciding their issues. They never tried to impose anything on the North, other than their independence. As a consequence, millions of their countrymen were killed, and hundreds of their cities were razed to the ground.

  28. Allen Says:

    S.K.Cheung,

    THe difficulty, as we’ve discussed before, comes when a minority chooses to challenge, or at least not conform, to that perspective.

    In your worldview, if there is any sort of doubt, we somehow default to grouping each “people” by ethnicity/religion in a contiguous geographical areal. We then ask each such “people” what they want. The decision would be made for each “people” as a group, with the will of the majority overriding that of the minority for each “people.”

    I call that the “western-centric worldview” because you default to “people” by ethnicity/religion in a contiguous geographical area – and ignore the will of the “minority” within the “people.”

    In my “china-centric perspective,” I default to the Chinese people as the “people” – so the question you seek will have to be answered affirmatively by that group of people, not some subcomponent of the people. The will of the majority will dominate the will of the minority within that grouping of people.

    Of course – my other issue here is does China have to be required to hold a referndum any time there are signs of trouble?

    Is China required to do so any time there is a riot? Any time a charismatic leaders asks for it? Anytime a western country asks for it?

    When there are riots in sections of Lhasa, which target should be addressed for self-determination: whole of China, greater Tibet, TAR, Lhasa, or parts of Lhasa?

  29. FOARP Says:

    “Of course – my other issue here is does China have to be required to hold a referndum any time there are signs of trouble? ”

    But the violence in Tibet is indicative of a long-running problem, one that previous policies have totally failed to solve, nor even seem designed to solve. You should not imagine that Tibetans were perfectly happy with their situation until March this year when they suddenly decided to rush out of their homes and start killing people. What are needed are policies designed to give the Tibetan people a greater say in the running of their homeland.

    As for your ‘China-centric’ world-view, I would say that this is a rather strange view – it seems you are taking the western model of nation-states and raising China above it as some kind of special nation whose interests trump all others no matter how iniquitous the results may be. China has no magical right to exist anymore than any other country has an automatic right to exist. Countries are formed as the natural expression of their resident people for self-determination – this is the classic definition.

    The ‘中华民族’ you describe does not in fact exist as anything more than an idea. People in China see themselves as Han, Mongol, Hui, Man, or other such ethnic grouping – when they talk about race relations they talk about how the Han interacts with other groups. As the Han make up the vast majority of China’s population it is possible for people to pretend that the attitudes of the Han are shared by all of the ‘中华民族’ – but they are not, as is obvious in circumstances where they are not the majority. It is obvious, not only from recent events in Tibet, but also from race relations in Taiwan, that ethnic minorities do not accept the idea of an over-arching racial/cultural identity. As a result of this, all concepts of China as it currently stands being an expression of the self-determination of a ‘中华民族’ are null and void.

    Of course, there is another route. A new ‘United States of China’ based on the federal model, with regional assemblies and devolved powers for each province, and expression given to the desire for a distinct voice being given to each minority. I won’t hold my breath waiting for this to come about.

  30. FOARP Says:

    “中华联邦万万岁!” – has a nice ring to it, no?

  31. Allen Yu Says:

    @FOARP:

    Thanks for your comments. I am curious to see what others think. In particular – is the concept of a Chinese people (中华民族) a real concept or an imaginary nation building (or even an imperialist) model that has failed?

    And FOARP – I am a Taiwanese, and I can tell you the issue of Taiwan is not about “race relations” – unless you are talking about some sort of “race” having nothing to do with history and biology. Taiwanese are 92% Han. And we can all trace our roots to the mainland (mine trace back to Fujian some 350+ years ago…) It’s about politics… that has a large geopolitical component.

  32. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Buxi:
    you continue to misunderstand my entire point. “There’s convincing evidence that historically at least, the United States had zero tolerance for separatism. There’s also zero evidence that today, the United States (as a society) would have any tolerance for “self-determination”.” Just because one wants “self-determination” does NOT mean that one automatically wants separation. Separation is but one of the choices available, if such choice was availed to the people. Which leads to the other point I’ve tried to make over and over…Tibetans may not choose independence if you gave them the choice; you’re simply unwilling to give them that voice, and I fail to see why. Which is why I stand by my statement, as I understand it, but not as you do.
    As for your continued example with the black community, there is no “black” state, so even if (and I don’t even begin to stipulate this) self-determination = separatism, how would that happen? The majority of the US would be a superimposed “black” nation. It would be a duplicate nation, or a “nation” within a nation…which is kind of what is there today!
    As I said, if I were Lincoln, I would have gone with a referendum…but that’s kinda moot now, wouldn’t you say?

