HKMUN 2012: Chair Report Forum: Special Political and Decolonization Committee Issue: The Question of Self Determination: Taiwan and Tibet Student Officer: Colin Diersing Positions: President of the General Assembly Note: This document serves as an introduction to the topic. All delegates are strongly advised to supplement this document with independent research. ____________________________________________________________________________
"Essentially, the right to self-determination is the right of a people to determine its own destiny." Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
Introduction The right to self determination is perhaps the most fundamental right granted to a people. In short, it is the right of a people to determine their own methods of governance and relations with the rest of the world. It does not dictate any particular governance methods, but rather allows a people to determine their own development. It is a right supported by a variety of UN resolutions and international agreements, and upon whom much of international politics is predicated. However, neither the United Nations nor any other body has provided a clear framework for the process by which a people come to be recognized as a people or any framework for how a recognized people achieve self-determination. The result is that a series of groups of peoples believe themselves to be peoples worthy of self-determination but have no process through which they can achieve self-determination. This committee will consider the specific cases of Tibet and Taiwan, two contested regions involving the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China, and ask the committee to consider to what degree these two regions deserve self-determination. More broadly, however, the committee will need to address the broader questions of process and definition that hinder the development of just and consistent solutions.
Significance In a world where we increasingly organize our international relations and self-definitions along lines of states and self-governance, no question could be more fundamental than this: who deserves to be recognized as a state. We understand states, and their most common governance structures, nation states, as the method by which we safeguard the rights of people and secure our common future. However, we often forget to consider the pressing question of groups who claim the right to a state or a nation state.
Thus, fundamentally, the question before this committee is which groups of people deserve to be recognized as deserving of self-determination and the protections that this recognition allows. Answering this question requires delegates to engage with questions such as the process by which a people are recognized, how the international community should weigh competing goals of continuity and justice, and how the international community can best protect the interests of those it believes deserve self determination.
History, past action, definition of self-determination International legal formalization of a concept of self-determination can be traced back to the League of Nations, which defined the right as basically the ability of peoples to govern themselves and choose their own political and economic systems. As international bodies such as the leagues became increasingly important to international politics, it became increasingly important to have some criteria by which to measure the validity and moral value of a state. The importance of the concept only increased after the Second World War, when the long process of decolonizing large swaths of the non-European world began in earnest. Although it should be noted that de-colonization was a concept that far predated the popularization of selfdetermination, self-determination provided a method to determine the shape and structure of new states. It has remained an important concept in international politics and law. At the same time, the United Nations emerged as a strong proponent of the right and established the Special Political and Decolonization Committee in part to ensure that decolonization occurred within this framework. The right to self-determination is recognized in the United Nations charter, which states as the purpose of the UN: “ "[to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. The charter, however, does not provide any definition as to self-definition or any clear prescribed process through which to achieve this goal. Resolution 1514, later adopted by the UNGA, states that "All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." Similar and supplementary rights have been confirmed by a series of other conventions and treaties. The International Bill of Human Rights, which states, “ everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of a nationality or denied the right to change nationality.” The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states in article three that “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” However, relatively little has been adopted regarding the requirements for deserving selfdetermination. The requirements for statehood, a separate but related question, are set out most clearly in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: A permanent population, a fixed territory, a government, the ability to enter into relations with other nation states. The definition of a people is less clear, but UNESCO has stated “the group as a whole 2
must have the will to be identified as a people or the consciousness of being a people”. The question of whether the group has the consciousness of being a people naturally entails complicated questions of history and identity. Some common traits of peoples also include: racial or ethnic identity, cultural homogeneity, linguistic unity, religious or ideological affinity, and territorial connection. Moreover, self-definition itself can take more than one form. It could function as complete independence from surrounding sates, voluntary integration into a larger state, or a series of semi-autonomous arrangements. It could be achieved through direct bi-lateral negotiations, nonviolent protest, or international pressure.
History and context: Tibet History and nature of the dispute The question of Tibet’s independence has a long history, which inform the two side’s understanding of Tibet’s designation. The People’s Republic of China contents that Tibet has, since the thirteenth century, been a part of China and is thus inextricable from the Chinese state. The dispute essentially arises from the two parties understanding of Tibet’s relationship with the empires that ruled over both what is now China and Tibet. Those who support an independent Tibet argue that these empires, either Manchu or Mongol, ruled over an expansive empire that included both China and Tibet, although Tibet was understood as a separate protectorate of the empire and not a portion of China. The last such empire to govern China was the Qing dynasty, whose actions are commonly scrutinized to determine the legitimacy of either side’s claims. In 1903, when Britain attempted to open separate relations with Tibet, the Qing dynasty rebuffed the British government and tightened its control of the region. However, this did not stop Britain from signing the Simla convention with Tibet in 1914, which recognized Tibet as an autonomous area. The PRC does not recognize this convention as legitimate. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, Tibet declared itself to be an independent state and expelled all Chinese residents of the capitol, including any government officials. Tibet then largely functioned as an independent state (this period of time is frequently included in arguments for Tibet’s recognition as a self-governing state. However, the army of the PRC asserted control by entering Tibet in 1950. In 1951, the Dali Lama (the spiritual and at the time political leader of Tibet) signed a seventeen-point agreement with the PRC, which officially granted sovereignty of the region to China but also stated that China would not “alter the existing political system in Tibet”. Advocates for Tibetan independence commonly claim that this was coerced. Notably, the constitution of the PRC included the right to succession when Tibet was introduced into the country but the provision has since been removed.
