“This world will separate after long time united and vice versa.” This is a famous quote from the Records of the Three Kingdoms—a manuscript from a period in China’s history in around 280 B.C.E. It is an undoubtful truth since various parts of the world, including China, have separated and unified along history. Tibet, Uighur and Mongolia used to be foreign enemies of ancient China, until finally they were conquered after long years of wars. With 56 ethnic groups and over 200 dialects, diversity enriches the Chinese culture, yet it also means a heavy burden to unify the whole country.
When it comes to independence movements, there are many different aspects depending on the culture. Many of the messages contrast with the government’s policy towards “inalienable parts of the country’’.
Most of the people in Hong Kong are Hans—they shared much of their same history with mainland China, yet a seed of western culture germinated. Hong Kong was the colony of the British Empire from 1842 until recently in 1997.
Notions of democracy, capitalism, and freedom became deeply rooted in the city. However, these ideals are often suppressed under the dictatorship of China. While Hong Kong has ten political parties, there is but a one-party system in the mainland China. The conflicts between Hong Kong and China are inevitable due to these contradicting beliefs.
Much of the desire for independence is because China keeps taking benefits from Hong Kong. For example, around a hundred billion HK$ was spend to build a high-speed railway from Hong Kong to China, a project that mainly benefits mainland China.
An attempt to seek democracy triggered a wave of independent movements, advocated not only by street protesters, but also by legislative councilors. However, many of the councilors were suppressed by the government, either being unfairly removed or even thrown in jail. As a result, the independent movements lost momentum but were not eradicated.
Some claim that Hong Kong can never become independent because of it’s dependence on the mainland. This is only partially true—China will never say yes to the independence of Hong Kong because of the dignity of being a superpower and the financial role of Hong Kong. Hong Kong would also not be admitted to the United Nations since China is one of the five permanent members who can veto admission. China’s global influence means that Hong Kong would inevitably be isolated, should it desire independence.
On the other side of China, Tibet was an independent kingdom for centuries before the Mongol conquest. Afterwards, it fell largely under Chinese influence. It achieved autonomy during the chaos in the Chinese Civil War, before the communist forces took over the mainland. In 1950, the PRC invaded Tibet and defeated the Tibetan forces decisively in the Battle of Chamdo.
After the annexation of Tibet, quality of life was greatly improved in the region, though at the price of tightened control from China. It underwent sinification, a process whereby non-Chinese society come under the influence of Chinese culture, particularly Han Chinese norms. Land collectivization led to famines and riots, all suppressed by violence As a result, the Tibetan political leader Dalai Lama fled to India to establish Tibetan Government in Exile. Meanwhile, Tibet is still under the control of China.
Tibetan as an ethnic minority, they have their unique culture and language. Hence, it makes sense for them to possess some autonomy under the government. Nevertheless, China is not going to agree with the pursuit of the independence as others ethnic minorities may follow this example. China will lose to natural access to numerous natural resources in these areas, as well as Tibet’s strategic importance as a buffer region.
The independence movements are likely to go into a dead end since at no point will China gives up these regions to weaken the strength of the country. Catalonia is a good example of the failure of independent movements, an announcement of independence is nothing but a delusion without international support. Still, it is only a pause but not an end as long as it could be a leverage for asking higher autonomy.