Report: The double standard of the U.S. on counter-secession
The White House as seen through a metal gate in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 6, 2019. /Reuters

The White House as seen through a metal gate in Washington, D.C., U.S., October 6, 2019. /Reuters

Editor's note: The article is an excerpt from a report released by the Center for National Security Studies at China's Lanzhou University on November 10, 2020. The opinions of the article are not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Secessionism (precisely secessionism against state) not only seriously threatens the territorial and sovereign integrity of the relevant countries, but also severely impacts contemporary international order consisting of nation states as main actors and the United Nations as its hub. 

Moreover, secessionism is prone to trigger regional turmoil and interstate conflict. Nowadays, there are more than 50 countries that have encountered in varied degrees separatist threats. Since 1990, at least 25 new independent countries recognized by the international community have been founded, most of which proceeded along with enormous disputes and conflicts. Over the years, the international community has come to reach some consensus on opposing secession from an existing state as well as safeguarding territorial and sovereign integrity. At the same time, the United States has been frequently exploiting human rights as an excuse to distort the separatist issues in other countries and even to obstruct and undermine other states' anti-secession actions.

For many years, the United States has provided support to the separatist forces in Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Under the banner of so-called human rights, religion, ethnicity, democracy and freedom, the United States strives to promote the internationalization of Xinjiang secessionism, obstructing and undermining China's anti-secession struggle. 

Since 2017, for instance, the U.S. executive and legislative authorities enacted the Taipei Act (Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019), the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, the Equal Entry into Tibet Act, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, and many other domestic bills involving Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang in collusion with different overseas separatists. 

Continued U.S. interference in these separatist issues and its support for oversea separatist forces is completely misleading; it has in fact nothing to do with ethnicity, religion, freedom, human rights or related issues. 

Its purpose behind the facade is to take every opportunity to obstruct and undermine China's anti-secession struggle and contain China's peaceful development. Literally, territorial and sovereign integrity is where China's core interests lie. The U.S. support for "Taiwan independence," "Hong Kong independence," "Tibet independence," "East Turkistan movement" and other separatist forces is considered explicitly serious violation of China's core interests.

Throughout history, the United States was also threatened by secession and once fought a four-year civil war in order to maintain the integrity of the federation. Regrettably, the U.S. authority lacks empathy when it comes to the anti-secession of other countries. By contrast, it displays intense opportunism and pragmatism attitude towards separatism in other countries. Whether or not to support separatist forces in other countries depends entirely on the consideration of its own interests.

The so-called issues of ethnicity, religion, human rights, democracy and freedom are nothing more than tools used by the United States to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Over the years, we have seen that in order to maintain its global hegemony, the United States has continued to point fingers at the anti-secessionism struggles of many countries around the world in the name of "protecting human rights." It even strives to brutally intervene or militarily interfere in the issue for that.

Facts speak louder than words. The following sections will examine the history and reality of anti-secession struggles by relevant countries, the United States included.

It is essential to see how the United States pursues double standards upon anti-secession issues so that its own interest is achieved at other states' cost.

The American Civil War: National unification takes precedence over human rights protection

The U.S. government advertises itself as "human rights guardian" as well as "know-all" teacher concerning human rights. It frequently wields the big stick at other countries for human rights "problem." However, by no means can the human rights record of the United States in history be regarded as glorious. For quite a long time, the basic human rights of women, African Americans, and aborigines in the U.S. had not been effectively protected. For instance, millions of African Americans who are minorities lived as slaves for years. Since they were not equally recognized as "human" and part of the U.S. society then, to what extent were their human rights protected? The slavery system in the United States aroused opposition from some progressive civilians. 

While the call for abolition of this criminal system was substantially promoted, the advocacy further aroused opposition from the white slave owners in the South, ultimately triggering intense political confrontation between the North and the South. The Southern slave owners did not hesitate to launch an armed rebellion to secede from the Federation, resulting in the American Civil War. Above all, the self-esteem of "human rights guardian" is apparently hypocritical when the U.S. took its national unity prior to human rights protection for the African Americans in history.

Inside and outside the U.S.: Maintaining integrity of its own territory while supporting secession in other countries

Through the initiation of civil war, the U.S. frustrated the attempt of separating the country and thereby maintained the integrity of territory finally. Until then, the idea of unshakable unification of the United States, which was served as the basic rules of American politics, was established and confirmed to a further step through the legal precedent of the Supreme Court of the United States. Simultaneously, the U.S. continued its annexation of neighboring states' territories by inciting secession in these states and conducting wars with these states thereafter. 

Maintaining its territory's integrity while conducting the annexation of other states' territories, the double-standard of the U.S. was thoroughly exposed under this strategy. Many neighboring countries from Central and South America, such as Mexico and Colombia, bore the brunt of this strategy's influence.

Sharply after its independence, under the propaganda of Manifest Destiny, the U.S. entered into an era of expansion. Since 1800, the U.S. government gradually waged economic and political permeations to Mexican Texas in various ways. 

In March of 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico and established the Lone Star Republic. General Samuel Houston, the former governor of Tennessee and friend of the U.S. President Andrew Jackson, was appointed to lead the army to fight against the Mexican government. In March of 1837, the U.S. recognized the independence of the Lone Star Republic. Yet its integration process with the republic was postponed because of the troublesome slavery issue between the Northern and Southern U.S.

