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Ethnic Separatism in the People’s Republic of China History, Causes and Contemporary Challenges

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The aims of this paper are threefold: to provide some historical background on ethnic separatism in the PRC; to identify the causes of ethnic separatism; and to provide an assessment of the current separatist challenges to the PRC and their implications for China’s domestic politics and foreign relations. The paper demonstrates that the nature and scale of the challenge posed by any one ethnic minority to the PRC is largely a function of three major factors: the historical relationship between the ethnic group and the Chinese state; the geographic concentration of the ethnic minority; and the degree of acculturation to the dominant Han society. In this regard the paper identifies Xinjiang and Tibet as the ethnic minority regions that pose the most enduring separatist challenge to Beijing.

Affiliations: 1: Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University


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