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tion in the period after 1815 were no longer de¬ned simply in terms of
maximizing the power and pro¬ts of the mother country by monopolizing
trade. Although that goal was never far from the minds of imperial ad-
ministrators, it was increasingly advanced in conjunction with the belief
that Europeans had a responsibility to promote ˜civilization™ and ˜good
government™ in the countries under their imperial authority. The division
of sovereignty was now no longer just part of the attempt to acquire pre-
rogatives that were necessary to exert control over trade, as it had been in
the seventeenth century. It began to be employed also in accordance with
the principle that indigenous rulers should hold only those prerogatives
which they were competent to exercise. This led imperial administrators
to intervene more frequently in the domestic affairs of rulers who had
demonstrated themselves incompetent or corrupt in European eyes, oc-
casionally even annexing territories where no suitable alternative could be
found, or where Europeans saw a distinct strategic or commercial advan-
tage for themselves. It also helped to further the conversion of customary
local systems of property use into legally codi¬ed and judicially admin-
istered systems of property rights and ownership; as with the division of
sovereignty, these reforms were intended to suit both the material goal
of maximizing revenues and the more ideological purpose of promoting
˜civilization™. Thus, by the end of this discussion, we will be able to re¬‚ect
on the normative, legal and institutional structure of relations between
European and non-European peoples in the East Indies, observing some
important similarities both with the pattern of order that developed in
North America and with the Grotian theory of the law of nations that I
outlined in chapter 2.
Colonialism, imperialism, international politics 79

To begin with, though, it should be noted that it is somewhat mislead-
ing to use the idea of ˜European dominance™ to understand international
politics in the East Indies during the seventeenth century. For most of
this early period in their relations together, Europeans confronted in-
digenous rulers on terms of parity, or even, on occasion, inferiority. The
idea of European dominance is also misleading because it suggests that
Europeans presented a united front in their efforts to subjugate non-
European peoples; nothing could be further from the truth. An ingenious
local ruler could often play one European power off against another, since
they were all competing for the same thing: control of trade in goods
which were, in most cases, produced under the local ruler™s authority.
Europeans typically needed to make alliances with indigenous rulers to
acquire the resources with which to defeat their competitors, and, just as
importantly, they needed to make agreements with those same rulers in
order to have access to the goods that they wanted to sell to European
markets. The more successful European powers in this context, by which
I principally mean the Dutch and the British, fully appreciated this fea-
ture of East Indian international politics, and accordingly they showed
considerable respect for the political authority of indigenous rulers in this
early period, treating them as potential allies rather than savages or hea-
thens, and often accepting classi¬cations of sovereignty and status that
the local rulers used.48
It would be a mistake, however, to take this apparent benevolence at
face value. Once European competitors had been seen off, the strate-
gic value of these alliances rapidly declined. Moreover, once European
trading corporations had gained access to the goods they wanted, they
tried to reduce the prices they paid as much as possible, and sought
to gain sovereign prerogatives for themselves that would allow them to
cut these potentially awkward local rulers out of the commercial picture
altogether. The result was that, from the later seventeenth century on,
numerous indigenous rulers found their authority coming under increas-
ing pressure. An example of this tendency can be seen in the changing
relationship between the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) and the
kings of Kandy, in present-day Sri Lanka. The Dutch had a chance to
insinuate their presence here because of the naval weakness of the ruler,
Raja Sinha II, and his resulting need for allies against the Portuguese.
The Dutch offered their services and, after securing a victory over the
Portuguese at the battle of Gannoruwa, concluded a treaty with Raja
Sinha in May 1638. The treaty did not, at ¬rst glance, offer many obvious

48 See especially Charles Alexandrowicz, An Introduction to the History of the Law of Nations
in the East Indies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967).
80 Beyond the anarchical society

