Thursday, October 8, 2020

Zhu on China Suzerainty over Tibet and Mongolia

Yuan Yi Zhu, Stipendiary Lecturer in Politics at Pembroke College, Oxford, has published Suzerainty, Semi-Sovereignty, and International Legal Hierarchies on China's Borderlands, in the Asian Journal of International Law:

The concept of semi-sovereignty, a now obsolete category of international entities possessing limited sovereignty, remains hazily understood. However, the historical examination of how semi-sovereignty was defined and practised during the long nineteenth century can provide insights on the interplay between authority and control within the hierarchies of international relations. This paper examines one specific type of semi-sovereignty—namely, suzerainty—which is often used to describe China's traditional authority in Tibet and Mongolia. By examining the events that led to the acceptance of suzerainty as the legal framing for the China-Tibet and China-Mongolia relationships, I argue that suzerainty was a deliberately vague concept that could be used to create liminal international legal spaces to the advantage of Western states, and to mediate between competing claims of political authority. Finally, I point to the importance of semi-sovereignty as an arena of legal contestation between the Western and non-Western members of the “Family of Nations”.

Update: With the new link above, the article is ungated.

–Dan Ernst