The Manchurian- led Qing dynasty had ruled China from 1644 to 1912 (Horner & Brown, 2011). By the time of its decline, the Empire had annexed Mongolia, Tibet, Taiwan, and Xinjiang. After its fall, the remainder of its dominion had been ruled from Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China. The paper explores the autonomy, assimilation and homogenization policies that Beijing has undertaken in handling its frontiers, from the Qing Dynasty period to the present time. The essay also attempts to account for the difference in fate between Tibet and Mongolia, China’s frontiers after the decline of the Qing dynasty.
Beijing’s Approach to Frontier Regions
Beijing has used both autonomy and assimilation as well as homogenization policies in its management of China’s frontier regions. Autonomy measures grant the sub-state control over its own cultural, economic and domestic affairs. Meanwhile the nation maintains the overall authority (Jianyong, 2014, p. 2). Assimilation and homogenization policies, on the other hand, aim to ensure that the people of the sub-state integrate themselves into the lifestyle and culture of the whole nation (Jianyong, 2014, p. 2). During the Qing dynasty’s rule, the empire annexed China’s frontiers. To achieve this goal, the emperors had applied autonomy policies (Jianyong, 2014, p. 2). These ones ensured that border regions like Tibet and Mongolia had their internal autonomy to practice their religion. They were, however, to recognize the dynasty as a central government. For example, in Tibet the Dalai Lama remained the leader of the Tibetan government. However, he had to be answerable to the Qing dynasty’s emperors (Horner & Brown, 2011).
The latter ones also used assimilation and homogenization policies. The dynasty’s Manchu rulers intermarried with the Mongolian nobles (Jianyong, 2014). In assimilating Xinjiang, the Qing rulers offered the Uighur people grace if they submitted to the dynasty’s culture and authority (Jianyong, 2014). During the empire’s last days, the emperors became cautious because of Russian influence on the dynasty’s frontiers. The Empire strengthened its control over Mongolia. This country was leaning towards forming the collaboration with Russia (Jianyong, 2014). It threatened the Qing dynasty’s power. In reaction, the latter one changed its policies on Mongolia from those of autonomy to assimilation and homogenization. The emperors counteracted with the Dalai Lama’s influence in Mongolia. The rulers also relaxed the migration regulations to Mongolian people encouraging an influx of other Chinese tribes to invade the country (Jianyong, 2014). It was meant to show to Mongolians that the dynasty was still in control (Jianyong, 2014, p. 2).
The Qing Empire eventually ended during the 1911 revolution (Jianyong, 2014, p.3). In fear of its frontiers becoming independent, the newly formed Chinese government, in its Constitution, established the Republic of Five Nations. It was an autonomy policy aimed at uniting and ensuring equality of these five Chinese states. These were Han, Manchu, Mongolia, Hui, and Tibet (Jianyong, 2014, p. 3). The policy would ensure that the states were autonomous in their domestic affairs. They would, however, still be under the authority of the Chinese government. Xinjiang, a frontier although not fully committed to the autonomy policies, had exhibited a strong political allegiance at the time. Tibet and Mongolia did not agree to the autonomy plans. However, after several defeats against the Chinese government, they approved the policies. Nevertheless, in the 1930s, the Chinese government once again changed its plans. Under Mao influence, it disregarded the autonomy principles of China towards its frontiers (Horner & Brown, 2011, p. 5). The government settled on integration and homogenization policies. The frontier tribes were forced to speak Mandarin as the official Chinese language. They had to adapt to the Hans lifestyle. Schools in the frontiers were to teach its students in Mandarin. The government mostly targeted the Uyghurs of Xinjiang. The government forbade them from practicing their Islamic religion. They were to adapt to Buddhism (Horner & Brown, 2011).
In 1951, the Chinese government signed an agreement with Tibet representatives (Horner & Brown, 2011, p. 5). The contract aimed to grant Tibet broad autonomy including the recognition of the Dalai Lama as the leader of the Tibetan government. However, the agreement also established the Chinese military administration in Tibet. It implied that this country was just autonomous on paper. In reality, it would still be under the Chinese rule. Since the 1950s to the present, it has shifted its policies on its frontiers. Finally, Beijing recognized Mongolia as an independent nation after the 1945 referendum that voted 100 percent for its independence (Horner & Brown, 2011, p. 6). However, because of Mongolia’s vast coal, oil and uranium deposits, China still plans to reconquer Mongolia to have control over its resources (Mitchell, 2015). In Tibet, in 2004, the Chinese government issued a white paper declaring the frontier would never be autonomous from China (Horner & Brown, 2011, p. 6). In Xinjiang, the Chinese government still practices homogenization and assimilation policies. As Xinjiang produces its biggest natural gas reserves, China does not plan to grant Xinjiang its full autonomy (Mitchell, 2015). It has led to infighting between the Uyghur and the Hans. The former ones are complaining that the Hans are taking over their land. However, even with all the fighting and human rights’ violations, the Chinese government has no plans to grant autonomy to Xinjiang (Mitchell, 2015).
