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POLITICS-CHINA: Kosovo Holds Lessons For Tibet, Taiwan

Analysis by Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Feb 19 2008 (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 Yugoslavia.

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 universities.

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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