  33. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    I agree with your characterization of my perspective, with the notable exception that ethnicity/religion has no bearing on it. If a group of people choose to make their decisions based on ethnicity/religion, that would be their choice; but they could similarly choose from any number of unifying characteristics. In addition, it is not for “us” to group them. The group can and will declare and define itself. The “geographic area” only comes into play if said group actually wants to secede; otherwise, any such group could choose to happily co-exist with everyone else in the host nation. And if a “group” in a “region” did choose to seek independence, as I said before, it behooves them to extend protections, rights, freedoms, etc to the newly created minority.
    “you default to “people” by ethnicity/religion in a contiguous geographical area – and ignore the will of the “minority” within the “people.””-I disagree with this statement for the aforementioned reasons.
    As for your “grouping” of people, do you get to make that demarcation? Again, goes back to the point I’ve made all along. Do Tibetans have to be CHinese because you say they are? Or because the majority of “Chinese” say they are? And what if they choose to disagree with that characterization? That’s the whole point of self-determination.
    No, CHina doesn’t have to hold a referendum with every sign of trouble. But as I’ve also said before, does 50 years represent a “new” flare-up to you? The “western” country point you know is simply inflammatory, and you are more refined than that.

  34. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    forgot to address the last question. To me, the answer would be to ask the people who seek it.

  35. Allen Yu Says:

    S.K. Cheung,

    I am still trying to articulate the difference between you and I on the issue of “people.”

    What I’ve been trying to get my head around is trying to figure out, for the purpose of self-determination, when is the will of a minority within a society subject to the will of the majority (typical idea of democracy) – and when does the will of a minority within a society trump that of the majority (secession).

    The way things seem to work is to divide up the society into a “natural” grouping of “peoples,” each such “people” associated with a geographical area and having a right to self-determination.

    Defining groupings of “people” is very important because the unit of the “people” is the basic unit by which the will of a “minority” group of people in a society can be said to trump the will of the majority.

    Based on my understanding of what I see, people seem to want to define “people” based on ethnicity and religion.

    But you seem be saying that “people” can be defined by persons living in any geographic area – with or without a ethnicity or religious component.

    OK. I still have the same question/challenge on how to pick these units.

    How do you pick a “region.” I don’t mean it as a technicality, but as a substantive question of self-determination. It is important because “people” (or “region” in your case) is the unit that we are going to say can trump the will of a minority can trump that of the majority.

    In America, there have been many fights over the boundaries of voting districts. How the districts are drawn can have everything to do with whether a district votes black or white, republic or democratic, etc.

    So when a riot like that in Lhasa takes place, should the rioters simply be considered a minority – period – nothing need to be done? Or should some regions be asked to vote whether they want to secede? What regions? Neighborhood of Lhasa, Lhasa, TAR, greater Tibet, some other boundaries, etc. Who decides what regions?

    As for the critical threshold for China to hold a referendum, I really don’t think we are even close. We can just agree to disagree on the facts because we probably both do not have true facts on the ground. You think there has been a ground swelling of discontent in Tibet. I think there has been spots of troubles, caused by an external source. (I may be dense, but I really believe that).

    As to my comment about “western” countries – I actually do mean it. For me, if Tibetan nationalism had internally grown within China, I’d actually have much lesser qualm about giving some sort of referendum. But for me, really see Tibetan nationalism as a foreign grown concept…by support of western powers. I say that not to inflame others, but because based on what I’ve read, that’s the conclusion I draw so far…

  36. Allen Yu Says:

    You think there has been a ground swelling of discontent in Tibet. I think there has been spots of troubles, caused by an external source.

    Let me rephrase:

    You think there has been a ground swelling of discontent in Tibet. I think there has been spots of troubles, caused by an external source. To the extent there has been any systematic tensions (e.g. prohibitions on display of Dalai lama pictures) is caused by the Dalai Lama’s aggressive political stance.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    For me, if Tibetan nationalism had internally grown within China, I’d actually have much lesser qualm about giving some sort of referendum. But for me, really see Tibetan nationalism as a foreign grown concept…by support of western powers. I say that not to inflame others, but because based on what I’ve read, that’s the conclusion I draw so far…

    Yes, blame it all on the foreigners!!! Then you won’t have to bother your conscience with never having listened to the Tibetans!

  38. BMY Says:

    @FOARP,

    the word of “中华民族” is similair with the word of “American people” . your concept is like to only call anglo Americans “American people”

  39. BMY Says:

    @FOARP

    it’s also like to call Sccotish are not British if you are from UK.

  40. Buxi Says:

    As for your continued example with the black community, there is no “black” state, so even if (and I don’t even begin to stipulate this) self-determination = separatism, how would that happen?

