This letter is a response to an earlier TPR editorial entitled “Dim Sum Surprise: Why the Hong Kong Model Wont Save Tibet” from Dec 31, 2011 [editorial avalable here], in which you have correctly noted that the Article 31 (Chinese Constitution) based Special Administrative Region, such as Hong Kong, are temporary arrangements waiting for full political absorption within the mainstream PRC state. But at the same time you have mistakenly claimed that the Central Tibetan Administration’s autonomy policy under this Article 31 (Constitution) arrangement is flawed due to CTA’s ignorance of the ‘Sun Set Clause’ within SAR system.
I am largely surprised to hear this argument, which does not reflect the reality to begin with. First of all, it is highly incorrect to presume that CTA is pursuing an autonomy policy under Article 31 of the Chinese Constitution, that is “One Country, Two Systems” type Hong Kong model. To my great surprise, you forgot to mention Article 4 (Constitution) relating to ‘Regional Autonomy’ which is the true basis of CTA’s claim for right to autonomy within People’s Republic of China. One must realise the huge difference between what Article 31 and Article 4 stands for. Former is a unique system of administering special (and small) territories with huge economic stakes plus historical return of sovereignty from colonial forces. So this system of administration cannot be really defined as Autonomy within the strict traditional understanding of the term. Whereas Article 4 of the Constitution, that provides for regional autonomy to minority nationalities, is based primarily on the concept of Nationalities. According to this concept all the nationalities within China (Han nationality and 55 minority nationalities including Tibetans) are theoretically equals and therefore deserves right to govern themselves. This Article 4 had its conceptual basis in the long history of Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong-CCP theories and policies on Nationalities. Therefore on the basis of this Article 4, specific ‘Law on Regional National Autonomy (LRNA)’ was legislated in order to implement autonomy and give self-government to all the minority nationalities. The creation of Tibet Autonomous Region, Prefectures and Counties, since 1960s, was the direct result of this concept and policy. But the fact remains that the real autonomy or self-government within Tibet was never implemented and put into practice despite its positive (idealistic and ideological) affirmation in the Nationalities theory and policies.
Therefore CTA’s policy and claim for the right to autonomy is strictly linked within this understanding of the Regional Autonomy enshrined in Article 4 (Constitution) and the LRNA. The CTA has never officially deviated from this policy, and had never referred to Article 31 as its conceptual and legal basis. All these points are clearly mentioned in the “Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People” of 2008. In fact Article 31 (Constitution) is mentioned only once in the Memorandum in order to show other possible arrangements within the Constitution of China. This alone cannot be termed as CTA’s legal affirmation of its Genuine autonomy policy within the SAR arrangement. One must also be cognizant of the situation where many Tibetan leaders might sometimes link Tibet’s autonomy to that of Hong Kong and Macau in their rhetoric, but these assertions did not really reflect CTA’s shift in its conceptual and legal positions. Therefore it is wrong to assume that Middle Way Policy is based upon the system propagated by Article 31 of the Chinese constitution.
My personal view is that Tibet’s situation is unique and sui generis, and conceptually does not fit well within both the Regional Autonomy structure (based on the concept of Nationalities) and the Special Administrative Region (SAR – Article 31) model. Considering Tibet’s historical sovereignty and legal legitimacy, one can argue that the proper method to deal with Tibet question is through adopting Self-determination principle within its full decolonization mandate and context. But the CCP, which initially gave full self-determination (theoretically) including right to secession to all nationalities in its 1930’s Constitution, went on to retract this constitutional right (and promise) once it came into power in the 1950s. Therefore deprived of this alternative (self-determination) within Chinese Constitution, CTA had to rely on the next most suitable method – Regional Autonomy.
LLM candidate, 2011-12
University of Western Ontario