At the tri-partite Simla Conference (1913-14), the plenipotentiary from the Republic of China (ROC) cited a previously little-used concept in international law as the foundation of his government’s territorial claims on the Tibetan Plateau: ‘effective occupation’, introduced at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Before Simla, the distinction between British perceptions of either Chinese sovereignty or Chinese suzerainty on the Plateau had driven negotiations with Beijing, but events in the Kham region of eastern Tibet (western Sichuan Province) during the decade before Simla fostered a new dimension in both the Sino-Tibetan and Sino-British relationships. This presentation will offer preliminary thoughts at the outset of a new research project which explores the intertwined global circulation of knowledge in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project seeks to trace the transmission of norms of statecraft and principles of international law into the southwest region of late Qing and early Republican China, and the adoption and utilisation of these norms and principles by Sichuanese officials, ROC central government officials, and Tibetan officials in the early twentieth century. Their perceptions of, and policies in and toward Kham culminated at the Simla Conference.
About the Speaker
Dr. Scott Relyea is Assistant Professor of Asian History at the Department of History, Appalachian State University, USA. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago; an MA in Chinese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies; an MA in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. He has also been associated with the Institute of Chinese Studies in his capacity as a Visiting Associate Fellow. A historian of Modern China, he specializes in political, social, and intellectual history. He focuses regionally on the southwest borderlands encompassing Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Tibetan plateau. Dr. Relyea's research centers on nationalism, state-building, ethnic construction and identity, and the global circulation of ideas embodied in the interaction between empire, state, and nation. He is currently completing the manuscript for his book, 'Gazing at the Tibetan Plateau: China's Infrontier and the Early Twentieth Century Evolution of Sino-Tibetan Relations'.
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