ETHNIC MINORITIES IN CHINA
Paying the price of policy flip-flops
By Ching Cheong
HONG KONG: - The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is reaping the bitter harvest of the seeds of ethnic separatism that it sowed more than 60 years ago.
From its birth in 1921 to its victory in 1949, the CCP advocated a federal system that allowed for ethnic minorities to break away from China. The CCP policy on this question was designed deliberately to weaken the central government led by the rival Kuomintang (KMT).
On July 16, 1922, the CCP at its second national congress adopted a resolution expounding on the party's position on a federal republic and the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities.
On June 18, 1928, at its sixth national congress, it adopted a resolution 'On the 10 Major Programmes', one of which was the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities.
The resolution read: 'We would be truly communists only if we acknowledged the right to independence of ethnic minorities; in other words, acknowledged the rights of all minority groups to separate themselves from China and establish their own country.'
On Nov 7, 1931, the CCP announced the establishment of the China Soviet Republic (CSR). Deng Xiaoping, then general secretary of the CSR government, proclaimed the first CSR Constitution.
Article 14 of that Constitution stated that the CSR 'recognises the rights of ethnic minorities to self-determination, including their right to separate from China and set up their own nation'.
On Dec 20, 1935, CCP leader Mao Zedong in his capacity as chairman of the CSR reiterated that all ethnic minorities in China were entitled to set up their own government, to join hands with other ethnic groups in a federal republic and to be totally separated from China.
Putting words into action, the CCP helped set up in 1928 a Taiwan Communist Party with a threefold programme of promoting nationalism, revolution and independence for Taiwan.
In 1935 and 1936, the CCP helped set up two Tibetan republics in the present-day territories of Jinchuan and Ganzi, in northern and western Sichuan province respectively.
Interestingly, according to the CCP's official Party History Review, the republic in Ganzi, called Boba People's Republic, declared on May 1, 1936 that its territory included 'all territories in Xizang, Ankang (Tibetan regions in western Sichuan), Qinghai, Gansu, and part of Yunnan'. These are exactly the areas claimed as Greater Tibet by the Dalai Lama.
The same declaration said: 'Our Boba ancestors had set up an independent state for 300 years until the Han emperor conquered them...from now on we shall be a free and independent people once again.'
The notion that Tibet had long been independent and that its territory extended far beyond the current Tibet Autonomous Region was endorsed by the CCP at the time.
A plan to weaken the KMT government in Xinjiang in 1944-45 turned on empowering ethnic minorities. With the help of the Soviet Union, the CCP conducted a revolution in three regions corresponding to present-day Yili, Tacheng and Aishan areas in north-western Xinjiang.
On Nov 12, 1944, CCP-led revolutionaries set up the East Turkestan Republic (ETR), with its capital in Yili. On Aug 18, 1949, Mao wrote to congratulate the ETR leader, endorsing the separatist movement as 'part of the revolutionary movements of the Chinese people'. Like the Tibetan republic, this republic was short-lived, coming to an end in 1949.
At the CCP's seventh party congress on April 23, 1945, Mao delivered a report in which he said that ethnic minorities would be encouraged to join the federal republic on a voluntary and democratic basis. On Oct 10, 1947, he emphasised yet again that ethnic minorities had the right to freely join a China Democratic Federal Republic.
But when final victory over the KMT was in sight, the CCP changed its mind. On June 15, 1949, just a few months before declaring the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the CCP told other political groups that it had decided to abandon the federal system in favour of a strongly centralised government. National minorities would be granted autonomy, but not the right to self-determination, let alone independence.
Some ethnic minorities viewed this as a betrayal of the communists' earlier promises. No wonder that ethnic insurgencies have since become a major headache for China.