Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Beijing should look at Corsican example

By Cheng Chieh-yi 鄭傑憶

The people of Hong Kong must be very envious of Corsicans, who have the right to determine their own future.

On July 1, 500,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong. This massive demonstration shocked the muddleheaded Hong Kong government and the Beijing authorities. The obtuse authoritarian administration has finally opened its eyes and realized that it must do something to address long-standing public rancor.

It was disappointing that ingrained totalitarian thinking still failed to appreciate the people's feelings. It only "delayed" the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

On July 6, residents on the French-controlled island of Corsica rejected an offer of increased autonomy by a wafer-thin majority in a referendum, in which 50.98 percent voted "no" and 49.02 percent "yes."

What's interesting is that this referendum, which could eventually lead to Corsican independence or encourage secessionists, was promoted by the French government. Before the voting, the French president, prime minister and interior minister all encouraged Corsicans to vote in favor of the autonomy offer. This would allow the central government to grant a higher degree of autonomy to the island, thereby reconciling separatism with decentralization and resolving violence and conflicts by peaceful means.

Corsicans expect to have increased autonomy that will allow them to determine their own future. But since the island relies on France economically and there are concerns that violent separatists will control the new assembly, Corsicans decided to maintain the status quo through the direct exercise of civil rights.

A Corsican mayor said the significance of the referendum is that Corsicans have the right to decide how they relate to France. Therefore, even though the poll result was for maintaining the current relationship with France, it was a decision made by Corsicans, rather than an order from the Paris administration.

Although this referendum cannot immediately resolve the problem between central and local governments, it at least has created an atmosphere for peacefully resolving disputes. Corsicans finally have an opportunity to choose their own future.

Faced with the Beijing government's stepped-up offensive, the people of Hong Kong have no other choice but to take action to express their yearning for freedom and democracy. But Beijing has never understood that.

The French government offered greater autonomy to Corsica, but Corsicans decided to maintain the status quo and turned down the central government's good intentions.

Has Beijing, which is so eager to push its "one country, two systems" model, ever realized that what people want is the opportunity and right to determine their own future, rather than relying on the central government's mercy and generosity? Look at how Paris treats Corsica democratically. Hong Kong people must have some ideas. Has this caused authoritarian Beijing to do some soul-searching or feel ashamed?

Cheng Chieh-yi is a researcher of the New Taiwan Foundation.

Translated by Jackie Lin

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