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China and the Principle of Self-Determination of Peoples

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There are major differences between the Chinese Communists' pre-1944 and post-1944 policies with regard to the rights of non-ethnic Chinese. In recent years, the Chinese government has moved toward accepting the two International Covenants on human rights. Although these explicitly endorse the principle of peoples' right to self-determination (not to be confused with independence), the way that the Chinese government views its attendant obligations is inconsistent with the plain language of the operative legal instruments. The problem is complicated by the fact that the generally relied-upon Chinese versions of the relevant international instruments, which the Chinese government claims to accept in principle, are in certain crucial respects at variance from what the authentic versions actually say. There is also a disconnect between the way Chinese and Central Asians tend to view questions of territorial sovereignty. Some Central Asian peoples have gained their independence (from China and Russia), and some of China's subject peoples appear willing to accept present arrangements. For the others, the struggle continues. This article contextualizes the self-determination question in terms of Chinese territory and ideology. It also examines Chinese responses to modern international law and how China operates within the United Nations system and responds to un values. It discusses China's perception of self-determination elsewhere, including the dissolution of federal and unitary states, and explores some of the implications of China's stand. The authors also suggest some possible alternative paths for effecting self-determination.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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