    I have no idea where the Tibetan state is, either. After 50 years and 4 generations of non-Tibetan Chinese being raised in Lhasa, where is the Tibetan state? But there are certainly areas in both the United States and China where minorities are the dominant population.

    As I said, if I were Lincoln, I would have gone with a referendum…but that’s kinda moot now, wouldn’t you say?

    Lincoln didn’t have to “go with a referendum”. The Southern States that declared independence were led by democratically elected governments; legally and morally, that’s what the southern “people” wanted.

    But as far as that being kind of moot… that’s exactly the argument many Chinese would make as well. Who cares what you or the Tibetans want now? Independence is usually forever; a forced union with an unhappy people will often work itself out. I’ve pointed out the examples of numerous other minority peoples in China which fought wars of independence in the 19th century, but are happily loyally Chinese today.

    Wait 100 years, and the Tibetan “problem” will very likely become moot too.

  41. Allen Says:

    Let’s assume there is no “Chinese people.”

    I have a question about the ethnicity of “Han” – as a “people” capable of “self-determination.”

    Is “Han” a monolithic “people” – or actually a grouping of “peoples” each capable of self-determination.

    I know Han from different regions in China usually have distinctive looks. They also have distinctive languages: there are continued debates over whether the “Han” languages throughout China are different dialects or separate languages. (I also wonder if there were an original “Han,” if there is still a pure “Han” within China after several millenniums of inter-marriages.)

    Anyways, back to my original question of applying the concept of self-determination to the “Han” people – do we apply that principle to the “Han” throughout China as one group – or as several individual groupings of “people” (what would the groupings be? who decides?)- or as whatever grouping of “people” as is politically convenient at the time (e.g., DPP’s conception of a Taiwanese people)…

    I am asking this as a “reverse” question to articulate my difficulties with self-determination.

    If the definition of a “people” is created for the purpose of political expediency, then in my eye self-determination loses its claim to be the “righteous” principle first conceived for de-colonization – and becomes a mere convenient platform for various political groups to advance their cause.

    Of course, I am not necessarily saying that we need to throw the baby with the bathwater. I think there is still something righteous about self-determination.

    My problem is with today’s brand of uncritical self-determination – one that can be easily manipulated by groups to promote their political agendas usually having little or nothing to do with the original ideals of self-determination.

  42. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Hi Allen:
    I apologize for using point form, but you asked a bunch of really good questions (to which I don’t have good answers) so I didn’t want to miss anything.
    1.”when is the will of a minority within a society subject to the will of the majority (typical idea of democracy) – and when does the will of a minority within a society trump that of the majority (secession)” A: my opinion is that it is a balancing act; the balance of the benefits of staying vs. the risk/benefits of seceding. So if the will of the majority is different than that of the minority, but not so different as to be fundamentally unacceptable; or if the alternative of seceding seems far less appealing than accepting the will of the majority (that must be a run-on sentence), then I think people would simply stay. If the balance goes the other way, then people may choose to secede. But in the vast majority of cases, I think people would choose to stay with the status quo. This I think is particularly true in democracies, because if you don’t like the voting result, that may change in a couple of years with the next vote.
    2.”“people” can be defined by persons living in any geographic area – with or without a ethnicity or religious component” A: I think you’ve made several related points, but i chose this quote as a starting point. I absolutely agree with that statement. We are all more than our ethnicity or religious background. Each individual reflects a potpourri of experiences, values, and resultant perspectives. So although some may define themselves by ethnicity or religion, it is equally feasible and plausible to organize a “people” by any other commonality. In fact, some individuals may be conflicted by their various internally divergent points of view (eg. if someone is a black Catholic fiscal liberal but social conservative, then what are they?).
    So I don’t think a “people” can be defined externally; I think “they” will notify you of their existence.
    3. “How do you pick a “region.”” A: I dunno. And I absolutely agree that the various definitions of a “region” can markedly change the complexion of “majority” opinion, as you’ve noted. I will say that “household” is clearly impracticable, so if a resultant region (however defined) were to seek independence, it probably would need to be large enough to make it practical and feasible. That’s not much of an answer, because I don’t really have one. In the context of this discussion, I would submit TAR, but I know you don’t subscribe to that, and I have no logical rebuttal to your stance.
    4.”should the rioters simply be considered a minority – period – nothing need to be done?” A: even if nothing else comes out of this, obviously something needs to be done to address Tibetan concerns. It will be orders of magnitude less than a referendum, but China needs to placate some of the seeds of unrest if nothing but for her own benefit.
    5. “Who decides what regions?” A: I don’t know about “deciding”, but I think if people seek independence, they will give an indication of their definition of “region”; whether that’s acceptable is obviously an entirely different question.
    6. “You think there has been a ground swelling of discontent in Tibet. I think there has been spots of troubles, caused by an external source. (I may be dense, but I really believe that)” A: I certainly don’t claim that, nor would I claim to “know” that. In fact, my point was that the only way to begin to “know” that would be to ask them. Even if we disagree, I respect your point of view, and hopefully have not accidentally suggested otherwise.
    I also respect your point about “western” countries. You draw your conclusions after consideration, and it is as legitimate as anyone else’s. I was being a little overly-sensitive, since on other sites any mention of criticism of China brings with it the accusation of “brainwashed westerner”.

