2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 92: China’s Peripheral Political Problems

Organizer: Barry Sautman, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Chair and Discussant: Gaochao He, Zhongshan University

Keywords: China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, center-regional relations.

China now faces problems on its peripheries of a significantly greater magnitude than was the case just a few years ago. While the PRC’s worries about instability or territorial integrity in the periphery grow, no easy solutions have presented themselves.

As to Taiwan, a pro-independence president has won a second term and plans to change the constitution by 2008 in a way that may provoke the long-feared armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait. As to Hong Kong, China’s central government and local allies first had to retreat from efforts to force through national security legislation and then to intervene against demands for direct elections of the Chief Executive and entire Legislative Council in 2007–2008.

As to Xinjiang, a security problem once thought to be mainly local is now recognized as having important transnational dimensions: some Xinjiang Uygur fighters have appeared in Chechenya and Afghanistan, while the United States now has a military presence in Central Asia for the first time. As to Tibet, exile officials have recently visited Tibet and China proper, but without a breakthrough in negotiations; meanwhile the prospect of the Dalai Lama’s passing heightens the possibility of violent conflict where it has largely been absent for three decades.

Are there common factors creating China’s peripheral political problems? What differences exist in the ways in which China approaches these problems? Can alternative approaches to each of the problems be suggested and, if so, might they contain elements that would aid in the solution of the other problems?

Beijing’s Dilemma with Taiwan

Quansheng Zhao, American University

This paper analyzes Beijing’s dilemma with Taiwan, particularly with the most recent DPP regime. Essentially, the PRC has two very different scenarios: Economic Integration Based Unification (EIBU) versus Regime Change Led Independence (RCLI).

In the first scenario of EIBU, the increasing economic interdependence between Taiwan and the mainland will create a favorable environment for cross-Strait integration, not only in the economic dimension, but also in socio-cultural dimensions, and may well lead to political accommodation in the long run. The hope for EIBU direction will increase Beijing’s confidence in its long-term goal of national unification with Taiwan, thereby providing a basis for Beijing to primarily use economic means (a naturally peaceful means) as a foundation for its Taiwan policy.

The second scenario of RCLI refers to a change from a pro-unification regime to a pro-independence regime. When an independence-oriented party such as the DPP moves into power, the likelihood for Taiwan to move away from Beijing’s long-desired One China principle and achieve independence increases significantly. To prevent Taiwan from moving toward independence under this scenario, Beijing may have to heavily depend on military force.

One can see, therefore, with the DPP regime in power in recent years, Beijing’s Taiwan policy has largely depended on its perception of which of these two scenarios may be played out. In other words, this dilemma of different options in Beijing’s Taiwan policy may cause the pendulum to swing between a soft- and hard-line policy.

China’s (and the Dalai Lama’s) Tibet Problem

Barry Sautman, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

The Chinese government and Dalai Lama are usually said to have opposite Tibet problems: China’s problem is how to keep Tibet firmly within the PRC, over Tibetan and foreign opposition, while the Dalai Lama’s is how to gain independence or a high degree of autonomy for Tibet. This paper argues that the PRC and Dalai Lama in fact have basically the same problem: how to deal with the forces that oppose a compromise solution to the Tibet Question. Foremost among these have been certain Western and Indian politicians, Tibetan exiles and "Tibet supporters" who seek the complete independence of Tibet, as well as the "stabilizing force" of Tibetan and Han officials in Tibet who seek to out-maneuver and outlive the Dalai Lama.

The PRC government mistrusts the Dalai Lama in part because the "stabilizing force" points to his alliances with "foreign hostile forces" that support his demand for liberal democracy in Tibet because they seek to detach parts of China or end Communist rule. The Dalai Lama in turn has been unable to meet China’s preconditions for negotiations because of his reliance on support from foreign politicians and pressure from activists who abjure compromise over Tibet’s status. The paper proposes that a number of ideas advanced by the PRC government or its critics with regard to other peripheral regions of China (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang) can be used to overcome opposition to a compromise settlement of the Tibet Question.

China’s Security Problem in Xinjiang

June Teufel Dreyer, University of Miami

Ongoing problems in the Chinese central government’s control of Xinjiang have been exacerbated in recent years by three factors: (1) an upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism; (2) intensified competition for oil resources, resulting in part from the PRC’s rapidly developing economy; and (3) changes in geopolitical balance after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Beijing has reacted by focusing its alliance structure in Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, more closely on quelling forces it deems separatist and terrorist; on persuading the United States to identify certain Muslim groups as terrorist organizations; and on finalizing arrangements that would ensure a steady supply of oil from Xinjiang to supply the needs of urban industrial centers in China proper.

The already limited exercise of ethnic characteristics has been further constricted by these moves, exacerbating existing tensions. Critics also charge that the government makes no distinction between principled opposition and terrorist activities, choosing to punish them indiscriminately. Central government policy appears grounded in the hope that ethnic-based opposition can be mitigated through economic growth. However, since sizeable numbers of Han Chinese have moved into Xinjiang in recent years to further this economic growth, locals believe they are being subjected to ethnic swamping. This gives credence to the arguments of political and religious extremists, paradoxically adding to the difficulties of central government control.

Democratization and Challenges to the "One Country, Two Systems" Model

Joseph Y .S. Cheng, City University of Hong Kong

This paper attempts to analyze the Hong Kong community’s demand for democracy in the context of the recent events, including the grievances of Hong Kong people culminating in the massive protest rally on July 1, 2003, the victory of the pro-democracy camp in the District Council elections in the following November, the protest rally on New Year’s Day in 2004, the responses of the Tung administration, and the crackdown of the central government in response to the above developments.

The paper will then examine the implications for the "one country, two systems" model, and Beijing’s policy towards Hong Kong in the long term. Obviously the Chinese leadership has been interviewing in Hong Kong in a more substantial way; and its united front policy has been hardened, forcing all parties to take sides. The relationship with the pro-democracy movement has now been defined as one between enemies. Such a perception will have an important bearing on the development of the pro-democracy movement in the territory, The latter will not only face increasing pressures from Beijing, but maintaining solidarity will also become more difficult, partly because of Beijing’s intense efforts to divide and rule.