CANCELLED: Building a Road: Doklam and the Fashioning of a Loyal Citizenry in Modern Asia

AHA Session 282
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Boulevard A (Hilton Chicago, Second Floor)
Anand Yang, University of Washington
Anand Yang, University of Washington

Session Abstract

Few around the world had heard the word “Doklam” before June 2017, when this little plateau at the tri-junction point between the Chumbi valley in Tibet, the Ha valley in Bhutan, and the Indian state of Sikkim became the site of the largest military standoff between India and China since the fateful war of 1962. The area is claimed by both Bhutan and China, and Chinese attempts at extending a road further into the territory provided the immediate provocation for the standoff. While not laying claim to the territory for herself, India acted overtly in defense of Bhutan’s sovereignty, as the latter is a “protected state” guided by India in its foreign policy and defence— a “special relationship” that continues from its status as a “protectorate” of British India. From June to August 2017, India and China cancelled diplomatic exchanges, redoubled their military deployments, and each accused the other side of encroaching upon the territorial sovereignty of smaller Himalayan states.

Thinking through the standoff at Doklam, the panel, comprising five historians of South Asia, China, and the Himalayas, provides an opportunity to reflect afresh on the relationship between territoriality, sovereignty, and the project of fashioning a loyal citizenry in contemporary times. Recent work has argued that postcolonial India and the PRC are “shadow states” in the Himalayas, entangled in a process of competitive state building for securing the loyalty of borderland populations, arising both out of a cartographic anxiety over disputed borders, as well as a distrust of itinerant peoples who were “moving targets” for both states (Berenice Guyot Rechard, 2017; Willem van Schendel, 2002; Nayanika Mathur, 2016). How are we to understand the emergence of territoriality as the ultimate form of state building in the modern world? How does the continuation of arrangements like “overlordship” and “protectorate status,” albeit under different names, reflect on the celebratory rhetoric of decolonization and political revolution? To what extent are the cartographic anxieties of postcolonial nation-states inheritances of the ideologies and technologies of governance deployed by erstwhile colonial states? Finally, how can historians divided by area studies boundaries, such as East and South Asia, collectively imagine innovative ways of understanding problems that traverse national borders?

Our respective regional, linguistic and archival specialties give us access to a range of perspectives on questions of borders in colonial and postcolonial Asia. The papers not only examine the historical origins of the problem, both from the perspectives of the Qing and the British colonial state, but also explore the anxieties of postcolonial states over borders in the mid- and late-twentieth century, and the resistance of the relatively weaker landlocked nations of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet to complete incorporation or subordination under India and China. Finally, we attempt to move beyond colonial and statist frameworks to explore how the peoples of Asia have creatively accommodated differences even in the recent past, and how past dialogues may teach us to move beyond territorial obsessions towards more substantial connections within Asia.

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