  43. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Buxi:
    As I said to Allen, I don’t know what defines the “Tibetan state”. My starting point would be TAR, but I don’t have a good answer.
    As to your second point, then if I were Lincoln, I would have let the south go their merry way. WOuld China let Tibet go on her merry way, if she wanted?
    If your solution is to wait 100 years, then I guess that’s your solution. As I’ve suggested earlier, that at least gives a timeline. I’m not sure that it would satisfy Tibetans, but you’ve also made clear that that is hardly your concern.

  44. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    don’t know if #41 is addressed to me, but I’ll give it a go.
    I’m the last person to try to define “Han” since it’s been pointed out to me how little I know about CHina. I know I don’t describe myself as a Han, but as a HKer. But I would agree that Han itself seems to include much diversity.
    If all subgroups of Han people choose that as their defining characteristic, then that’s that; but if not, then perhaps some other commonality might be more relevant for certain subgroups. But I don’t think it need be defined by political expediency, and that’s why I don’t see its righteousness as being diminished.
    I would say, however, that if a group wanted to exercise their right to affect a political agenda, why would that be fundamentally wrong, as you seem to suggest? That’s what happens in a democracy, and I see nothing wrong with it.

  45. Allen Yu Says:

    I would say, however, that if a group wanted to exercise their right to affect a political agenda, why would that be fundamentally wrong, as you seem to suggest? That’s what happens in a democracy, and I see nothing wrong with it.

    Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse to death … but the problem is that we cannot simply rely on some politicians to define which “group” have special powers.

    We must rely on some underlying values (or at least the consent of the majority) because we are talking about defining a group so “special” that we are willing to give them powers to make decisions that can potentially defy the will of the majority (contrary to the course of normal democratic governance!).

    I’ll use the Quebec referendum of 1995 as an example. As you know, secessionist was only very narrowly defeated (by about 1%). But even in light of the “defeat,” there were a lot, a lot of people who wanted independence! What happened to their right to self-determination? Why did this minority (almost a majority) lose its right to secede?

    The reason is partly because the “group” as presumed in the referendum didn’t include the correct “people.” If we had carved the electoral maps of Quebec differently – Quebec secession would have seceded easily.

    So – should it have been drawn along by ethnic demographics lines, by age, by language preferences, by groupings of last names, etc. Was it correct to submit the vote to the city as a monolithic whole, ignoring minorities within the city?

    Regardless of electoral maps, the million dollar question is why should the voice of certain minorities be heard and others be silenced?

    The process of signaling out which minority within Quebec should have a special voice despite the majority is magnified much more when we apply to China… What is the right grouping of people?

    To say the Tibetans as an ethnicity deserve a voice … and NOW … is to uncritically buy into the Dalai Lama’s worldview …

  46. Buxi Says:

    As to your second point, then if I were Lincoln, I would have let the south go their merry way. WOuld China let Tibet go on her merry way, if she wanted?

    S.K. Cheung,

    Compared to Lincoln… I simply don’t see your willingness to let the South “go its merry way” as being something worth emulating. I think if you had been president of the United States at the time, you would have been responsible for the destruction of America and perhaps indirectly the modern world as we know it.

    I’m not trying to get you to change your values, which are clearly different from mine. The example of the Confederacy, the Nation of Islam separatist movement are all just my way of helping you understand that *my* values are actually more universal and accepted than your idealistic, fantastic version.

