Speculations on Territory: the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island Dispute

Critical, Curatorial + Conceptual Practices in Architecture, Thesis

Jess Ngan

Craig Buckley, advisor

The territory of the island can be seen as a testing ground, where speculations are made, and sovereign capabilities are claimed, not through legal or systemic means, but by testing the limits of their legitimacy. The space of the island are repeatedly drawn and redrawn, in maps and surveys, but also through the paths of surveillance aircraft, the incursions between coast guards and fishing trawlers, and other stunts performed for news media. The island is then a work of architecture, constructed through these circulations, incursions, and enactments, to address a specific program.

In the territorial dispute in the East China Sea between China and Japan, conflicting claims are made for the tiny, barren islands called Diaoyu in China, and Senkaku in Japan. These islands have not yet decided what they are and how they can be governed. They are flexible spaces in which it is possible to address rising insecurity, changing political interests, and historical disagreements. While the islands themselves are geographically marginal, lying in both the outer reaches of China and Japan’s territory, the islands have been brought to the center of national rhetoric, appearing in a deliberate and often strategic way. These appearances are manner in which the conflict plays out; the battleground for territory is not only on the islands proper, but also in the seats of government, the sites of protests in cities around the world and in space of international news media. The island dispute emphasizes the importance of territory in contemporary sovereignty, while also marking the changing relationship between territory and the nation-state.