In the year 1844, the annexation of Texas was the core issue for the presidential election. The expansionists steadily supported Texas's proposed annexation, which would be the new place for arranging the slavery issue under the increasingly frail background of the southern area. This would, in turn, preserve the safety and interest of the Northern U.S. James K. Polk, the Democratic Party candidate, won the election with the manifesto on proposed Texas's annexation and the conquer of Oregon. In 1845, the outgoing President John Tyler conducted a unified resolution on Texas's annexation with the combination of the Senate and the House of Representatives to avoid the Senate's possible veto. Since then, Texas became the 28th state of the U.S., and 390,000 square miles of Mexican territories were thereby under the rules of the U.S.

At the same time, there was a massive influx of American immigrants into Mexican California since 1841. In 1846, Mexico fought against the U.S. around the issue of invasion and counter-invasion of California. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the U.S. and Mexico. With this treaty, the U.S. government obtained the nowadays California, Nevada and Utah, which contained 530,000 square miles at an extraordinarily low cost of $150 million from Mexico. According to figures, the U.S. seized about 950,000 square miles from Mexico through annexation, cession under the unequal treaties, low-price exchange, etc. in the first half of the 19th century. In the Mexican-American War, Mexico lost about 55 percent of its territory, and the American expansionist even attempted to take action further to conquer entire Mexico, which was later called the "All Mexico Movement."

Another case is Panama, which was initially served as a province of the Colombia Republic. In 1903, after defeating the UK and France militarily, Washington signed an agreement with the Colombian government on constructing the Panama Canal and the subsequent lease issue. However, the congress of Columbia refused to approve the agreement. 

On the November 3, 1903, the U.S. army landed on Panama, which rendered support to the independence of Panama from Colombia and the establishment of the Panama Republic. On November 18, the U.S. government gained the perpetual monopoly of the construction and maintenance of the Panama Canal from the newly formed Panama government and obtained the perpetual rights of use, occupation and control of the Canal later on. Thereby, the Canal and the area surrounding the Canal was under the full power of the U.S., which made this area a state within the state. The Panama government regained the sovereignty of the Canal until 1999, almost a century later.

Even though the U.S. labeled its independence as a revolt against Europe's colonialist imperialism, a series of subsequent invasions to Mexico, Columbia and Panama, which were modern countries as independent sovereigns, made the U.S. back to the track of imperialist expansion as its previous colonial powers did. In this way, in order to maintain its interests as a hegemon, Washington even supported secession in other states through triggering secessions or invasions to these states. In the face of expansionism and egoism, there is a sharp comparison between maintaining the coherence of the territory of the U.S. and seizing regions of Mexico, Colombia and Panama under the political cover of supporting secession of these states. This comparison exposes the double standard of the U.S. on the independence issue to a further step.

Inside and outside the allies: Double standard on sovereignty and human rights

Even though it is not uncommon, secession is still relatively unusual in the international community. To what extent it will succeed, and especially to what extent it can be recognized by other international actors are overwhelmingly connected to the attitude of superpowers. With this in mind, secessionism will be unlikely to succeed if it collides with the interests of superpowers. Without the backing of superpowers or under the lack of potent rules, the separated entity can barely be recognized in a collective sense. Hence, superpowers can either be the deterrent or the catalyst to secession.

In general, to Washington, secession in other states is merely a tool of maintaining and achieving its strategic and geopolitical interests. To allies, with the standing point of protecting the political relations with the allies, the U.S. government usually supports the territorial integrity and the unification of the country and opposes its secessionism. In contrast to the allies, when confronting the secessionism of its rival or adversary, the U.S. often utilizes the covers of ethnicity, religion, human rights and freedom to back up the secession movement. In some cases, Washington even initiated militarized intervention directly to contain its rival or adversary.


Since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the integrities of both territory and sovereignty are the inherent attributes of a state. Moreover, these conditions are the basis for the contemporary order of international relations. The procedure of the establishment of the nation-state with the prerequisites of exact territory and sovereignty identifications is also served as the confirmation on the counter-secessionism issue, which clarifies the fact that the territory and sovereignty of a state cannot be split. 

Over the years, the countries around the world have gradually gained consensus on the maintenance of the integrity of the territory and the unification of the state through theories, institutions, constitutions, and international laws. This consensus is also treated as the legal and moral basis for the state's actions on counter-secessionism. In other words, it is a fundamental factor in maintaining the international order where the international community should support any activity of a recognized state with sovereignty on counter-secession.

Indeed, the gamble around secessionism and counter-secessionism shapes the territory of a state and the situation of world politics, on the one hand; it puts direct threats to the domestic stability and the existing international order on the other hand. As a unique superpower around the world, the U.S. government relies heavily on its double standard strategy. It applies forces as well as the law to its counter-secessionism policy when faces with domestic secession issues. 

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, Washington utilizes secession in its opponent as a tool to maintain its global hegemony. The U.S. gets tough with the secessions of its own or its allies but applies a conniving or even supportive strategy to its opponents' secession.

Sometimes, it even tries to hamper or paralyze its opponents' endeavors on counter-secession. What is more hypocritical is the U.S. government's tactic to use human rights as the political cover, which intentionally confuses borders of the ethnic, religious, and human rights issues, to damage the sovereignties of other states and connive the secessions which happened in states who are deemed as rivals by the U.S. 

In this situation, Washington chooses to be indifferent to the negative impacts of the organized terrorist actions on the state's division and the ruined human rights of the people who suffered from these actions.

If we have to put the logic on the U.S.' attitude to secession, it should be that the national interest of the U.S. is endowed with priority to any issue we mentioned above. The agree or disagree with secessionism is overwhelmingly decided by the consideration of the U.S.'s interest. The U.S. has been the biggest destroyer instead of a contributor to the contemporary international order, which is based on the charter of the United Nations. The U.S. will ultimately suffer from its opportunism and egoism on secession issues.

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