  47. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    I absolutely agree that politicians shouldn’t define such “groups” to which you’ve referred. But in fact, politicians derive their power from the support of the people. So the “group” is what drives the political agenda, if that is the arena they choose in which to express themselves. The politician is simply the conduit with which the group can exercise said power.
    It seems that you’re moving away from referring to the “group” as one seeking independence as the expression of self-determination. It seems you’re almost moving towards talking about lobbyists, or something akin to that.
    But with respect to a group potentially seeking independence, they’re not asking for special powers. They’re just asking for recognition of their wishes, and the freedom to pursue them. And if a group wanted to become independent, they would in fact no longer be subject to the governance of the prior host nation. Wouldn’t that in fact be the whole point? You become independent so that you wouldn’t have to answer to the prior government, in so doing stipulating that the benefits of separation would outweigh the potential risks and costs. And hopefully, said group would not have come to such a decision lightly. But I feel it is a decision a “group” should be allowed to make for themselves.
    WRT to 1995 Quebec, you’ve conceded that they failed to achieve a majority. So if they couldn’t achieve even a simple majority in a given region (ie. Quebec as a whole), then the separatists have no case for removing the entirety of Quebec from Canada. Absolutely, a lot of people did want to separate. But unless someone could define a region (again, who gets to do that? Dunno, as previously stipulated) where such a sentiment enjoys majority support, there’s no reason for Canada to grant it. I think that’s consistent with my principle all along.
    As for an electoral map, i could be wrong, but I thought the referendum was for the entire province, and not done by electoral districts. It wasn’t like they were electing MLA’s (Canadian equivalent to US Reps; I think they have a different name in Quebec) who then voted in the legislative assembly on the referendum question. So unless you change the boundaries of Quebec, I’m not sure your point is legitimate in this regard.
    Again, as to how the “region” should have been demarcated, that perhaps should have been for Quebecers to decide; as far as the separatists are concerned, clearly they got it wrong, but that’s crying over spilled milk.
    There is absolutely no need for only selective representation of minority voices. No one need be silenced. If a region separates, and a new-found minority seeks to become independent of the “new” entity, they should certainly be allowed, under the same principles, given to the same consideration of costs, risks, and benefits of either decision.
    As it applies to China, I think you know my answer from numerous prior posts already. I’m not buying into any one person’s world view. My whole point all along is that Tibetans should get a chance to tell us THEIR world view. That would be the only one of interest to me, in the context of this discussion.

  48. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Buxi:
    A US split in 2 would be different. As to whether things would be better or worse 150 years later, that seems to be an untestable hypothesis. So your guess would be as good as mine, but no better or worse.
    That our values differ is no surprise, and hasn’t been for some time. You are certainly entitled to YOUR opinion that they are more universally accepted, but hopefully you will allow me the right to disagree. And while your examples are of historical (confederates) and hypothetical (nation of islam) interest, my example (Tibet) seems more contemporary and tangible. And that might also differentiate our world-views.

  49. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Buxi:
    BTW, with your values and worldview, and since you enjoy hypotheticals, if Tibetans still want to separate in 100 years, would your response be to wait 100 years more?

  50. Allen Says:

    They’re just asking for recognition of their wishes, and the freedom to pursue them.

    But assuming they are in the minority – their wishes will have to bend to that of the majority. That is the normal principle of democracy.

    As for an electoral map, i could be wrong, but I thought the referendum was for the entire province, and not done by electoral districts

    That’s the problem. What so special about the accepted borders of a province or a city? There could be a “people” that straddle both…

    In the case of Quebec, there are a bunch of people who want to secede whose wishes are ignored. If you had drawn electoral districts at fine level enough granularity, with a “correct” set of boundary, the wishes of these people would have been granted.

    If the wishes of these secessionist “minorities” in Quebec can be ignored – then I submit the wishes of minorities in TAR can be ignored…

    I’m basically still searching agree on a common framework to pick a group of “minorities” which has power to unilaterally declare a policy despite the contrary wishes of the “majority.”

    Right now, all I hear you say is simply let the people in TAR decide – but without really a reason why their wishes should be sought over the wishes of the 1.3 or so other Chinese…(?)

  51. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    I agree with the normal principle of democracy. And if the minority feel that the benefits of subjecting themselves to the will of the majority outweigh the costs and risks of separation, that’s the way they should go. But if they seek to pursue their wishes, and “determine” the path for them”selves”, despite inherent risks and costs, then they would have to separate. Based on the sequence of your logic, a democracy would never allow separation, and I disagree with that position.
    “What so special about the accepted borders of a province?” I think Quebecers (particularly the ones who want to separate) might disagree with your sentiment.
    “then I submit the wishes of minorities in TAR can be ignored”- and I would agree, as soon as you’ve gone and asked them! That was, is, and will remain my basic point, that self-determination comes from within, and not without. And once you can show me that the group who seek self-determination in fact wants to maintain the status quo, then you’ve got my support, for what it’s worth.
    “let the people in TAR decide – but without really a reason why their wishes should be sought over the wishes of the 1.3 or so other Chinese”- I’m not sure how I can indicate my reasons with any more clarity- it is self-determination, from the perspective of Tibetans, and not the 1.3 billion Chinese.