advantages to the Dutch “ a disingenuous attempt to interpret it as giving
the Dutch a right to garrison forts without Raja Sinha™s permission was
quickly exposed by the Kandyans “ but the VOC did ¬nd a convenient ar-
ticle that dealt with Raja Sinha™s repayment of the debts he had incurred
during the war: a ¬ne illustration of the uses to which Grotius™s ˜natural
equity™ argument could be put. The VOC controlled the statements of
the king™s level of debt, which offered numerous opportunities for creative
accounting. They also refused to be paid off in cash, and instead insisted
on payment in cinnamon, for which they offered a lower and lower price.
Thus, ˜the Dutch could not only get the cinnamon . . . for a mere song,
but they could also keep the king in their debt as long as they wanted to™.49
This was an effective strategy, but the VOC needed more of Raja Sinha™s
cinnamon than it could get through these means alone, and retained an
interest in establishing control over as much of the producing regions as
possible. They sought to achieve this through an independent expedi-
tion against the Portuguese in 1644, in the course of which they gained
command of the land around the key strategic fort of Galle, whereupon
they promptly agreed a truce with the Portuguese, in which the latter rec-
ognized the company™s control over Galle. With good reason, Raja Sinha
regarded the truce as an act of betrayal, and responded by withdrawing
his people from the lands, resettling them in the interior. This posed a
serious problem for the Dutch, since, in the absence of the indigenous
farmers, no cinnamon could be obtained at all. They tried to establish a
colony of Dutch settlers to make up the difference, offering them exactly
the kinds of free and easy terms that we have already seen were such an
important feature of settlement in the American colonies, but this time
the lure proved insuf¬cient to persuade suf¬cient numbers of Dutch peo-
ple or company workers to ˜become free™, as the expression had it. The
main problem was that the VOC was unwilling to extend the really lu-
crative commercial privileges for ˜private trade™ to the settlers, for fear of
undermining their monopoly, and when they did so out of desperation it
was in far too grudging and haphazard a way to make the colony a going
concern.50
As their colonial ambitions for Ceylon receded into the distance, the
Dutch now declared war on Raja Sinha. The ensuing con¬‚ict resulted
in serious military reversals for the Dutch, and they were forced to agree
49 K.W. Goonewardena, The Foundation of Dutch Power in Ceylon, 1638“1658 (Amsterdam:
Djambatan, 1958), p. 45, and see also pp. 18ff.
50 See Sinnappah Arasratnam, Dutch Power in Ceylon, 1658“1687 (Amsterdam: Djambatan,
1958), pp. 203“12, and K.W. Goonewardena, ˜A New Netherland in Ceylon: Dutch
Attempts to Found a Colony During the First Quarter-Century of their Power in Ceylon™,
Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, 2 (1959), 203“44.
Colonialism, imperialism, international politics 81

terms with Raja Sinha on a revision of the 1638 treaty in the latter™s favour,
which resulted in a real erosion of the Dutch cinnamon monopoly. On the
pretext that Raja Sinha still had outstanding debts to the VOC, however,
some of the cinnamon-producing territory around Galle was retained by
the Dutch. This left the VOC with a tricky legal problem. Throughout
all of their colonizing activities, the Dutch had continued to observe Raja
Sinha™s sovereignty over the whole of Ceylon, which was, on their legal
understanding, perfectly consistent with the occupation of territories he
had ˜voluntarily™ vacated. However, they still needed to acquire as strong
a legal title as possible to the lands that were now under their control,
against both European competitors and the Kandyans themselves. Un-
fortunately, all they had in that regard was a right of conquest from the
Portuguese (of dubious validity, since the lands had never been under
Portuguese sovereignty at all), and the argument that the lands they held
were in trust from Raja Sinha, the sovereign ruler, until such time as the
VOC™s expenses had been fully paid.51
Increasing pressure on the cinnamon trade from other European pow-
ers, notably the English and the French, forced the Dutch to introduce
other arguments, such as length of occupation, to justify their control.
They also began to assert their claims in an increasingly exclusive man-
ner, denying Raja Sinha any rights at all in the coastal regions, which were,
of course, vital not just for cinnamon production but also for the continu-
ation of trade and for conducting foreign relations with other states, both
European and Asian. Nevertheless, although the new Dutch arguments
were much more far-reaching than had hitherto been the case, they were
still careful to stop short of declaring Dutch sovereignty. That reticence
continued well into the eighteenth century. Baron van Imhoff, governor-
general in Ceylon from 1736 to 1740, was still arguing then that:
The great number of years during which we have been in exclusive possession
gives us the right to maintain our right, if necessary even by force. Our rights have
been legalised by the undisputed exercise of them by the Company™s possession
of West and East, and this will serve also as proof of proprietorship, of other
parts, so far as it concerns a third party, although the King is and remains the
sovereign.52
But even while recognizing the sovereignty of the Kandyan kings, by
virtue of their control of these important territories the Dutch could ex-
ercise a stranglehold over communications between the kingdom and the
outside world. Gradually the indigenous rulers became increasingly cut
51 Arasaratnam, Dutch Power in Ceylon, pp. 5“6.
52 Cited in Sinnappah Arasaratnam, ˜Dutch Sovereignty in Ceylon: A Historical Study of
its Problems™, Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, 1 (1958), 105“6.
82 Beyond the anarchical society

