WHEN A VISITING Westerner airily dismissed Asia as “a region of natural disasters and incredibly nasty leaders,” I was really upset.
The truth hurts.
A similar point was made in the shape of a request I received from a reader who did not want his name or address printed: “Dear Mr Columnist Person, nobody likes our government. Can we form an enclave?”
Yes, you can. Enclaves are hot right now.
Many people recommend the quick and easy Beijing system of territorial expansion, where you just build stuff in the sea and look outraged when anyone complains.
But be warned. Enclaves, city states and territories are often independent-ish bits of OTHER people’s countries, so the whole issue can be VERY touchy.
- Look at a map and you can see that Singapore is really just a teensy bit of Malaysia, but it is not polite to say that.
- Malaysia itself is half in Thailand and half in Borneo, but you must never say that, either.
- Hong Kong is part of China, but the residents think they are a separate city-state, and no one has the heart to tell them the truth.
This summer, sadly for people who love micronations, arguably the strangest enclave on the planet has just disappeared in a deal between two countries.
Dahala Khagrabari enclave was legally a piece of India, but it was inside an enclave of Bangladesh that was itself inside an enclave of India that was surrounded by land which was definitely Bangladeshi. This is not a joke.
Nor was it a joke for residents, who technically crossed numerous borders every time they took their bullock cart out for a spin.
CHILD: “Are we nearly there, Daddy?”
DAD: “We’re still in India, son. No, Bangladesh. No, India. No Bangladesh.”
A European colleague tells me that an odd enclave exists in his region: a splodge of land inside the Netherlands that is legally part of Belgium.
The boundary runs right through lots of actual buildings. “In the past, legal closing time for bars was earlier in the Netherlands, so when it got late, drinkers simply moved to tables on the Belgian side of the room and ordered another beer,” he said.
But back to the reader who wants to start his own country.
The Beijing system is to grab a bit of land and then announce that it has belonged to you since the earth formed from interstellar dust.
When Beijing used this line in East Turkestan, the residents complained that they had lived there for centuries before it became a newly acquired territory for China.
Beijing vehemently denied this, but its argument was severely undermined by the fact that it renamed the area Xinjiang, which is Chinese for “newly acquired territory.” (This is also not a joke, believe it or not.)
Column done: time to vacate my desk or, as I prefer to call it, my personal enclave.