  52. Bing Ma Yong Says:

    @ S.K Cheung,

    your principle and idealism all sounds good and I agree in theory.

    But you need understand there are so many no-Tibetans also live in “greater Tibet” for decades or even hundreds of years.

    You assume Tibetans would vote for independence and I assume no-Tibetans(Han,muslims,Qiang,Bai etc) would vote for unification. Should no-Tibetans declare independence from new Tibet Republic or get “suppression” by Tibetans? Should No-Tibetans been force displaced out? How about if they don’t want to leave their home and don’t want to be another new country? What should they do? Who have the rights to own those places mixed up by all different people ? Would another bloodshed like in Bosnia and Abkhazia be allowed?
    were Neighbors, colleagues,friends killing each other in Bosnia because of the self-determination? Is bloodshed a better solution than co-exists? I would see a bloodshed more likely to happen than a peaceful process if everyone wants a self-determination rather than a multiculturalism.

  53. Otto Kerner Says:

    According to government statistics, the following places were officially designated autonomous areas for Tibetans and also had a majority of at least 60% Tibetans: the Tibet Autonous Region, Garze, Gyegu, Hainan Prefecture, and Huangnan. The places have a combined land area of 1.7 million square kilometers and a population which is 86% Tibetan. In addition, Ngawa and Gannan also have majority Tibetan populations. So, the answer to “how do you pick a region” is that they are already picked — these places are recognised as Tibetan areas by the government.

  54. Nimrod Says:

    Otto, these aren’t autonomous region “for Tibetans”, as if it is some kind of racially exclusive zone and only Tibetans ought to live there.

    Autonomous governments were created based on historical administrative and political divisions, not based on ethnicity purity. Most minorities do not have an autonomous region and most autonomous regions do not have just one majority ethnic group. The ethnic label (if there is one) is only a *descriptor* of the politically dominant ethnic group of an autonomous area *when it was created*, not a designation of ownership by said ethnic group.

  55. Otto Kerner Says:

    Well, I certainly never said it was supposed to be racially exclusive. Were it so, it would be redundant to mention that these places have a Tibetan population of over 60%. However, the named ethnic group does have special rights in the autonomous area, since the head of the government of that area must belong to the ethnic group in question (of course, this is purely symbolic, since the real head of the area is the Communist Party chairperson). My point is simply that there is no real problem in this case determining what the region is for which self-determination might be considered. If nothing else, the boundaries of the TAR itself are of impeccable historical relevance, and the non-Tibetan population inside is quite limited. So, there you have it: the obvious minimum area in which self-determination would be decided if that were allowed.

  56. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To BMY:
    I’ve said all along that for a referendum to occur, there has to be some agreement on the question to be posed, and the region to which it applies. And the 2nd part I’ve never had a good answer for. And a new “nation” will create a new “minority”, with the potential problems that may result, as you’ve pointed out. So any group that would choose to express their self-determination in the form of secession would have to weigh their choices with these and many more considerations in mind. I still feel, however, that they should get to make that choice.
    I’m happy with the multiculturalism of my city, province, and country, but I don’t think such values MUST be shared by everyone on the planet. It works here, to our benefit; but if it might not work somewhere else, shouldn’t those people get to decide whether it’s worth their hassle?

  57. Allen Says:

    Otto,

    My point is simply that there is no real problem in this case determining what the region is for which self-determination might be considered.

    Such a boundary is irrelevant for self-determination. The fundamental underlying assumptions of self-determination is that the traditional boundaries of states and administrative units are arbitrary and movable.

    Suppose a “people” cross three administrative/political units, the self-determination for such a “people” does not just apply to each of the three political units (where the “people” may make up only a minority of the population for each of these political units). Instead, self-determination would apply to a newly determined current geography occupied by such a “people.”

    The key is to decide which minority “people” deserve to be defined to be given a voice for secession and which minorities don’t….

    Trying to find a common view for defining such “people” (without resorting to mere politics) is what has kept me scratching my head…

  58. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    1.”fundamental underlying assumptions of self-determination is that the traditional boundaries of states and administrative units are arbitrary and movable” – agree, as a general statement. Having said that, traditional boundaries might be applicable in specific cases. Each situation would have to be examined individually.
    2.”The key is to decide which minority “people” deserve to be defined to be given a voice for secession and which minorities don’t…” – I disagree. I feel any such “people” would declare themselves. And i feel these peoples should be availed to the option of secession if they so choose.

  59. Buxi Says:

    I really believe this thread is going down the path of self-exploration, rather than world-observation.

