“We will never allow anyone, any organization or political party to remove any part of our territory at any time or in any form,” he said, standing under a giant portrait of the Sun.
It is “our solemn commitment to history and people,” Xi said in a 2016 speech that China will never be torn apart again.
Concerns about separatism can be seen in the stubborn policies adopted by Beijing in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as the increasingly aggressive stance on the island of Taiwan, which XI advocated, Xi advocated unification with the mainland – by force, if necessary.
Carrie Lam, the city’s executive director, said the law would ensure “Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.”
States and separatists
Anti-separatism is the norm around the world, regardless of the desires of many peoples around the world for their own country or the often emphasized importance of “self-determination” as a principle of international law.
“Since the end of the Cold War, the global norm of applying the cartographic path, freezing in place of the map as it existed in the late 20th century, has prevailed,” Keating said. “This norm prevails even as ethnic and religious conflicts rage within the countries on the map.”
Probably nowhere is this norm stronger or more strongly avoided than in China.
The same is true of other parts of China that the state often calls inseparable, including Tibet and Xinjiang. Although these areas were also under Chinese control or influence, it was part of a broader imperial system that was completely removed from modern conceptions of the nation.
“The borders of modern China do not correspond to the historical borders of the common culture of the ethnic Chinese (or Han) people, nor to the borders of the premodern Chinese state,” Esherick writes in “How Qing Became China.”
“Fully half of the territory of present-day China was acquired by conquest during the Qing Dynasty, a dynasty in which the ruling house was not the Han Chinese but the Manchu intruders outside the Great Wall. Most of that expansion did not occur until the 18th century.”
Sam Crane, chairman of Asian Studies at Williams College, said many states and territories that paid homage to the Qing Empire and that were under its sphere of influence, Beijing would not consider part of China or Chinese civilization.
“Imperial political control has not taken over a single, common, modern national identity,” he said. “Once we get to 1949, the claim that Tibetans and Uighurs are part of the ‘Chinese nation’ is established to a much greater extent than under Qing, and the accompanying political roles in seeking greater autonomy are, therefore, much greater.”
The modern idea of the nation-state – a people united by a common culture, language or ethnicity – has traditionally been linked to a series of treaties in the mid-17th century, when the Holy Roman Empire recognized the independence of two non-monarchical states, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
This, according to Keating, marked the point after which nation-states increasingly became “the most significant units in international politics,” becoming more important than rulers or empires amid the rise of nationalism across the continent.
This did not take hold immediately and the disintegration of the great European empires would not happen completely until the 20th century. In Asia, too, the conception of empire only took off in a similar direction when the Qing questioned the new assertive nation-states, especially Britain, France, and Japan.
Despite the adoption of imperial borders, since the fall of Qing, China has completely invented itself as a modern nation-state, advancing the all-encompassing idea of Chineseness – a language and education system that encourages everyone within its borders to identify with part of China.
The concept of the nation-state also expanded backwards, so that former imperial territories such as Tibet and Xinjiang, whose traditional peoples had little ethnic, linguistic, or cultural connection to those in eastern China, became “part of the country since ancient times”. as claimed by Liu and other Chinese officials.
Writing about the global norm in favor of the status quo, Keating said “there was a presumption that if secession moved, Pandora’s box of dangerous separatism would succeed.”
This is perhaps especially true in China, where one domino for independence could trigger a cascade of territorial unrest.
Beijing has partly addressed the desire for independence in Xinjiang and Tibet by encouraging the mass migration of Han Chinese to both territories, as well as advancing sinification policies in education, language, and religion. Changing the ethnic composition of both areas makes it difficult to discuss self-determination based on the idea of racial or cultural difference in relation to China itself, and millions of Han Chinese live in both regions.
Hong Kong and Taiwan threaten the status quo in a different way. Both are majority Han Chinese, and the antipathy to Beijing in this area is not based so much on nationalism, but on the rejection of the mainland political system. Whether the territory has become completely independent, it could undermine claims about the legitimacy of the PRC, based on the idea that historical China exists and always should.
Challenging this idea has been controversial anywhere – in China as well as in Great Britain over Scotland, Spain over Catalonia or Russia and Ukraine over Crimea. But as Keating writes: “Existing countries in the world are not good in themselves; they are useful to the extent that they help ensure security and the common good for the people who live in them, as well as for the world as a whole.
“When they don’t, our first impulse should be to ask how they can be improved, not just claim that they must be preserved.”