Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia

Conference participants standing in a group by the entrance to a building.

The first international conference organized by the research program Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia under the auspices of Stefan Eklöf Amirell and Ariel Lopez, financed by the Swedish Research Council, was held at the College of Law at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Manila between 29 February and 2 March 2024.

Discussing the latest research approaches towards historical treaties in (Southeast) Asian academic setting was of manifold relevance for the emerging field of global diplomatic and international history: First, it allowed for elucidating the historical context of treaty-making, second, it encouraged the integration of historical treaties with ongoing legal, political and academic debates, and third, it stimulated new cross-disciplinary dialogues between scholars and students that are likely to reshape the scholarly discourse with new questions.

This three-day conference brought together historians working on different periods and legal scholars from China, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Conference participants shared a keen interest in the making and legacies of treaties in South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia. A wide range of examples including treaties of friendship and commerce, treaties of extradition, colonial treaties, peace treaties (capitulations) and non-written treaties including pacts, reciprocal gifts, and other symbolic acts. Empirically grounded presentations convincingly showed stimulating results from analyzing original treaties in various languages (Tausug, Spanish, Balinese, Javanese, Malay, Thai, Buginese, English, etc.) and demonstrated the value of both taking epistemic contexts into account and approaching them comparatively. Others offered essential theoretical underpinnings for how to study binding agreements in asymmetrical settings. Methodologically, the studies were often informed by New Diplomatic History and its focus on personal interactions, cultural practices, and materiality, as well as the exploration of unconventional sources.

One striking aspect of the presentations and the discussions they triggered was the decentralization of European colonialists and other imperial powers establishing that treaties were never singular events or the end point of power bargaining but came across in various shapes and qualities, often as ongoing bearers of the constantly shifting dynamics of political relations withing developing empires.

On Day 2, a roundtable focused on the relationship between Colonialism/Imperialism and Treaties. Central questions focused on the epistemological value of the study of treaties and the limits of conventional interpretations such as “unequal”, “fraudulent” or “colonial”, commonalities and differences as useful conceptual references for understanding the Southeast Asian experience, and the relevance of historical treaties as sources of modern international law.

The conference gave new impetus to comparative studies between different regions, treaty-making parties, legal traditions, and practices of empires in different periods and temporalities. Stimulating discussions about the complex relationship between, on the one hand, violence, conquest, and coercion, and, on the other hand, negotiation, compromise, and conviviality in treaty-making processes generated reflection on new concepts and frameworks of analysis for understanding diplomacy in imperial contexts.

Conference Program


Welcome remarks: Darlene Marie B. Berberabe, Dean , UP College of Law

Opening message: Edgardo Carlo L. Vistan Chancellor, University of the Philippines Diliman

Message: H. E. Annika Thunborg, Ambassador of Sweden to the Philippines

Message and Conference Overview: Hans Hägerdal, Professor, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Emcee: Elma Patrisha B. Latayan, UP College of Law

Panel 1: Diplomacy and Asymmetrical Relations

Negotiating Imperialism: Comparative Studies of Diplomacy and Treaty-Making between Anglo-Chinese and Anglo-Siamese Relations in the Mid-19th Century (Padej Kumlertsakul, The National Archives, United Kingdom)

“Unfree waters”: the VOC’s treaties with the rulers of Makassar (1637) and the Sultan of Ternate (1638) within the context of the Spice Wars (Tristan Mostert, Leiden University, The Netherlands)

The Pupil of Empire: The U.S.'s First Military-Diplomatic Endeavor via the Kuala Batu Expedition (Yancheng Zhou, Xiamen University, China/ University of Malaya)

Q&A, Moderator: Michelle R. Palumbarit Asian Center, University of the Philippines

Panel 2: Negotiation and Cross-Cultural Diplomacy

Treaties in Doubles: Indigenous and Spanish Pacts in Early Modern Philippines (Mark Dizon, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines)

Revisiting the Sulu-Spanish Treaty of 1836 (Ariel Lopez, Asian Center, UP Diliman / Birgit Tremml-Werner, Stockholm University, Sweden)

Avoidance and miscommunications; Dutch diplomacy in Sumba, 1690-1861(Hans Hägerdal,

Linnaeus University, Sweden)

Q & A, Moderator: Ruel Pagunsan, Department of History, University of the Philippines

Panel 3: Informal Factors in Cross-Cultural Diplomacy in 19th-20th Century Asia

An investigation into the autonomy of diplomatic networks: Sino-French negotiations on cross-border trade between China and Vietnam (1885-1887) (Zhang Gong, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) and Sorbonne Université, France)

Mediator’s Carte Blanch: The Chinese Legation in the Sino-Anglo Diplomacy regarding Burma (Chi Liu, Xiamen University, China)

