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Introduction
Australian Commonwealth
Abkhazia and South Ossetia
Taiwan Independence
China and Tibet
Indonesia, West Papua, and East Timor

Democracy and Secession

Democracy is government by those chosen by the governed. In the democratic West democracy is generally accepted as a right; what right would any group have to impose its will on a people if they were not chosen as a government by those people?

This being so, then if a minority group within one nation are in the majority in their own region, doesn't it follow that they should have the right to secede from the nation and form their own state with its own government, should they so desire?

This page was created on 2008/08/27 (August 27th 2008), and modified on 2014/05/28
Contact - Email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
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Introduction

What right does a region or province of a nation have to secede from that nation? What right does a national government have to stop that secession? These are points in ethics, and unfortunately ethics carries little weight with governments of nations.

In 1901 six British colonies combined to form the Commonwealth of Australia; the old colonies became states of the Australian nation. The colonies that joined the Commonwealth were New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. New Zealand decided to remain independent.

If, in the twenty-first century, one of the Australian states decided to secede, what would happen? I heard one speaker on a radio talk-back program say that he would support going to war to stop the secession. Is this indicative of a wide-spread opinion? Why should a state be forced to remain in the nation if the people of that state chose to go their own way? In 1901 New Zealand had the option of joining the Australian Federation; its people decided not to. Would any Australian today seriously consider going to war to force NZ to join the Australian Federation? I think not. Would forcing Western Australia to remain in the Commonwealth of Australia be in any way ethically different to forcing New Zealand to join the Commonwealth? (This reminds me of the Islamic Sharia law that states something to the effect that while a person should not be forced to become Muslim, should he accept Islam and then change his mind, he deserves to be put to death.)

Why should a region, state, province, whatever, be forced to remain in a nation against the will of its people? What right would the people of the other parts of the particular country have to force the people who wanted independence to remain in the larger nation?

I can see several possibly valid reasons for forcefully stopping secession. It could be to the economic advantage of the richer provinces of any nation to secede; they might do better on their own rather than having to help support the poorer provinces. (The Australian state of Western Australia has great mineral wealth, and so long as this lasts might be advantaged by independence from the Commonwealth of Australia.) However, if the richer provinces seceded then the people of the poorer provinces would be disadvantaged. If the wealth was transient, for example petroleum resources, would the people of the break-away region want to rejoin the larger nation after the wealthy period ended?

Another reason that it might be right to disallow secession is when the break-away state might be unviable; for example if West New Guinea was to break away from Indonesia would it be capable of governing itself?

Questions such as these should be settled by some international body on the grounds of what would be the best course for the greatest number of people, it seems to me, rather than being left to the government of the particular nation, which is certainly not a disinterested party.

Some of the nations and regions where there have been or are break-away movements and the relevant dates of those movements...
NationBreak-away region or ethnic groupDate
BelgiumFlemish and Walloon ethnic areas2008
China Taiwan1945 to the present
ChinaTibet1950s to the present
CzechoslovakiaCzech Republic, Slovakia1993
Georgia and Russia Abkhazia and South Ossetia 2008
IndonesiaAceh1995 to 2002?
IndonesiaEast Timor1975 to 2000
IndonesiaWest New Guinea (Irian Jaya)1949 to the present
Ireland and BritainNorthern Ireland1920 to around 1995
SerbiaKosovo1996 to 1999
Turkey, Iran, IraqKurdistanOn and off for centuries to the present
USAConfederate States1860 to 1865
YugoslaviaSlovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hertzegovina, Macedonia Broke up in the 1980s
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Abkhazia and South Ossetia

After the break-up of the soviet union (USSR) Georgia, at the eastern end of the Black Sea and on the southern flanks of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, became an independent nation. Within Georgia are (or were) three ethnic enclaves: Abkhazia, Ajaria, and South Ossetia. Many of the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are ethnic Russians.

In Abkhazia and South Ossetia there has been considerable unrest and dissatisfaction with rule by the Georgian Government in T'bilisi; there is evidence that Russia may have encouraged this unrest. In August 2008 the Georgian Government sent its army into Abkhazia and South Ossetia to 'restore order'. Russia responded by sending its army in and demolishing the much inferior Georgian army in the two enclaves.

Subsequently Abkhazia and South Ossetia have declared their independence from Georgia, and Russia has officially recognised that independence.

Interestingly the USA has objected strongly both to the Russian invasion of the two enclaves (of course the USA has no moral authority for such an objection following its unjustified invasion of Iraq several years earlier) and to Russia's recognition of the independence of the two enclaves (again, similar to the US supported independence of Kosovo from Serbia - very unpopular with the Russian regime).

On the principal of the people of a region having the right to the government of their choice it seems to me that the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have the right to independence; although the part that Russia played in the destabilisation makes the issue unclear.

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A vote on independence for Taiwan?

In February 2008 Stephen Smith (Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs) publicly stated that he did not support a Taiwanese referendum on the question of independence from China.

Do a people have the right to decide who governs them or not? Surely anyone who believes that people have a right to decide who governs them would have to answer that they do.

Taiwan has been effectively independent from mainland China since 1949. It has been democratic since about 1988. There are many people in Taiwan who would like to make this independence formal; however China has threatened war if the government of Taiwan ever formalises its independence.

The question is, do the people of Taiwan have the right to keep on electing their own government, or should they accept rule from the current Chinese government.

What right does the Chinese government have to rule even mainland China? They have not been elected by the Chinese people. They have no ethical right to govern at all, especially in Taiwan.

It is shameful that the Australian Foreign Minister apparently thinks the democratic rights of the Taiwanese people less important that maintaining good trade relations with the despotic and illegitimate government of China.






China and Tibet

Tibet was invaded by Chinese troops around 1950. It had been a part of China at some times in history; so had Vietnam, Thailand and other nations. China claims a 'right' to rule Tibet. I'm sure many Tibetans would prefer to be independent. Why should Tibetans not have the right to independence if that is the desire of the majority?

One complicating factor here is that China has been moving ethnic Chinese into Tibet in substantial numbers; if there was a vote on independence the great majority of these would probably vote against independence. What ethical right would they have to vote at all?






Indonesia, West Papua, and East Timor

Indonesian governments and the Indonesian people are very touchy about the possible secession of West Papua.

West Papua became a province of Indonesia following a vote by a group of West Papuan 'representatives'. There has long been controversy about how representative these people were, and how free a vote they had.

Australia gave temporary protection visas to some 46 West Papuan asylum seekers in March 2006. This caused diplomatic repercussions from the Indonesian government. Among the Indonesian people some of the feeling can be gauged by a group of yobbos in Kalimantan going to a local hotel demanding the hand-over of any Australian citizens – fortunately there were none there.

What ethical right do the West Papuans have to secede from Indonesia, and what right does an Indonesian government and the Indonesian people have to stop the West Papuan people from choosing a government to suit themselves?

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Abkhazia and South Ossetia
Australian Commonwealth
China and Tibet
Indonesia, West Papua, and East Timor
Introduction
Nations and regions
Taiwan Independence
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