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Is There Space for “Genuine Autonomy” for Tibetan Areas in the PRC's System of Nationalities Regional Autonomy?

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This article considers whether room exists within the current system of nationalities regional autonomy (NRA) in China to accommodate Tibetan aspirations for "genuine autonomy" under the People's Republic of China (PRC) sovereignty. It examines the legal framework for NRA in China, as well as Chinese government policy and practice toward autonomous areas, in terms of the limitations and possibilities they imply for realizing Tibetan aspirations for autonomy, highlighting specific areas of concern, opportunities and constraints. It explores the development of political and legal approaches toward autonomy since the 1930s, the nature of the current framework and how recent legal and political developments interact with that framework. It looks at options for autonomy under the Chinese Constitution and national legislation, particularly the self-government of nationality (minority) autonomous areas as well as Article 31 of the Constitution which has provided the basis for the establishment of special administrative regions (SARs). Since autonomous areas also exercise the general powers of local governments in the PRC, it describes the general system of local government at the provincial and lower administrative levels. The article examines the practical implementation and operation of minority autonomy and SARs including the apparent gap between law and practice. In particular, special attention is paid to the role of the Chinese Communist Party and its officials which have a significant impact on the exercise of state powers. It concludes that there are formidable obstacles to the autonomy that Tibetans seek in order to preserve their culture, values and identity.

Affiliations: 1: Professor Emeritus, University of Hong Kong; 2: PhD candidate in sociology, University of British Columbia, Canada; 3: Assistant Professor, Director of the Human Rights LL.M. programme, University of Hong Kong


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