International Law and Diplomacy: Cases and Controversies in Sino-Dutch Relations (1950-2000)

Most analyses of China’s bilateral diplomacy focus on Beijing’s interactions with major powers, neighbours or developing countries. Few studies have moved beyond these dominant frames to assess the nature and practice of China’s diplomatic conduct vis-à-vis the most common type of Western state: non-major, non-neighbouring and non-developing countries. Addressing this conceptual and empirical deficit, this project examines the role and function of international law in China’s bilateral relations with the Netherlands through a series of case studies of the post-1949 period. The project builds on studies of the function of law and diplomacy in preceding stages of modern Sino-Dutch(-Indonesian) relations.


This project aims to assess the role and function of international law in the bilateral relations and diplomatic practice between China and the Netherlands. Apart from clarifying their respective positions on the ‘One China’ policy, which since 1972 has served as a cornerstone of the Sino-Dutch bilateral relationship, this study seeks to elucidate differences in the Chinese and Dutch attitudes and approaches towards (questions of) international law. By analysing major diplomatic events in their historical contexts, the study will also provide a focused overview of Netherlands–China relations during the hitherto unexplored period of 1950–2000.


The role and use of international law will be examined through five case studies of diplomatic incidents and disputes that affected the Sino-Dutch bilateral relationship during the five decades from 1950 – when official relations between the two countries were established – until the beginning of the new millennium, when mutual interstate diplomacy became increasingly embedded in multilateral frameworks. Each case study will combine a reconstruction of the factual background drawing from (partially classified) archival records, media reports and interviews with a legal analysis drawing from international law literature and jurisprudence.

Case study 1 – Establishment of diplomatic relations (1950s)
Case study 2 – The welder’s incident (1960s)
Case study 3 – Normalization of diplomatic relations (1970s)
Case study 4 – The submarine incident (1980s)
Case study 5 – Human Rights in China and the Dutch presidency of the EU (1990s)


The expected output of this project includes a chapter contribution to an edited volume on China’s diplomatic practice and a LeidenAsiaCentre research report, to be discussed at an expert seminar.

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Published On: October, 2016