What was seventeenth-century Dutch expansion in Southeast Asia all about? In the traditional historiography, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was predominantly presented as a multinational corporation and non-state colonial actor. Recent research, however, has significantly challenged this view, stressing instead the imperial aspects of VOC rule. This article aims to break new ground by analysing the vocabularies used in seventeenth-century reasoning about Dutch expansion overseas. Focusing on three critics of the VOC from the 1660s and 1670s, Pieter van Dam, Pieter de la Court, and Pieter van Hoorn, the article shows how voices within and outside of the ranks of the Company tried to make sense of the many-faced VOC as a commercial company that was also, in different ways, a state. In an on-going debate that centred on the issues of colonisation, conquest, free trade, and monopoly, the VOC was characterised as a distinctive political body that operated as an overseas extension of the state (Van Dam), as a competitor of the state (De la Court), or as a state as such (Van Hoorn). Following Philip J. Stern's recent analysis of the English East India Company, the VOC should therefore be considered to be a particular political institution in its own terms, which challenged its critics to think about it as a body politic that was neither corporation nor empire, but rather a Company-State.