Friday, September 12, 2014

Scottish independence rattles China, Spain and others

The debate over Scottish independence has raised concerns in a number of countries where there are ongoing disputes over independence.

Some papers have discussed fears that a split from the union could spark an independence movement in small countries elsewhere. There have also concerns raised as to whether constitutional links amongst Commonwealth countries might be affected.

Chinese concerns

China, in particular is worried that the Scottish referendum might rekindle debates over Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.

China has expressed surprise that London would even consider allowing the UK to break up. Furthermore its Premier Li Keqiang has said he wants to see the United Kingdom remain "united", adding that he believed the UK could "stay at the forefront in leading the world's growth and development".

His reply should not have come as a surprise. It reflects Beijing's worry about any independence movement, even one half way round the world.

Whilst the Scots are being offered a vote to determine their future, in China any talk of separation is regarded as treason and could result in a lengthy jail sentence.

Beijing has launched a huge security crackdown against what it calls Uighur separatists in the western region of Xinjiang. And in Tibet tensions still exist more than 50 years after China 'liberated' the territory and imposed Chinese rule.

Meanwhile the island of Taiwan has been threatened with invasion should they declare formal independence [BBC / BBC].

Chinese media response

Whilst China's state run news agency has been unable to avoid reporting the news surrounding Scottish independence, official responses have been somewhat muted.

When asked whether China would veto any application to the UN following independence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson responded by saying that Scotland's independence referendum was "an internal matter of the UK."

"China has no comment on that," the spokesperson added [Xinhua]. While China claims not to have an opinion, its reporting has been very much biased towards the 'No' campaign. Articles in the last few days all point to the negative effects that independence would bring.

Oil tycoons voice opposition against Scottish independence, Salmond tries to disperse concern over financial consequences from "Yes" vote, Scottish vote for independence would change political map of remaining UK: expert, and Latest poll shows "No" backers exceed "Yes" over Scotland's independence were just some of the headlines, an indication that China's view was very much that of PM David Cameron that the UK would be better off working together.

Some media has gone further though, suggesting that the remaining union would become a third-rate nation should Scotland depart. The Beijing News roundly mocked the idea of a divided Britain, saying that the country would lose its status as a "world centre of politics, economics and culture".

The Global Times and the People's Daily, both Chinese state run newspapers, also suggested that the UK would fall from "a first-class country to a second-class one" and that David Cameron would "become a 'sinner' of history for the UK".

Chinese language newspapers and websites were even more vocal. The China Daily, Xinhua and the Global Times all talked of the risks of separatism and said China could not "afford to play this British game"

Meanwhile China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, deputy director Wang Shuo said Scottish independence would "establish a bad precedent" whilst the Global Times said "any step towards separatism can provoke a chain reaction" [Telegraph].

Spanish worries

It's not just China who is worried about the Scottish referendum. The independence debate has sparked discussions in Spain where Catalonia has sought independence for many years.

Some 1.8 million separatists in northeastern Spain have staged mass protests across Catalonia to demand a secession vote deemed illegal by Spanish government. "The UK is willing to let Scotland vote and Catalonia is refused that right by the Spanish," says Liz Castro, an author and publisher who divides her time between Massachusetts and Barcelona. "Catalans look to the Scotland-UK question with a sense of envy and admiration."

Despite the protests, a 'Yes' vote in Scotland won't change anything since the Spanish Government will maintain that the Constitution prohibits any consultation or referendum in an autonomous community [Telegraph / Guardian / US Today]

Other separatist movements

Europe has dozens of separatist movements and it is possible that some could stir should the Scottish referendum swing towards independence. In the far west of England there exists a strong nationalistic movement seeking the devolution of Cornwall from the rest of the UK.

Across the rest of Asia as well as China, separatist may become more emboldened. There are dozens of regions disputed by separatists, nationalists and state bodies. The same is true in Africa, North and South America and other parts of the world

In some countries, such as China, independence campaigners will simply be beaten back. In others they will simply be ignored. But Scottish devolution has already ignited the touchpaper and it will be hard to extinguish the flame.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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