Territorial Claims & Rights

Apr 11th, 2008, in History, by

Dewaratugedeanom asks what gives countries the rights to make territorial claims.

Some time ago I posted a comment under the thread “Fitna by Geert Wilders” concerning the question of territorial rights.

Although there were no reactions to this particular comment, the number of times the issue has come up as well as the intensity of the claims from some commentators in this forum, make it in my opinion worth to devote a separate topic to it. The more so because it bears significant relevance to Indonesia’s own history.

The question is:

What gives people the right to claim a territory as their own, considering the fact that the history of mankind on this planet has been one of constant migration? And how and to what extent does one define territory? Does it include everything beneath the surface and if so to what depth? Does it include the space above it as well as the clouds floating by? Does it include all wildlife, sedentary as well as trekking?

Is the right to claim a territory based on

  • the mere fact of being born in a particular place?
  • having cultivated the place to provide shelter, livelihood and culture and to what extent?
  • the ability to secure and defend the place against transgressors?
  • historical claims because forefathers have been dwelling there?

Any other criteria?

34 Comments on “Territorial Claims & Rights”

  1. yuki tobing. says:

    There must be historical reasons, I agree with this. In Kosovo case, isn’t the reason why Serbia’s still eager to have it back because Kosovo was the origin of Serbian orthodoxy?

  2. timdog says:

    Whoaaaaa! How does one even begin to address this topic?

    But to take a little look at one narrow part of this broad panorama of potential debate… for me, ultimately the status of any piece of land ought to be decided by the people who live there; should the status be in contention then the people who live there ought to have the right to assert their will democratically… of course, this never happens, and then, there’s the very, very thorny issue of the nature of the people who live there…

    Now, in the very loosest sense – and painfully aware that I am treading on thin ice – I feel that the people who were born on the piece of land have both a connectition to it, and an authority over it that surpasses that of those who were not born there… BUT, I cannot alow for that proposition (the elevated status of “sons of the soil”) to run on beyond the first generation… difficult and complicated, and possibly inflamitory as it may be, my liberalism obliges me to confer equal “ownership” of the land to all children born on that land, whether their parents were natives or incomers…
    And then everything falls apart and I descend into agonised liberal torment! What to do in a place like Xinjiang (I mention Xinjiang, not because I am dismissive of the situation in Tibet, but because it gets plenty of attention while the near-identical situation in neighbouring Xinjang gets none)? Now, if the native Uighers want independence from China – so be it… but what about the fifty percent of the population there who are transmigrated Han, and have absolute devotion to the motherland? I suppose – while burying my silly liberal head in the sand and pretending disenfrachised refugees are always treated pleasantly when they suddenly become foreigners – we could send them “home”… but what about the second generation Han, born in Xinjiang… surely he knows no other home? Where can I send him, and more to the point, what the F*&^^ng hell to do about Israel?????!!!!

    Aduh! Now I’ve got a liberal headache…

    The only thing I know is that you have to confer ownership of the land on everyone born there, whatever their colour, religion or origin – though that makes for irreperable, intractable situations – because if you don’t then you end up telling third generation British Pakistanis – or tenth generation Chinese-Indonesians – to go “home” – and that is completely intolerable…

  3. Lairedion says:

    Very good question.

    I don’t think there are any criteria to claim territory or land.

    Humans must realize they do not own or can claim land but they are the land, just like all land animals, trees and plants and that they must play their part to maintain harmony with nature.

    Humans are thinking (often driven by ethnicity, culture, power and religion, in particular those with fairy tales about the Creation of the Earth by “God”) our planet is merely for the benefit of humans. As a result we are still waging wars based on geopolitics, religion and ethnicity and adding to that we are experiencing huge environmental problems.

  4. sputjam says:

    European Union is on track to abolish countries and create a larger entity. Maybe ASEAN should follow suit.

  5. Murphy says:

    Palestinians, Tibetans, and Kosovars received global supports for their claim of the land. The Kurds, Karens, and Chechens received (almost) none. I wonder what separates the lucky and the unlucky? Are those moral justifications (birth right, ancestry) really that important?

