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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China's Georgia War Lesson: Today's Breakaway Bites Back Later

August 20, 2008

By Viola Gienger and Dune Lawrence
August 19, 2008

Russia's military slap at Georgia may give China added justification
to keep its own ethnic separatists in line.

The war plays to China's argument that it must keep ethnic regions
firmly under control, lest they become autonomous enough to cause
problems for the central government, as Georgia has done for Moscow
since becoming a pro-Western democracy after protests in 2003 threw
out a government friendlier to Russia.

To the Chinese, the Georgia conflict "is all the result of the
inability of Russian leaders to control their country, and allowing
ethnic divisions to dominate'' after the Soviet Union's collapse in
1991, said Robert Ross, a professor at Boston College specializing in
China and East Asia. "So the lesson for China in this is that we must
be all-the-more sure that we control our ethnic groups."

With the heft to counter U.S. political and economic dominance since
the Cold War ended, China has been wary about Washington's support
for the former Soviet Union's so-called ``color revolutions'' --
Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, Ukraine's 2004-2005 Orange Revolution
and Kyrgyzstan's 2005 Tulip Revolution, named for the hues or flowers
favored by street protesters.

China has attracted international censure for crackdowns in its
Western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, where it says it faces
separatist and terrorist movements. Attacks and bombings in Xinjiang
this month have killed at least 16 police officers.

Revolutionary Momentum

"If color revolutions have formed a kind of momentum, first Russia,
then Central Asia and then eventually this kind of wave of color
revolutions will expand into China, and China will be the last one to
stand against this kind of democratization movement," said Huang
Jing, a senior research fellow at the National University of
Singapore's East Asian Institute.

China probably views Russia's flexing of its military muscles as a
mixed blessing, Ross said. While countering U.S. influence might
benefit China, the resurgent strength of a one- time foe in 1969
border clashes and earlier parrying over Mongolia also is unsettling,
he said. And, just as Georgia would like reassert authority over the
pro-Moscow breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, China
wants Taiwan back under its control.

"Is this a precedent for intervention that could be used to keep
Taiwan out of China or separate Tibet from China?'' said Phil Deans,
a professor of international affairs at Temple University in Tokyo.
"This dispute could cut either way for the Chinese, and so the safest
thing to do is to remain silent."

Low Profile

Since Russia sent troops into South Ossetia on Aug. 8, China has
addressed the conflict publicly with three statements on its Foreign
Ministry Web site, the longest just three sentences, calling for a
peaceful resolution. China also kept a low profile during a United
Nations debate on Georgia.

The conflict provides what China may consider a useful distraction
after the months leading up to the Olympic Games in Beijing saw
international protests over China's harsh treatment of Tibetans and
other ethnic minorities and intolerance of political dissent, Huang said.

Last year, President George W. Bush met with Tibet's exiled spiritual
leader, the Dalai Lama, in Washington and has criticized China's
crackdowns there. The U.S. Congress awarded the Tibetan the
Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian award.

Uighur Activist

Bush used his trip to the opening ceremony of the Olympics to prod
the Chinese on human rights and religious freedom. Last month, he met
with an ethnic Uighur activist from Xinjiang, Rebiya Kadeer, at the
White House.

"Everyone can see the real confrontation is not between Russia and
Georgia, but between Russia and the U.S. and NATO," Huang said. "In
the big game, if there is resistance against the U.S. and their
allies, it's kind of good news for China, because that means more
maneuvering room in their role with the U.S."

China has worked with Russia and former Soviet Central Asian nations
to quell terrorism in that region, including in Xinjiang, where
Muslim separatists want to create an independent East Turkistan.

One vehicle for cooperation is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The group, which includes China, Russia and the Central Asian
nations, works on trade, energy, tourism, military exercises and, as
one July statement put it, "the fight against terrorism, separatism
and extremism."

U.S. Relations

The rulers of former Soviet states in Central Asia will assess their
relations with the U.S. and likely avoid getting too close as a
result of the Georgian conflict, said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president
of the Moscow-based Institute of Middle Eastern Studies and president
of the Russian Jewish Congress.

"They will still be free to pursue any relations that they want,
until it steps on Russia's toes," Satanovsky said. "In Central Asia,
if you're not strong, you're no one and you will not be talked to."

In contrast, everyone wants to talk to China.

"China actually feels they're the beneficiary of all this," Huang
said. "First, it highlights its soft power, its smart diplomacy.
Second, China feels good because now the Russians are rolling back
the so-called color revolutions."

To contact the reporter on this story:
* Viola Gienger in Washington at;
* Dune Lawrence in Beijing at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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