The Fates of Tibet and Mongolia after the Qing Dynasty’s Decline
After the decline of the Manchurian-led Qing Dynasty, Mongolia and Tibet have experienced different fates. Mongolia is currently an independent nation. Meanwhile Tibet is autonomous but under the control of the Chinese government. One reason for the different fate of the frontier states is due to the partners they chose to assist them to become independent of China.
The Mongolian nobles on the eve of the December 11 revolution sent a letter to the Russian Tsar asking for his assistance in the country’s fight for independence (Jianyong, 2014). The letter explained Mongolia’s dissatisfaction with new secular China. It also elaborated their plans of establishing an independent nation. Russia agreed to offer to the Mongolian nobles and princes help in their fight. It supplied arms to the nobles through the Russian embassy in Kulun, the capital city of Mongolia (Jianyong, 2014). It also helped the country build its military forces. In December 2011, Mongolia declared its independence from the newly formed Republic of China. In 1912, when China started reclaiming its former territories, the Russian government on 15 August formulated a new policy for the country (Jianyong, 2014, p. 5). In the policy, Russia vowed to protect the independence of Mongolia. In return, the latter one was to ensure that Russian business people had all expected privileges and rights in the state. They signed the document known as the Russia-Mongolia agreement (Jianyong, 2014, p. 5).
Tibet, on its part, collaborated with Britain. In the Simla Conference held between 1913 to 1914 among Britain, Tibet and China, the British fell short in their support for Tibet’s independence (Kobayashi, 2014, p.92). Britain acknowledged the autonomy of this country but also recognized the sovereignty of China over some aspects of Tibet’s territory. The GB failed to establish a clear demarcation of authority between the Tibetan government led by the Dalai Lama and the Chinese one (Kobayashi, 2014, p. 101). In truth, Britain was never interested in assisting Tibet. Its primary interest there was due to its security distress for its Indian colony. The British government intended to contain the Chinese political authority in Tibet located next to the Northeast region of India (Kobayashi, 2014). Britain was also afraid that if Tibet succeeded in gaining its independence from China, then other Asian nations would follow suit. The GB, therefore, was holding negotiations with Russia to plead with it to stop supporting Mongolia (Kobayashi, 2014). However, Russia did not agree with this stance. With the lack of British support, Tibet did not have enough resources to fight the Chinese government for its independence.
Another reason for the difference in fate between Tibet and Mongolia lies in their unity. The Tibetan army while fighting the Chinese forces was divided. It was because the Dalai Lama who acted as their unifying factor had fled to India for exile. It demoralized them making some officials bow to the newly established Republic of China (Kobayashi, 2014, p. 101). The Mongolians, on their part, were united throughout their fight. The unity made them successful. The final reason for the variety between these two frontier states is the recognition of nations by the international world. China never actually acknowledged Mongolia’s independence. Instead, it fought Mongolia in several wars including the 1921 Mongolian revolution (Jianyong, 2014, p. 7). However, in 1945, China agreed to recognize it as an independent state if the referendum was held and Mongolians voted for independence. On 20 October 1945, the referendum took place with Mongolians voting 100 percent for the newly established separate country (Horner, Brown, 2011, p. 6). In 1960, Mongolia officially became a member of the United Nations (Horner, Brown, 2011, p. 6). The global countries began to recognize it as an independent state. In October 2002, Taiwan joined the list of the number of countries that acknowledged the independence of Mongolia (Horner, Brown, 2011, p. 6). Tibet, on the other hand, enjoyed some autonomy and independence from China while the latter country was busy fighting civil wars and the World War II. However, in 1950, the People’s Republic of China, being fresh from the Chinese-Japan battles during the World War II sent its military forces to invade Tibet (Kobayashi, 2014, p. 107). Tibetans were subdued and taken under China’s authority. Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has shown its sovereignty over Tibet. It has never accepted Tibetan cries for autonomy. However, the biggest blow to the independence of Tibet is the lack of acknowledgment of its legitimacy by the international powers. Most countries in the world recognize China’s sovereignty over it and refuse to acknowledge its government currently in exile in India (Kobayashi, 2014, p. 108).
The Chinese frontiers have come a long way since their annexation by the Qing dynasty. After the empire’s decline, Beijing took up the role of controlling the borders. It has embarked on assimilation and homogenization strategies as well as autonomy policies. Some of them have worked while some have led to conflicts between the different tribes of China. Mongolia and Tibet were trying to regain their independence from China. While the initial one has succeeded in becoming an independent and internationally recognized nation, the other one is still struggling with emancipating itself from China’s authority. Only the time will tell if Tibet is to be successful in the future or not.