Can Beijing Bring Order to Its Restive Provinces?

Recent violence in China's western provinces shows that the state's dual policy of migration and development has failed. A political solution for Xinjiang and Tibet, however, could be closer than Beijing may think. Christian Le Mière, in this month's Foreign Affairs journal, argues that the best approach may already exist: China could expand the category of Special Administrative Regions (SARs), which now exist in Hong Kong and Macau, to the country's western provinces.

According to the laws establishing the SARs, the territories are afforded "a high degree of autonomy" and "executive, legislative, and independent judicial power." In addition, the SAR arrangement requires security forces to be comprised of local citizens, while residents inside SARs are granted protections covering freedom of speech, press, assembly, privacy, and, perhaps most significant if such a program were to be adopted in Tibet, religion. The checks and balances built into the SARs' governance allows for the guarantee of these rights far more effectively than under the Chinese constitution, which nominally provides similar freedoms.

The creation of SARs in Xinjiang and Tibet would not just be in the interest of local populations; the Communist Party leadership would also benefit. Beijing would retain control over foreign affairs and defense and keep the right to station military forces in the regions. Even more important, the law establishing the SARs dictates that the "land and natural resources within the [SAR] shall be state property."

Such an arrangement would remove another thorn in Beijing's side -- the international attention and opprobrium created by the Dalai Lama's ongoing exile. The Dalai Lama would likely accept such a solution; the SAR closely resembles his own "middle way" negotiating position, which cedes the claim to full Tibetan independence and instead calls for "genuine autonomy." In any future Tibetan SAR, the Dalai Lama would likely be less of a problem for Beijing in the region than outside of it.

Read the complete article here.