  6. timdog says:

    European Union is on track to abolish countries and create a larger entity

    What are you talking about? Sounds like you’ve been reading too many of the very worst kind of reactionary low-brow British tabloids. The European Union could hopefully provide a model for the future of ASEAN SAARC, African Union, Arab League and all those other regional blocks, but it’s got nothing to do with “abolishing countries”.

    Murphy – there’s often no rhyme or reason when it comes to which oppressed people get the attention. As I mentioned above, right next to Tibet (to the west) is the desert state called Xinjiang (sometimes known as Chinese Turkestan). A situation absolutely comparable to that in Tibet exists there (a long history as a very lossely tied client state, a period of de facto independence in the early 20th century, followed by Chinese re-invasion and brutalisation). The culture of the Uigher people there has been crushed, and the state has been flooded with Han Chinese migrants to help “integration”. There have been periodic protests and uprisings; all have been brutally crushed.
    No one has even heard of Xinjiang, and I sure as hell haven’t seen any “Free Xinjiang” banners along the route of the Olympic Torch…

  7. dewaratugedeanom says:

    From timdog’s remarks on Xinjiang we can conclude that notoriety also is a key element in the matrix of territorial dispute. If it weren’t for the charismatic Dalai Lama roaming the world, giving lectures and holding workshops, who would give a damn about Tibet?

  8. David says:

    Notoriety and also sex appeal. Tibet appeals to idiot westerner fantasies about a non-existent world in the past where happy peasants toiled away spiritually and peacefully in harmony with nature. The fact that they are Buddhist helps, Buddhism isn’t thought to have the sort of hard edges that Islam has. Never mind that those peasants were actually slaves.

  9. timdog says:

    There most certainly is a lot of nonsense talked about Tibet, and its cause is one that is latched on to by very many people who know nothing of its history, and could probably not pinpoint it on a map…

    Tibet has had a long-standing status as an object of the Western immagination, through the low-brow (see the Lost Horizons pulp novel and film of the 1950s) by way of the highly dubious (the Nazis, in their bizarre hippy-fascist mode, believed Tibet to be the possible lost well-spring of the Aryan race and sent pseudo-scientists to the high plateau measuring skulls and checking eye colour in search of its traces) to high orientalist accademia… In a very interesting book about the place I came across the phrase “the mind’s Tibet” to sum this up. The mind’s Tibet: the epitome of the exotic, the remote, the “other” as a demarcated territory of our own imagining…

    None of that detracts from the fact that the Chinese have behaved rather baddly in Tibet (despite having historical claims of a certain validity to the place). However, I tend to get a little enraged by signed-up members of the free Tibet campaign, not because I feel their cause to be invalid, but because, almost without exception none of them have ever heard of Xinjiang, and when I describe what it is, though they coo and caw over it for a few minutes, none of them really care

    Actually, my own “mind’s Tibet” may well lie a little further west on Xinjiang’s desert fringes with a razor-back of snow peaks on the far horizon… say place names like Kashgar, Khotan and Yarkand to me and I spiral off into dizzy fantasies of spies along the silk route… and other crap like that.

  10. Murphy says:


    I came across the visual description of your story on Xinjiang. Last night I browsed through this month’s edition of National Geographic. They have maps showing the spread of the Hans across China. Interestingly, of the whole Tibet, only Lhasa has significant Han population (between 20% to 30%). The rest are less than 20% Han.

    In the Xinjiang region, on the other hand, the Hans overcrowd the Uygurs, especially in the northern Xinjiang where the ratio is 4 to 1 in favour of the Hans. Reading the map alone (and I probably read it out-of-context), one wonders which minorities are actually in danger of losing their ancestral homeland.

    I haven’t read the magazine in entirety though. I mean, you may wonder that the Tibetans “luck” is simply because their highland climate is not suitable for the lowland immigrants and thus they were being left to themselves. NG dedicated the whole edition to China.

    Those names you mentioned in the last paragraph remind me of another exotic world I dreamed of visiting in my childhood: the imaginary world of Conan the Barbarian.

  11. dewaratugedeanom says:

    I would like to add a question to the ones already mentioned under topic.

