Opponents of Scotland's secession bid celebrated in Glasgow on Friday.Credit Andy Buchanan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Chinese React to Scotland’s Display of Self-Determination
  • Fri, 09/19/2014 - 19:28

By Dan Levin    
September 19, 2014 8:04 am

Now that Scottish voters have rejected independence at the ballot box, China’s senior leadership is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief.

Beijing has kept its distance from the referendum. During a visit to London in June, Premier Li Keqiang said China wanted to see a “strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom,” but this week a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, refused to comment on the issue, calling it a “domestic affair.”

Chinese state-run media have largely avoided the subject, though a commentary in Global Times warned that a vote for independence threatened to “wreck the whole U.K.” and cause countries around the world to “suffer from secessional movements.”

Scotland’s decision to remain in the United Kingdom, then, is precisely the result Beijing wanted to see as it struggles to quash separatist movements in its own restive regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. But the elegant democratic process on display was not lost on ordinary Chinese, many of whom drew their own parallels to some of China’s thorniest political issues.

“The mainland would never let Taiwan do this,” a commenter using the name “Little Juan wants great abs” wrote on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging platform.

At a time when the Chinese authorities are imprisoning scores of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang and struggling to stifle growing calls for direct democracy in Hong Kong, some Chinese commenters online took the opportunity to castigate, however sarcastically, the Communist Party’s tools for political control.

“England supports Scotland’s independence without even resorting to central military repression! Without even using propaganda about national pride! Without even using the core values of capitalism!” a user named Ming Lazy wrote on Sina Weibo.

In Taiwan, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party sought to link the Scottish referendum to its own agenda of promoting a distinct identity for the self-ruled island, separate from China. In a post on its website, the party praised “the democratic values” of the Scottish vote as “not only an example for the world, but also inspire us to continue building and strengthening our democracy right here in Taiwan.”

As Britain moves forward, expectations are high for Prime Minister David Cameron to deliver on his promises of greater autonomy for Scotland. In China, party leaders and the state media regularly champion the country’s official autonomous regions as proof that ethnic minorities are cherished and their rights protected.

According to Chinese law, such autonomous regions are guaranteed certain special political rights, like the abilities to draft their own administrative regulations and independently manage natural resources and education. But many Chinese doubt that residents of the Tibet Autonomous Region or the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are truly free to govern their own affairs.

“They call it an autonomous region, but all the big things would still definitely have to be determined by the Chinese government leaders,” said Li Song, a 25-year-old man shopping in a Beijing mall on Friday afternoon.

Wen Jun, 32, an office worker who had followed the Scottish independence referendum closely, came away impressed by its calm and peaceful political resolution, though he sounded a bit wistful that Chinese citizens lacked similar means to determine their own political fate.

“It’s best to let the people decide for themselves,” Mr. Wen said. “But their system is different from ours.”

Becky Davis contributed research.

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