22 April 2019
'Yes California' movement leaders will need the endorsement of at least 580,000 eligible voters to kick-start a change in the state constitution. Photo: RT
'Yes California' movement leaders will need the endorsement of at least 580,000 eligible voters to kick-start a change in the state constitution. Photo: RT

What if California succeeds in gaining independence?

A “separatist” movement known as “Yes California”, backed by a fringe political group, is underway in the Golden State with the aim of seeking secession from the United States.

According to the US constitution, a state has no right to unilaterally declare independence. Any decision by a state to secede from the union must be approved by other states first, and then submitted to the federal government in Washington, which will then put it to the vote in Congress.

What leaders of the Yes California movement are doing right now is trying to seek the endorsement of at least 580,000 eligible voters in the state, so that they can propose to repeal the provision in the state constitution which stipulates that “California is an inseparable part of the United States of America”. 

Once that provision is repealed, the Yes California movement hopes the state can hold a referendum on secession from the US as early as 2019.

Although most people believe it is highly unlikely that the vast majority of Californians would be willing to sacrifice the huge amount of annual federal subsidies in exchange for independence, some super-rich in California don’t see it that way.

From their point of view, California is the biggest federal tax and GDP contributor within the US as compared to other smaller states. In other words, it appears the union needs California more than California needs it.

Besides, California itself is the global hub of the tech industry and the 6th largest economic entity in the world. As such, many tech magnates in California believe their state would be better off out of the union.

For example, Shervin Pishevar, one of the chief investors in Uber, has recently announced that he has become an official donor to the “Yes California” movement.

So, hypothetically, what would be the political implications of the independence of California for the US?

In my opinion, the biggest loser perhaps would be the Democratic Party, because the secession of California would immediately cost it a decisive 55 Electoral College Votes, making it virtually impossible for the party to compete with the GOP for the White House.

Meanwhile, the independence of California may trigger a wave of independence movements in other states.

Diplomatically, I believe Russia and China would be delighted to see the independence of California.

That is because if California becomes independent, it may fulfil a role as a buffer zone between Moscow, Beijing and Washington. Also, Beijing and Moscow will be to exert substantial political and economic influence on that newly-born country through their immigrants there.

At this stage, the “independence” of California may seem far-fetched. However, in the age of uncertainties under President Trump, who can tell what could happen in the future?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 17

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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