    “¢ Can religion also be a criterion to claim territory? In other words, is it überhaupt possible for different (organized) religions to coexist in harmony in the same territory unless one becomes dominant and the other ones are only tolerated?


    Actually, my own “mind’s Tibet” may well lie a little further west on Xinjiang’s desert fringes with a razor-back of snow peaks on the far horizon”¦ say place names like Kashgar, Khotan and Yarkand to me and I spiral off into dizzy fantasies of spies along the silk route”¦ and other crap like that.

    Have you ever seen the film ‘Samsara’ (director and screenwriter Pan Nalin) in the Ladakh area. A must.

  12. shorty says:

    wow!! what a great intellectual exercise. i guess the key word in the question is ”right”

    in a sovereign state i guess it would be legislation proclaiming influence or control over territory which is recognized or acknowledged by a larger world body…un, eu, etc..

    in it’s basic form, what you can claim and hold.

    ‘right’ in a moral sense plays no part. a claim probably only reflects length of tenure or that great great great kak once prayed there.

    Dewaratugedeanom, perhaps the answer is in your question…how can you own the clouds? how can the birds understand and accept your territoral claim……

    john lennon was perhaps a genius..www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEOkxRLzBf0

  13. timdog says:

    Murphy – Tibet has resisted transmigration a little better than Xinjiang largely due to its physical nature. It’s not because of the inhospitable nature of the place (the Chinese authorities send Han migrants wherever they want to send them, inhospitable or not – there is a bit of disputed territory at the western end of Tibet called the Aksai Chin. It was Indian territory but the Indians only garrisoned troops there in summer as they considered it totally beyond the realms of human survival in winter. One spring they returned to find that the Chinese had built roads into it and taken possession – in the middle of winter…)

    Ahem… Sorry about that random aside… I do that a lot you may have noticed…

    Because it is largely desert human habitation in Xinjiang is focused on oasis-based towns; A much larger proportion of Tibet’s population is truly rural. Obviously it is much easier to “flood” urban societies with migrants than rural ones…

    The north of Xinjiang actually highlights another wider question about nationhood – especially in the old nomad territoriues of Central Asia – where exactly do you draw the line in the sand? The south of Xinjiang was until recently fairly racially homogenous (though as well as Uigers there are also Wakhi Tajiks – a people found across the borders of SIX nations – and Kirghyz). But the north lay on a great thoroughfare blazed by many wandering people – Uighers, Han, Hui (ethnicly Han Muslims) Mongols, Kazhaks etc etc… If you were to demarcate an independent Uigher homeland, how on earth would you deal with this area.

    Tibet illustrates this point even more clearly. Tibet exists as a geographical realm (the trans-Himalayan plateau); as an enthic and cultural zone, and as a political entity (and of course as the Mind’s Tibet). The borders of these three different Tibets DO NOT coincide. Culturally and ethnically Tibet spills into mainland China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India (and even, arguably into Pakistan where the Balti people – though now Shia Muslims – still speak a Tibetan dialect). How could you ever reconcile this mess into a country, especially given that the ethno-cultural “border” of Tibet tangles with the fractured “borders” of Hui, Han and various other peoples…

    I don’t intend to pick on Tibet (I am not some kind of perverse Tibet-hater in case anyone had got that idea); this applies as much to a number of European nations and, for me, highlights the absurdity of the very concept of nationhood as it it marked on maps…

  14. timdog says:

    dewaratugedeanom – can religion be a criterion for the claiming and demarcation of territory? It is often used as such, but there is, for me, one glaring piece of evidence to suggest that religion ALONE is not sufficient to base a nation upon. That example of course is the bloody F$%&-up that was the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan’s raison d’etre was as a Muslim homeland, and in its original form it was an absurd two-sided nation with eastern and western halves. It was promptly demonstrated that Islam was not enough to bond into nationhood an already diverse and bickering bunch of northwestern desert-and-mountain-dwelling bread-and-meat eaters with a gang of eastern swamp-and-river-dwelling rice-and-fish eaters… It didn’t take long for Bangladesh to fall away.