    I’m not against self-exploration; we should all better understand our own values through debate. But I do want to emphasize that (using a crude term) this form of mental masturbation might not serve much purpose beyond making ourselves feel good.

    In my opinion, what’s more relevant is understanding the values and motives of the world around us. Regardless of whether we live in a democracy or some kind of collective dictatorship, the values/motives of others in our world play a key role in determining our lives. I’m not discouraging any sort of debate, but I hope our conversations can stay grounded in this reality.

    Here are a few people who, idealistic in their own way, are perhaps not grounded in reality:

    Lakota Nation secedes from the USA

    Hawaiian Kingdom Group occupies Palace

  60. Allen Says:

    Buxi – I agree I’ve been going down too philosophical a path. My point was trying to show that self-determination as applied today was not based on any sort of universal values…

    Let me summarize where I think this thread stands.

    In my original post, I tried to suggest that self-determination may be driven by a new brand of religious/ethnic bigotry and may be leveraged opportunistically by powerful nations to destabilize weaker nations – at the expense of the citizens of the weaker nations. (I never attacked the concept of self-determination per se.)

    Some disagreed and thought my emphasis on bigotry and geopolitics was just a distraction from the central issue of “self-determination” for minority people such as Tibetans. Some even thought to the extent there are any religious/ethnic intolerances in Tibet, they are caused by failed policies of the current government.

    I then submitted that due to China’s long political cohesiveness (in contrast with Europe, which politically has been traditionally fragmented, often along ethnic/religious lines), the “Chinese people” is a bona fide people. So if we are going to apply the concept of self-determination to the Chinese, it has to be applied to the Chinese people as a whole – and not its various ethnicities.

    Of course, many don’t agree…

    The thread then moved to the more philosophical issues of when is a nation a nation of one “people” and when is a nation a nation of groupings of “people,” each capable of self-determination.

    Here is where things got hairy…

    For here, I’ll summarize by noting that self-determination is not an individual right (there is no right for individuals to unilaterally secede from a society) but some kind of collective right for certain minorities. It only belongs to certain minorities because most minorities have to submit to the will of the majority in most matters of governance. But some certain minorities have a special right to secede from the society under the right circumstances…

    Buxi is right. Instead of digging into our head trying to see in theory what self-determination is, it’s probably better to look for current/historical examples… (but with my caveat that since the world is dominated by the West, real life examples may simply reflect the values of the West, not some universal norm).

    In the long run (I don’t think we are getting anywhere here with it), I will still be searching for a norm that defines when is a “minority” a “people” capable of self-determination and when is a “minority” just a “minority” that should submit to the will of the majority.

    The reason for such reflection is to try to distinguish when is self-determination a “right” and when is it just a rhetoric of “politics.”

    If self-determination is mere politics – then I think normal political processes – including civil wars – can be used to settle the issues. If self-determination is a right that “transcends” politics, then normal political processes -including civil war – is not proper…

  61. Buxi Says:

    Allen,

    I thought the original intent of your post was very right and spot-on. This is a complicated issue that should be treated as such. I think it’s the “getting hairy” theoretical parts that, for me at least, sounded a little pointless.

    The reason for such reflection is to try to distinguish when is self-determination a “right” and when is it just a rhetoric of “politics.”

    Ok, I better understand the need for this debate then.

    From what I understand, the right to self-determination was previously only given to “peoples” who could prove they were specifically being oppressed or discriminated against by the state. (This “oppression” can’t be related to wanting self-determination obviously… that’s circular logic.)

    I don’t know if that’s a fair standard or not, but if it is, then it would explain why France / Spain / United States have consistently denied the right to declare independence to her minorities within current borders. And it would also, in my opinion, justify China’s refusal to allow Tibetans unilateral right to independence.

  62. Allen Says:

    OK – back to reality.

    For an easily accessible and interesting article on secession of states from the US, please see http://www.slate.com/id/2109317/ (note: it’s not allowed).

    Some people may point to referendums in territories like Puerto Rico as evidence that US allows secession. This is false. Referendum is simply part of established process that explicitly specifies how US territories can become a bona fide state of the U.S. or to leave the U.S. It doesn’t recognize a general right of “peoples” within the US to secede.

    I also like to bring up the issue of the pledge of allegiance – repeated by millions of children every day – in the US. It’s not law, but it does reflect values and norms of the US.

    “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    The emphasis on “one Nation” and “invisible” is my own. In summary, the US provides for (or at least promises) individual liberty, but no collective right of any sort for any “people” to unilaterally secede.

