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Kosovo Holds Lessons For Tibet, Taiwan

February 20, 2008

Analysis by Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Feb 19 (IPS) - Tiny Kosovo may be worlds apart from China but
the territory's unilateral declaration of independence this week has
explosive implications for the Asian giant.

The Kosovo question strikes at the core of the constitutional
structure underpinning the modern Chinese state, which was designed
from the same federation model as the former Soviet Union and

By casting a controversial vote to secede from Serbia, Kosovo is
threatening to set up a precedent for China's 56 recognised national
minorities that occupy more than half of the country's territory. In
addition, there are special administrative regions as Hong Kong and
Macao and the territory of Taiwan, which in theory have the same
relationship to Beijing as Kosovo has to Belgrade.

None is more unsettling though than the fact that Kosovo's declaration
was supported by the United States and major European powers. The
West's determination to recognise the rights of a minority to exercise
autonomy over the national sovereignty of Serbia has provoked Beijing
to express "serious concern" over the developments in Kosovo.

Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao issued a statement, on Monday,
warning that the move could destabilise the Balkan region severely.

"Kosovo's unilateral approach may lead to a series of consequences and
create a seriously negative impact on peace and stability in the
Balkans and on the efforts to build a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo,
which China is deeply worried about," Liu said.

What Beijing fears is that the immediate recognition granted to Kosovo
by major European countries and the U.S. may lead to Chinese
minorities such as the Tibetans and the Uighurs in Xinjiang province
pressing for greater autonomy.

Even more irksome, Kosovo's declaration comes just a month before
Taiwan holds a controversial referendum on whether the self-governing
island should apply to join the United Nations under the name of
Taiwan, rather than its formal name the Republic of China. China and
Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949, and the mainland
insists the two sides will eventually unify under Beijing's control,
by force if necessary.

Taiwan was among the first to congratulate Kosovo on its declaration
of independence, hailing Kosovars' determination as "truly admirable".

"Taiwan is a member of the international community that cherishes
democracy and freedom, and the Taiwan government is delighted that the
people of Kosovo have the fruits of independence, democracy and
freedom to look forward to," Taiwan's foreign ministry said a in a
statement Monday.

But Beijing was equally quick to blast Taiwan for its audacity saying
the island did not meet the criteria for recognising other countries.

"It is known to all that Taiwan as a part of China, has no right and
qualification at all to make the so-called recognition," the Chinese
foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kosovo's example is unsettling for China because it revives memories
of the Chinese Communist Party's own promises to minorities to uphold
their right of national self-determination, which it quickly abrogated
after winning power in 1949.

The most famous example of an autonomous region in China is Tibet.
China drew up a 17-point agreement with the Lhasa government in 1951,
which details the Tibetans' rights to self-rule such as
self-government, independent religious and educational institutions
but no control over military or diplomatic affairs.

But after a suppressed 1959 rebellion led to Tibetan spiritual leader
the Dalai Lama's exile to India, China revoked its pledges for genuine
autonomy, using sometimes brutal repressive measures since to keep the
region under control.

The similarities with Kosovo are striking. Albanians, who account for
95 percent of Kosovo population's of 2.1 million, enjoyed true
autonomy under the rule of Yugoslavia's founder Marshal Josip Tito.
Although just an autonomous region within the Serbian republic, Kosovo
exercised the same self-rule as the other six Yugoslav republics. It
ran its own assembly, police force, local government, schools and

In 1987 Serbia's late dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, quashed Kosovo's
autonomy and imposed Serbian control from Belgrade. A series of wars
followed, in Slovenia, then in Croatia, most devastatingly in Bosnia,
and finally in Kosovo, which all led to the deaths of more than
200,000 people.

By the end of it, Tito's Yugoslavia was utterly destroyed, leaving
Kosovo under the jurisdiction of the United Nations and under the
protection of NATO troops while final settlement between Belgrade and
Pristina was sought.

After the Kosovo parliament voted unanimously for declaring
independence on the weekend, China joined Russia, Spain and Serbia
among others in opposing the move.

China's ambassador to the U.N. warned that Kosovo's unilateral move,
backed by Britain, France, Italy and the U.S., threatens to undermine
the credibility of the U.N., which has been supervising the territory
since 1999.

"If a resolution adopted by the Security Council is not observed and
implemented, the resolution in question would become a mere scrap of
paper," Wang Guangya told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security
Council, of which China is a veto-wielding member.

"What's more, the authority and credibility of the Security Council as
the primary organ for safeguarding world peace and security would be
compromised," Wang added.

Eschewing the sensitive question of China's own territorial integrity,
Chinese analysts here saw the Kosovo move as part of a strategic
design by western powers to contain Russia.

"Russia is a long-term strategic ally of Serbia on the Balkans and
both have strong historical and cultural ties," said an editorial in
the 'Beijing News' Monday. "Supporting Kosovo's independence against
Serbia's will is an indirect attack on Russia's strategic space in
Europe and the Balkans."

Ma Xiaolin, an expert on international relations, believes that if
upheld Kosovo's independence would be followed by membership in the EU
and NATO, thus furthering their eastward expansion. "Kosovo's
independence is an ultimate result of U.S.-led military intervention
by NATO and is designed to contain Russia,'' he argued in the 'Beijing
Youth Daily.'

China's own record on the Balkans is convoluted. For 15 years from the
mid-1950s, Albania was China's only friend and its communist leader
Enver Hoxha was Mao Zedong's most loyal ally. At the time, Marshal
Josip Tito's Yugoslavia was reviled by Beijing as a revisionist.

But after the architect of China's economic reform Deng Xiaoping came
to power in the late 1970s, China switched alliances, ending its
friendship with Albania and becoming one of Yugoslavia and later
Serbia's staunchest supporters.
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