    Curiously, on paper at least, Bangladesh makes the most sense as a country of all three post-Raj nation states. It has a geographical identity (the Ganges and Brahmaputra delta); a linguistic one (The Land of the Bengali Speakers), and an ethno-cultural one (it is almost entirely populated by Bengalis, be they Muslim or Hindu (though there are a small number of Ethnically Burmese Buddhists in the Chittagong hill tracts)…

    Now, if it is not possible for one religion to create a nation (without riding on the back of coincidental ethnicity or geography), is it conversely possible for a truly multi-religious state to exist?
    I would suggest ultimately, no, but I am an optimist, and I believe that a reasonable attempt at it can be made… I know what you were poking at with your question, but despite the endles gates-of-doom wailing (not least on this site) I actually believe that Indonesia makes a reasonable job of this…

    There is probably only one other country that is reasonably comparable to Indonesia in terms of being vast, developing, with one hugely numerically dominant religion, but a whole bunch of other faiths also present – that country being India (also – allegedly – secular). The position of the “minorities” in India (Hindu majority) is far worse than in Indonesia, especially ecconomically… I would suggest that if you disregard the Christian-majority parts of Indonesia and look only at Java, the average wealth of Java-resident Christians exceeds that of Java-resident Muslims. Muslims and Christians in India are hugely ecconomically disadvantaged, are certainly succeptible to mob brutality and basically don’t get very far.

    Whatever you may think about “the forces of darkness” in Indonesia, the position of the “minorities” here is far, far better than it is in India… interesting that… I remain optimistic about Indonesia – in that sense at least…

  15. Lairedion says:

    I find this topic interesting yet extremely difficult. In the very essence of claiming territory I stick with my earlier opinion there aren’t any valid criteria.

    The only one that comes close to validity are indigenous people with the earliest historical connection with that particular region prior to colonization or annexation. (Sorry for the bumiputeras of Peninsular Malaysia but the “Negritos” don’t bare the name Orang Asli for nothing. 🙂 )

    If uninhabited territories are involved (Spratly Islands, Antarctica) all criteria mentioned afore are invalid because they’re focused on human presence only.

    It’s like Dewa said. The history of mankind on this planet has been one of constant migration. Empires, nations and states are created, established and abolished by discoveries, explorations, clashes, wars, cultural (ex)changes, economic crises, emergences and demises of new philosophies, religions and ideologies or more modern ways like referendums. Subsequently territories are claimed, disputed etc.

    Time will tell how Indonesia (Aceh, Papua, perhaps other regions) and China (Xinjiang, Tibet) can continue to exist in their present form. Recent Balkan history has shown that sovereign nations can lose their support and recognition for certain territories within the blink of an eye, especially if they use violence to force these regions to stay within a nation.

  16. sputjam says:

    Unlike tibet, there is oil and gas in xinjiang, hence the importance of this rgion to the han chinese.
    A pipeline was constructed bringing all that oil and gas directly to beijing and shanghai. And if negotiations worked out and the cost of engineering show it is feasable, that pipeline may be extended to Kazakhstan, a land locked country with huge oil and gas reserves.

    European Union members are represented in the EU parliament, in which member states have to abide with policies. The member countries have to abide by the rulings made in the parliament. therefore, powers installed in individual member countries are curtailed. Eu states are country by name. Some time in future, it may be similar to the US except in name, and countries instead of states.

  17. sputjam says:

    when europeans arived in the islands of south east asia, they realised that the majority speak with one common tongue – malay language or sublingual malay. Hence they named the islands of south east asia as malay archipelego and peninsular malaysia as malaya (or tanah melayu in malay) although the malays have their own names for their local states such as Perak/Kedah/Johore etc.

    Orang asli was the name given by the malays to the original inhabitants, who tend to live deeper in the forest and higher up the mountains. Some of the orang asli ended up as slaves to the local chieftains, and the first british advisor killed(impaled) was in the state of perak by and orang asli belonging to a local chieftain, who was then driven out of power and exiled and his brother was appointed to the throne by the british.

    The orang asli originally came with the first wave of humans to migrate out of africa, together with some southern indians, papuans and aborogines. During their migration, sea water levels were much lower than it is today.

    We should emulate the european union and embrace unity in ASEAN.

  18. Cukurungan says:

    We should emulate the european union and embrace unity in ASEAN.

