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Guest lecture: "Terra Nullius and Territorial Conflict in East Asia"

Nov 13, 2018 06:00 pm to 08:00 pm
Organiser: HCTS Professorships of Intellectual History, Buddhist Studies, and Global Art History

Speaker: Douglas Howland (University of Wisconsin)

organized by the HCTS Professorships of Intellectual History, Buddhist Studies, and Global Art History

Terra Nullius and Territorial Conflict in East Asia

In the age of exploration, the great powers justified their claims to territory and the European expansion of colonies and empires across the globe on the basis of “discovery and occupation.” One major problem with the claiming of newly encountered lands had always to do with the doctrine of  “vacant country” or “unoccupied territory”:  in the 19thcentury, this would be formalized as terra nullius. The doctrine was something of a misnomer, for most cases were not a matter of actually “unoccupied” or “vacant” land but the perception of a level of organization or civilization among the inhabitants. In 1886—prompted by the ambiguities of the General Act of Berlin, 1885—an attempt was made to redefine terra nulliusas a legal concept meaning “land not under any sovereignty.” My talk will examine how the doctrine of terra nulliusbegan to appear in territorial disputes in east Asia, and how it informs the current Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands, and the international conflict over the Spratley Islands.

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