off as all foreign communication and commerce was channelled through
the Dutch. The kingdom of Kandy, one time ally and partner of the
Dutch, became, as Sinnappah Arasaratnam puts it, ˜a sovereign entity,
but deprived of the right of foreign control™.53
If we recall Grotius™s analysis of divided sovereignty, unequal treaties
and usurpation, it is easy to see how closely this practice accords with
his theory of the law of nations. An initial treaty was made “ in this case,
especially after the revisions to 1638 treaty, by no means an obviously
˜unequal™ one “ the provisions of which were manipulated so as to endow
the now-stronger party with more and more of the rights of the weaker
one; if, as Grotius had argued, this usurpation was not resisted, after a
period of time the rights became genuine. Overall, the Dutch approach
was to accede to the formal sovereignty of the Kandyans, but to chip away
at the marks of sovereignty contained therein, until they were in a posi-
tion to begin to claim something approaching complete sovereignty for
themselves; eventually, after a further war with the Kandyans, the Dutch
managed to gain a treaty (1766) that formally recognized their sovereignty
over the coastal lands. This practice clearly constitutes an important qual-
i¬cation to the idea that Europeans recognized the equality of sovereign
rights granted to East Indian rulers under the law of nations. While they
may have initially been treated as equals with European sovereigns, that
recognition still left them vulnerable (as was also the case for European
rulers) to the division of their prerogatives and the acquisition of some
of their rights, particularly those which were commercially important, by
the European powers. It is, I think, also interesting to note that in this
early period these transfers were made through treaties, albeit with con-
siderable manipulation on the part of the Dutch. Appeals to natural law
were not really a feature of the insinuation of Dutch power in this regard.
They were, at least on the surface, simply involved in a free exchange of
legal rights from the king of Kandy to the Dutch East India Company, a
classically Grotian rationale.
The gradual acquisition of the Kandyan kings™ sovereignty by the Dutch
is, of course, just one example within a number of different practices that
were going on at the same time in other parts of the East Indies. The rea-
son I have chosen this example is that it presents a particularly clear-cut
illustration of what was involved in the acquisition of public authority, the
legal environment that underpinned and rationalized it, and the lengths
to which European powers would go in order to obtain the territorial
controls that were vital to the construction of trading monopolies. Most
53 Sinnappah Arasaratnam, ˜The Kingdom of Kandy: Aspects of its External Relations and
Commerce™, Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, 3 (1960), 114.
Colonialism, imperialism, international politics 83

European states were engaged in roughly similar activities elsewhere, the
main difference being that in some cases, most obviously the British in In-
dia, they encountered already existing structures of imperial suzerainty,
into which they usually inserted themselves at quite a humble level, at
least in the ¬rst instance. The acquisition of further sovereign prerog-
atives was comparatively easier in this context, when many indigenous
rulers were already used to relationships of suzerainty with regard to an
imperial power, although not all welcomed the intrusion of Europeans in
that role.
After the French revolutionary wars, European states began to go be-
yond simply establishing a commercial foothold in the East. Increasingly,
they began to use their sovereign prerogatives to bring about social change,
particularly with an evolving concept of civilization in mind. European
activities were now determined by two main considerations, which occa-
sionally were in con¬‚ict with one another. First, they still wanted to make
a pro¬t from their imperial possessions, partly through trade, but also, as
they acquired more and more rights of political authority, through taxa-
tion as well; simply put, they wanted to maximize imperial revenues while
ensuring the lowest-cost and most ef¬cient administrative system possi-
ble. Secondly, especially from the middle of the nineteenth century on,
they wanted to civilize the peoples under their imperial rule, encouraging
economic and technological progress and giving them the best possi-
ble government, at the expense of the authority of indigenous rulers if
necessary.
With regard to the reform of indigenous property systems, there were
two main issues involved: how to extract a satisfactory revenue from the
Indies, to cover the administrative costs involved and still provide op-
portunities for pro¬t; and how to use the land tenure system to promote
social reforms, and hence civilization. The Dutch framed the two lead-
ing options here in terms of a choice between a ˜system of trade™ and a
˜system of taxation™.54 The system of trade was not dissimilar to the way
in which the East India Companies had tried to make a pro¬t from the
region in the past: inserting themselves into indigenous structures of pro-
duction and tribute, and manipulating monopoly advantages, especially
in the export of cash-crops to Europe. From the point of view of the colo-
nial power, the main advantage of this system was its practicality and low
cost: it made use of already existing systems of exploitation, and required
little administrative effort other than that which had traditionally been
involved in trade with the Indies. The system of taxation, on the other
54 Clive Day, The Policy and Administration of the Dutch in Java, revised edition (Kuala
Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1966).
84 Beyond the anarchical society

hand, generally required much higher administrative costs and burdens,
but had the advantage of being more systematic, and was seen by liberals
as both ethically and economically superior.
The British were especially enthusiastic about the system of taxation. In
India, they introduced the ˜Permanent Settlement™ of 1793, which took
away the administrative prerogatives of the old landed elite in Bengal, the
zamindars, but ˜turned their loose landholding rights into strict private
property, dependent however on their capacity to pay the ¬xed amount
of revenue for their land and tenants™.55 This agreement clearly re¬‚ected
prevailing British ideas about the social, economic and political impor-
tance of a stable landed gentry, owning their land in an absolute and ex-
clusive manner, and dedicated to improving their property; the whole sys-
tem, as Bernard Cohn observes, was intended ˜to encourage improvement
of the land . . . to protect property rights and make property secure™.56
The British did not stop with the ˜Permanent Settlement™, of course.
The nineteenth century also saw the extension of private property rights
to other parts of India, often by Indians with British encouragement or
assistance.57 Similar policies were also adopted outside India. Following
their invasion of Java in 1811, for example, the British under Lieutenant
Governor Sir Thomas Stamford Raf¬‚es tried to introduce the same kind
of land-rent system to Indonesia.
After the Charter of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) expired
in 1799, some Dutch liberals had already begun to press for the estab-
lishment of a system of secure private property, and Raf¬‚es took these
visions further, ambitiously planning to gain revenue through, as in India,

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