    Singaporean is smiling and they say:

    Oh my dear dumb Indonesian have a nice sleep we are ready to suck you alive.

  19. Janma says:

    Cuk, so who do you blame for that? Singapore or Indonesia?

  20. Cukurungan says:

    Bu Janma,

    I am not an arbitrator but I am a Guru Cyber and provocateur who provoke anyone to seek the truth.

    Provokator No.1

  21. sputjam says:

    having a common market and single currency within asean is not a bad thing even with singapore included, although the city states main economic activities are not similar to other asean states.

    Every major trading bloc have their financial centres. In the US it is New York, in EU it is Frankfurt and London. In asean it will most probably be Singapore and bangkok.

    Main concern with regards to investing in indonesia is its judiciary (investors sentiments is tha it an be bought) and volatile nature of rupiah. This concern can be overcome if the highest court is presided within the asean framework, and single currency in intrioduced (much like euro).

    having said all that, singapore may be reluctant to join in any single currecny/single market option as it benefits many times more as a tax evasion and financial manipulation centre in asia pacific. Its bank secrecy laws exceed those implemented in switzerland. Based on this, corrupt money eventually ends up in the many boutique banks in sinagpore (last count around 40). The money deposited is then invested in the money markets, whereby volatility in required to make decent returns.

  22. dewaratugedeanom says:


    “¦ I would suggest that if you disregard the Christian-majority parts of Indonesia and look only at Java, the average wealth of Java-resident Christians exceeds that of Java-resident Muslims.

    Any data on this? And if so, what do you think could be the reason?

  23. timdog says:

    Dewa, I’m afraid I have no data on this and cannot substatiate it. I imagine that such data probably does exist somewhere, but on my part it was a wildly unqualified statement based on nothing more than my own staggeringly arrogant confidence in the validity of my general impressions… 😉 Still, I think I’m probably right don’t you?

    As for the reasonS for this, I have no idea ;-), and anyway, I don’t think this particular thread is the place to discuss them… this is a really, really good and interesting topic you’ve started here; let’s not derail it…

    I merely wanted to point out that a little perspective is required amid the predictions of doom for Indonesia – a quick look at the position of the “minorities” in India ought to bring such an instant dose of perspective…

  24. dewaratugedeanom says:


    this is a really, really good and interesting topic you’ve started here; let’s not derail it”¦

    I’ll take a note 😉

  25. timdog says:

    Ok, with the “religion as basis for nationhood” topic dealt with 😉 I’d like to raise the topic of language – can a shared language be the basis for nationhood? Is a national lingua franca like Indonesian an authetic national bond, or does it have to be the genuine “mother tongue” of the citizens? What about the situation where there is a national lingua franca that also happens to be the mother tongue of the cultural and political elite (eg. Indi, Hindi), are speakers of other languages in that nation less than citizens?
    If a nation speaks, say, French, does it then have any claim to other French-speaking territories on that basis?

    Is Switzerland in any way shape or form a legitimate nation?

  26. Lairedion says:


    I’ll stick with my opinion. No valid criteria but I would like to make a clear distinction between claiming territory and nationhood.

    Nationhood can be built on the basis of a shared language, culture and religion (negara serumpun), sometimes forced, sometimes desired but this gives nations no right to claim territory based on the same criteria.

    So I cannot see any reason for France to claim Wallonia because they speak French also but it wouldn’t surprise me if both sets will seek a merger should Belgium cease to exist.

    As for Indonesian this has never been a true common language. Surely it’s predecessor Melayu introduced by the Dutch as a lingua franca for Nusantara but now we’re in 2008 and my wife is still speaking Sundanese with her relatives and friends or even here at home in the Netherlands! Good for me I can now speak and understand it too.

    The Indonesian nation was built upon the territories of a shared colonizer and the legacy of the Mojopahit Empire, however this last statement is disputable and romanticized.