Discovering the Sino-Burmese border: Knowledge interpretation and China’s Diplomatic Efforts in the Late Nineteenth Century Rui Zhao, University of British Columbia, Canada)

The Intention of “Thought Reform”: A View on the Unofficial Post WWII Sino-Japanese Relationship of incarcerated Japanese war criminals in Shanxi War Criminal Management Centre (Meng Ju Wu, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China)

Q& A, Moderator: Noel Christian Moratilla, Asian Center, University of the Philippines


Roundtable Discussion: 

Asian treaties in the context of early modern and modern international law

With Birgit Tremml-Werner (Stockholm University), Judge Raul Pangalangan (UP College of Law), Michael Talbot (University of Greenwich, United Kingdom)

Moderator: Marianne Vitug (Institute of International Legal Studies, UP College of Law)

Panel 4: Views from Maritime Southeast Asia 

Among eternal friends: the language of treaties and the making of colonial states in Indonesia and Malaya, c. 1680-1920 (Maarten Manse, Linnaeus University)

Keris, Senapang, endo Surat (Kris, Guns, and Letters): The Maguindanaon Sultanates and the Maritime Southeast Asian Geopolitics (Christian Ely F. Poot, Mindanao State University – General Santos City)

Q&A, Moderator: Daniel Lising, Institute of Human Rights, UP College of Law

Panel 5: Representations and Agency

Soldiers Between States: Paramountcy, Treaties and Extradition in the Making of Modern South Asia (Ajapa Sharma, University of Illinois at Chicago)

The Ottoman-Dutch agreement on consuls in Southeast Asia (Michael Talbot,University of Greenwhich)

Invited Colonialism: Pontianak Sultanate’s Treaty Negotiations with the Dutch Colonial Power (Dana Listiana, National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Indonesia)

Q&A, Moderator: Hana Qugana (University of Sussex, United Kingdom) 

Panel 6: Questions of Sovereignty 

Was the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty affected by the 1662 Dutch-Zheng treaty? (Cheng Weichung, Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan)

Colonialism and Sovereignty: - Implications on Treaty Making and the Way Forward (Amit Upadhyay & Abhinav Mehrotra, Jindal Global Law School - O. P. Jindal Global University, India)

Negotiating Sovereignty: A Government of Treaties in the 19th Century Malabar Thahir Jamal Kiliyamannil (University of Hyderabad, India)

Q&A, Moderator: Simon Layton (Queen Mary University, United Kingdom)


Panel 7: Legacy of Treaties Today

The Afterlife of the 1898 Treaty of Paris: the Philippine National Territorial Imaginary – Its ‘ Geobody’ – Seven Years after the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award (Romel Regalado Bagares, Department of International Law and Maritime Law of the Philippine Judicial Academy, Philippines)

Jiri 1833: The Making and Afterlife of a Treaty in Manipur, India (Joefe Santarita, Asian Center, University of the Philippines)

“From the Treaty of Amritsar to the Shimla Agreement”: A Comprehensive Study of the Jammu & Kashmir Dispute between India and Pakistan (Sonali Agnihotri, School of Legal Studies, Laxmi Chand Institute of Technology, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, India / Abhijeet Mishra Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India)

Q&A, Moderator: Michael T. Tiu, Jr. Institute of International Legal Studies, UP College of Law

Panel 8: Asian and Indigenous Perspectives

Unofficial Relations: The Shishi and the Katipunan during the Second Phase of Philippine Revolution (Valerie May M. Cruz-Claudio,  University of the Philippines Diliman & Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines)

Comparing Lombok’s Traditional Source to Official Treaties in Lombok War 1894 (Abdul Karim, Sengkala Dev, Indonesia)

“As long as we use our own customs”: The orchestration of Adat in the South Sulawesi’s Treaty-Making Tradition (Muhammad Buana, Leiden University, The Netherlands)

“Madame Wellington Koo”: A Diplomatic Wife and A Peranakan Representing and Socializing for Republican China (Xia Shi, New College of Florida, USA)

Q&A, Moderator: Neil Silva, Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea, UP College of Law

Closing Remarks & Synthesis: Hans Hägerdal, Linnaeus University, Sweden & Birgit Tremml-Werner, Stockholm University, Sweden

Closing Message, Rommel J. Casis, Director, Institute of International Legal Studies, UP College of Law


Birgit Tremml-Werner & Hans Hägerdal on behalf of the Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia Research Team (Text also published on H-Asia)


Hans Hägerdal is a professor of history at Linneaus University and a member of the Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia research team.


Birgit Tremml-Werner is a senior lecturer in global history at Stockholm University and a member of the Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia research team.