Present situation Anti-government protests staged in March of 2008 have raised the profile of the region and its disputed claim for self-determination. The issue at stake in Tibet is basically in line with a traditional self-determination issue: The People’s Republic of China claims Tibet as a 3
The current situation remains strained and difficult. A series of uprisings that took place in the region eventually led to the imposition of martial law in 1987. Although the direct use of martial law was lifted in 1990, the PRC’s treatment of human rights in the region remains hotly contested. Protest in 2008 led to heightened international criticism of China’s treatment of Tibet. During the Cultural Revolution, the central government aimed to eradicate the separate identities of ethnic minorities, so all religious practices in Tibet were suppressed during this time. One frequently sighted outstanding issue is the supposed policy of the Chinese government of importing large numbers of ethnically Han Chinese, which some Tibetans fear may devalue their claim to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. Negotiations regarding the future of the region remain stalled as China refuses to negotiate with the Dali Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who claims to represent the Tibetan people. The Dali Lama no longer lives in Tibet, having fled to India and created a government in exile after the first Tibetan uprising in 1959.
Issues of self-determination and past UN action Tibet clearly raises the core issues of self-determination and the international community’s failure to address them in a coherent and consistent way. In Resolution 1353, in 1959, the UNGA called for "respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life" and, in March 1995, the Human Rights Commission voted against censuring China on its human rights record by only one vote. However, the UN is yet to take a stand on the broader issue of self-determination in the form of Tibet. Delegates should be reminded that self-determination would not necessarily require succession from China but could involve a variety of semi-autonomous methods of governance.
History and context: Taiwan Taiwan’s claim to self-governance is likewise built upon along and complicated history, which will be explored in this study guide.
History and nature of the dispute The island of Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895 by the Chinese empire and remained a Japanese colony until 1945. When China declared war against Japan during the Second World War, it claimed to invalidate all former treaties with Japan, including the concession of Taiwan. After 1945, the United States Military occupied the island and Japan formally renounced all rights to Taiwan in 1952. Proponents of self-determination for Taiwan often point to this history of separation from Mainland China. After loosing the Chinese civil war of 1949, the nationalist Kuomintang fled Mainland China to the island, declared the government of the PRC as completely illegitimate, and claimed to be the legitimate representatives of all of China. The PRC government located in Beijing likewise declared the government in Taiwan to simply be a rebellious province undeserving of international recognition. Taiwan was placed under martial law until 1987, but has since become 4
a democratic state with high levels of economic freedom. Until 1971, the government located in Taiwan maintained representation in the United Nations. However, the seat was transferred to the government in Beijing. Only twenty-four governments continue to recognize the government located in Taiwan.
Present situation Whether or not to submit to the PRC or to maintain sovereignty remains a contentious issue even in Taiwan. The KMT party, which won elections in 2008, envisions Taiwan as a future part of a whole China, while the DPP (their main rivals) believes Taiwan should remain an independent state. The government in Beijing continues to support the “One China” principle, which states that there is only “One China” and Taiwan is an inalienable part of that China. Beijing argues against Tibet’s self-determination both based on historical factors and its belief in the importance of a single unified China. However, Taiwan (under the name Chinese Taipei) was allowed observer status in the World Health Organization, without objection from China. This has rekindled hopes that Taiwan will be allowed to function as a separate state with full rights to self-determination.
Significance to global security The issue of Taiwan is important not only because it is a direct application of the questions of self-determination already discussed, but also because it represents a serious concern for the maintenance of international security. Both the PRC and the government in Taiwan maintain formidable armed forces and Taiwan purchases many weapons from around the world, primarily from the United States. The destabilizing potential of a two-party conflict that includes significant armed forces makes a peaceful and speedy resolution all the more desirable.
Topics for a possible resolution There are a wide variety of possible directions and topics for discussion for this committee. The specific issues of Tibet and Taiwan are both topics for potential detailed UN resolutions. Possible questions could include the particular futures of the country, definitions of ‘peoples’ in relationship to the specific case studies, or guidance on the specific processes supported by the international community to achieve these aims. Delegates are reminded that questions of self-determination are not at all confined to the two examples included within this study guide and are welcome to include discussion of states such as Kosovo whose quest for self-determination remains in doubt. Finally, the broader issues such as the definition of and people and the process by which the United Nations will recognize a group as a people. Description of the preferred method of practicing 'self determination' and, more specifically, the rights given to self-determining peoples, could also be included in a resolution. 5
Resources for further exploration Text of UNGA Resolution 1514 http://wpik.org/Src/unga1514.html List of past UN Resolutions Pertaining to Tibet: http://www.freetibet.org/about/united-nations-tibet The Question of Tibet: Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/china/question-tibet/p15965 The Question of Taiwan: Council on Foreign Relations http://www.cfr.org/china/china-taiwan-relations/p9223 Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization: http://www.unpo.org/ Free Tibet Coalition http://www.freetibet.org/ Explanation for reasons for Taiwanâ€™s independence: http://www.fpif.org/articles/taiwans_independence