  27. Asulo says:

    Oke me being a freedom-minded orang Maluku will explain our claims:

    Maluku is part of West-Melanesian, which also included Timor Lorosae, Papua, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, etc. Our village hierarchy and structure (saniri, pati, raja, kapala dati, tuan tana, dusun keluarga, soa), music (tifa, tahuri, bulu), dances (mako mako, cakalele) and food (ubi, sago) are very similar to those in the rest of Melanesia. Being of Melanesian origin is best seen through the color of the people and their hair. The bahasa tanah languages of Maluku can be understood by several non-Malukuan peoples in Melanesia and even by some people in other Oceanic area’s.

    Furthermore, the flora and fauna at the Maluku islands are very different from the rest of Indonesia. The best example are the burung Candrawasi, burung Kasuari, pohon pala, pohon cengkeh, etc which are only endemic to Maluku and Papua.
    Malukuan history has been very different from the rest of Indonesia. The whole age of discovery (Colombus etc) was about finding a route to the spice islands and with that a route to fortune. The discovery of Amerika, Australia and the occupation of for example Jawa was not the main goal of the European powers.

    Because of this colonialism, Maluku has known European influence for over 500 years, which has directly formed many aspects of Maluku culture and religion. Unfortunately most of these aspects have been destroyed by 50 years of Javanese occupation…

    The differences between Maluku and for example Jawa and Aceh climaxed in the forming of Malukuan KNIL battalions, which didn’t have any connection with the regions where they served, making them a perfect (and brutal) occupation force. KNIL laid the foundations of the proclamation of the R.M.S, which was really a proclamation to preserve the Malukuan culture and believes.

    I still support the RMS, or at least some sort of free state in which Maluku ppl can live without discrimination due to their black skins and without suppression of Maluku culture.



  28. Cukurungan says:

    Lairedion said:

    The Indonesian nation was built upon the territories of a shared colonizer and the legacy of the Mojopahit Empire, however this last statement is disputable and romanticized.’

    me :

    The last statement could be disputable but the legendary talent and genius of the people behind the Indonesia nationhood is unquestionable.

  29. Purba Negoro says:

    The Indonesian nation was built upon the territories of a shared colonizer and the legacy of the Mojopahit Empire, however this last statement is disputable and romanticized.’

    Lareidon you are an ignoramus and a moron. Your assertions are totally disproven by fact.

    These following facts are IRREFUTABLE:
    Majaphit existed.
    It is well proven historically and via ample archaeological evidence Majaphit was a kingdom.
    It indeed covered all of modern Indonesia and spread into the Malay peninsula.
    Malay Indians are the Colonial term for the Pribumi inhabitants of modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia.
    The Javanese influence of Majapahit continues to this day in the languages and culture of surrounding ASEAN nations.
    This is corroborated by academic efforts from these previous mentioned lands.

    Bahasa Melayu or Batavian Malay predates the Dutch and the British.
    Majaphit indeed had a series of shared languages, one of which was Malay, others include Kawi and Javanese.

    The Indonesian pribumi has several thousand years of uninterrupted inhabitation as ampke evidence of their completely valid claim to these lands.

    Foreigner population numbers, be they Indian, Arab, Chinese, Dutch, British were all statistically insignificant until the mid 19th century, when the Dutch imported massive quantities of Chinese.
    Similarly, thousands of Indian arrived concurrent with British importation of Indians into Malaysia.

    These pathetic post-modernist Inclusivistas with their anti-Statist verbal diarrhea are beyond the pale.

    Nationalism is not a dirty word in Indonesia. Unlike the west we do not apologize for our unshakable claim to exclusive ownership of our pribumi lands.
    Contrary to the Left-wing onanists and armchair revolutionaries, Nationalism is not a disproven political ideology- unlike their beloved Socialism, Marxism and Communism.

    Indonesia was born of Nationalist pribumi heroism, a vibrant and proud Nationalist nation it will remain forever.

  30. Purba Negoro says:

    Indonesia’s national sovereignty is unquestionable and not negotiable.

    RMS is a terrorist organization funded by the US in an attempt to prevent teh formation of the Indonesian nation.
    As an enemy of Nationalist Indonesian Heroes, it is an enemy of all patriotic Indonesians.

    Anyone who supports RMS, OPM or GAM is a seditious traitor.

    These comments by “Asulo” have been forwarded to Badan Intel Negara for further investigation.

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