Worry, mystification in China over Scotland's independence vote

Worry, mystification in China over Scotland's independence vote

BEIJING - As Scotland heads to the polls this week to vote on whether to become independent, one country with restive regions of its own is watching the debate unfold with nervousness and some mystification - China.

China has every reason to look askance at the idea of regions separating. It is facing persistent unrest in far-flung and resource-rich Tibet and Xinjiang, and also the matter of Taiwan, the self-ruled island China claims as its own.

In 2005, China enacted an "anti-secession law" that allows it to use force on Taiwan if deemed necessary. The law was seen as a warning to Taiwan's then President Chen Shui-bian, who had angered the mainland with his independence-leaning rhetoric.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during a visit to London in June that he respected the wishes of the British people but he hoped that Britain would remain united. Officially, China's Foreign Ministry is not commenting on the Scottish vote, saying it is an internal matter.

A diplomat in Beijing said all a "yes" vote for an independent Scotland would mean for China would be "another ambassador".

But China has in the past not been so tolerant of some independence movements around the world.

For example, China has yet to recognise Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008, though that came about after a war and in the teeth of opposition from Serbia.

Mr Wang Yiwei, director of the Centre for European Union Studies at Beijing's elite Renmin University, said the Scotland case would be different, as independence would be the result of a referendum supported by the central government. "If Scotland votes for independence and that's accepted by Britain then China has no cause to oppose it," Mr Wang said.

As China would never agree to referendums in Tibet or Taiwan, it need not worry about anything similar, he said. "The conditions simply don't exist for this to happen in China," Mr Wang said.

Chinese state media, though, has engaged in a degree of hand-wringing about the Scottish debate.

On Monday, the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, expressed worry about the precedent an independent Scotland could set for other countries, though it did not name China.

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