Himalayan Triangulation: Doklam in the Context of Late Qing "Negotiation"

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM
Boulevard A (Hilton Chicago)
Scott Relyea, Appalachian State University
In the two decades spanning the turn of the twentieth century, international law concepts slowly took hold among Qing central government officials, and especially among local officials overseeing distant corners of the empire. During this time, conceptions of authority changed, especially in Kham and Tibetan regions north of Assam (in present day north-eastern India), shifting from a focus on obtaining the loyalty of indigenous rulers through investiture. Instead, by the first decade of the twentieth century, Sichuan officials administering Kham deemed a loyal population of settlers from China proper as essential to both the exertion and assertion of absolute authority in the fringes of the Qing empire. This shift and related Chinese policies in Kham and Tibet heightened the competition for authority across the region between Beijing and Lhasa, and complicated early twentieth century negotiations with British Indian officials, who harbored their own ambitions for territorial expansion and border-making in the Himalayan region.

This presentation will contextualize the recent confrontation between India, China, and Bhutan on the Doklam plateau in two dimensions of late Qing Himalayan diplomacy. First, it will discuss central Qing officials’ understanding and deployment of international law concepts and border-making, which shaped Sino-Indian (or Sino-British) treaty-making in the last decades of Qing rule. Second, it will situate the Sikkim-Tibet Convention of 1890 and subsequent negotiations with the British in the shadow play of authority at the heart of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century relationship between Lhasa and Beijing.
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