  63. FOARP Says:

    @BMY – Neither ‘British’ nor ‘American’ are real racial identifiers – this at least is how I understand the term ‘民族’

    I might ask – how many Americans do you know who refer to themselves as “English-American”? I have never met any, although I have met many who called themselves Americans who had English ancestry – the fact is they seem to think it goes without saying that an American who is of English descent need not say so, whilst on of Irish, African, or Chinese descent should say so.

    @Buxi – I would say that the idea of a ‘Han’ people is rather too much of a catch-all. Certainly many of those who are descended from people who emigrated from the coast of Fujian 350 years ago do not feel themselves to belong to the same people as those who are descended from people who fled Shandong sixty years ago. You can also see the difference between the two groups both in appearance (facial complexion and height, as well as head-shape and build) and you can hear it in their accents, and know it through their differeing culture.

  64. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Buxi and Allen:
    If this were a discussion of Nietzsche, existentialism, or “free will”, that would be philosophical. But self-determination in this current context is very much a tangible thing, assuming of course that you allow it to be. In certain iterations, this will include self-governance, which by nature is political. But to dismiss self-determination simply because it might have political ramifications is to arbitrarily limit its applicability, and it is a limit to which I obviously do not subscribe.
    I feel that the motivation for self-determination comes from the people, and is not a right that needs to be “given” to the people. But I agree that oppression needn’t be a motivator in people seeking such expression.
    As for the Slate article, that seems to be the writer’s opinion, but I’m not sure if it’s accurate in point of law. Since there is no test case, the question has no answer as of today.
    As for the Pledge of Allegiance, while the wording itself has been tested in court, and modified by Congress, the concepts, as i understand, are also not legally binding. The bottom line to me is that no one knows what would happen today unless someone tried it, and as far as I know, no one in the US is seriously considering it. So I don’t see how this serves as a justification for denying Tibetans even an opportunity to have the question posed to them.

  65. Allen Says:

    S.K. Cheung,

    OK – I’ll recommend something with a little more legal bite. Please see http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dorf/20041124.html.

    We can go into case laws, law reviews, and constitution review, too – but by then, I’ll be over my head, too! 😉

  66. Otto Kerner Says:

    In practice, I think that actions of self-determination have usually been approached according to existing legal boundaries.

    It seems to me that Tibet has one of the most ironclad cases in the world arguing in favour of its right to self-determination. The mind boggles trying to imagine how the prospect of an independent or autonomous Tibet could be more disruptive to the state system than the existence of an independent Bhutan already is. Now, there are a lot of interesting a perplexing questions that arrive when one tries to imagine how the principle of self-determination would be put in practice throughout the world, but none of those questions have much to do with Tibet. For example, Allen, you write “Suppose a ‘people’ cross three administrative/political units, the self-determination for such a ‘people’ does not just apply to each of the three political units (where the ‘people’ may make up only a minority of the population for each of these political units)”. There certainly are such cases, and how to handle that is an interesting question, but it is an academic point with regard to Tibet specifically, since Tibetans mostly live in political units where they are a sizeable majority. One could certainly argue about the outward extent of where the borders of “Tibet” should be, but there is a core — the TAR — that is almost universally recognised as “Tibet”.

    I bring this up because there is something odd about this whole discussion, which is that most of the participants seem to present “self-determination” as basically or potentially a good thing which must not be abused through overuse. This seems to be what Cárdenas and Cañás are saying, as well. And yet, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that someone who is against self-determination for Tibet must be against it for just about everybody; i.e., it implies a pretty strong anti-self-determination stance.

  67. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Allen:
    well, that article was certainly more detailed, and I don’t think I understood it all. But it seems that the only Supreme Court ruling to date that speaks to the subject is Texas v White. And although the Supremes maybe are loathe to completely overturn precedents (even if they’re 150 years old), recent rulings wrt abortion seem to suggest that the Court (with its current make-up at least) are willing to consider modifications upon prior precedents. But to me (layperson, no law knowledge), until a test case comes about, we’ll never know what the Supremes might say. I will acknowledge, however, that “good riddance” does not seem to be the sentiment CHinese people would express towards Tibet, given what’s been said on this blog.

  68. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Otto:
    as you’ve probably discerned, my default position would be self-determination anytime, anywhere.

  69. Nimrod Says:

    Allen,

    In light of the continuing discussion on this, let me provide one more (I think) very good analysis of the right of secession, that complements the legal and practical issues you raised:

    The Constitutional Right of Secession in Political Theory and History.

    In response to S.K. Cheung, and to highlight his political leanings, let me quote a sentence from it:

    Indeed, Donald Livingston makes the point that “the prohibition against secession is internal to all forms of contract theory except anarcho-libertarianism.”

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