Process of Establishing Vietnamese Sovereignty in the Archipelagos of Paracel and Spratly
Dai Hoc Xa Hoi va Nhan Van TPHCM 2002
Note from translator (L.D.): This is not a literal translation of Nguyen Nha’s work. Only the main ideas were translated in a summary manner. Some passages were omitted for the sake of brevity.
1. The Paracel and Spratly archipelagos have been considered Vietnamese territories for many centuries. These islands have both strategic and economic significance, and are now being claimed by many countries including China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei making it a political hotspot in the region.
This research aims at providing a cumulative, systematic, and detailed picture of the process of establishing Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands.
2. Before 1909, Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands had not been violated by China and other countries. There were not any effort of establishing sovereignty, but there were much documentation of Vietnamese sovereignty in the Paracels.
After 1909 there began to be newspaper articles written about the islands, especially towards the 1920s and early 1930s.
After 1954, these two archipelagos were given to South Vietnam to control according to the Geneva Accord. There was quite a conflict regarding ownership of the islands. As a result a number of significant works were done on the issue.
In 1974, People’s Republic of China invaded the Paracels and there were more major works related to the islands during this time and after 1975 both in China and Vietnam.
3. This work aims to examine the process of establishing Vietnamese sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands. The author documents the activities of establishment, occupation, and protecting the right of sovereignty over these islands throughout history so as to provide solid evidence regarding Vietnamese sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly.
Geographical Location, Natural Conditions of the Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos
1.1 Name and Geographical Location of the Pracel and Spratly Archipelagos
Formerly, both in the West and in Vietnam, it was thought that in the Eastern Sea there was a single long archipelago, and thus called it by a single name. Vietnamese people gave it the name of Bai Cat Vang or Con Vang or Hoang Sa. Sometimes it was referred to as Dai Truong Sa or Van Ly Truong Sa.
The Spanish and Dutch called the archipelago Parcel or Pracel. The French and English called it Paracel in the 17th and 18th centuries in their maritime maps.
A very distinctive point is that there was an agreement between the Western and Vietnamese names. Bishop Taberd noted clearly in the An Nam Dai Quoc map: Paracel seu Cat Vang (Paracel also known as Cat Vang).
The two archipelagos are located in the Eastern Sea. For decades, scientists have confirmed that there was a development of maritime culture on these islands that was completely different from Chinese culture
The Paracel archipelago is located in an area about 15,000 square km, on the same latitudinal region with Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam, and part of Quang Ngai provinces. From the mainland, it is closest to Vietnam. It has about 30 islands, rock formations, sandbanks, and other features comprising of the Crescent group in the South West and the Amphitrite group in the North East.
1.3 Spratly Archipelago
The French gives the name Archipel des iles Spratly. English and Americans call it the Spratley Islands or Spratlies. China calls it Nansha. The Philippines gives the name Kalayaan while it is called Shinnan Guto by Japan.
The island closest to Paracel is about 350 nautical miles away, while the one furthest from Paracel is 500 nautical miles. It is 305 nautical miles from Vung Tau, 250 nautical miles from Cam Ranh, 240 nautical miles from Phu Quoc, and 270 nautical miles from Binh Thuan (Phan Thiet). It is located in a sea area of about 160,000 – 180,000 square km. However, the total island size is only about 11 square km for the total of about 137 islands, rock formations, sandbanks, reefs, and other features.
1.4 Although the natural features support Vietnamese sovereignty, this is not the decisive factor.
1.5 Because of the strategic and economic significance of this region, especially the potential natural resources such as oil, control of this region is fiercely sought after.
The Establishment of Sovereignty Over the Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos
The establishment of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands have not only been proved by Vietnamese documentation, but also by evidence from the West and China itself. At the same time, there was a process of occupation that was peaceful, continuous, and spanned many periods in history from the 17th until the 19th century.
2.1.1 Vietnamese evidence
Vietnam has approximately 30 pieces of documentation from the times of the Nguyen Lords (beginning of 17th century), Tay Son, and Nguyen Dynasty (Emperor Gia Long) which very clearly affirm Vietnamese sovereignty over the islands.
In Thien Nam Tu Chi Lo Do Thu or Toan Tap An Nam Lo, 1686, it is noted clearly that each year the Nguyen Lords brought 18 boats to Bai Cat Vang (Hoang Sa) to make explorations.
In Phu Bien Tap Luc by Le Qui Don, 1776, it was described in detail in the second book that the Nguyen Lord established sovereignty of Dai Viet over Hoang Sa with the Hoang Sa and Bac Hai Companies. During the Tay Son rebellion, the people of An Vinh village continued to carry out activities on Hoang Sa.
There are numerous historical proof of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel islands arising out of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1909).
- Du Dia in Bo Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi of Phan Huy Chu (1821) and Hoang Viet Dia Du Chi (1833) both have similar accounts as seen in Phu Bien Tap Luc of Le Qui Don. Dai Nam Thuc Luc Phan Tien Bien, book 10 (prepared in 1821 and printed in 1844) continue to affirm Vietnamese sovereignty over the islands with the Hoang Sa and Bac Hai forces.
- Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien, book 1 (1848) and book 2 (1864) and book 3 (1879) contain a total of 11 passages about the Paracel and Spratly islands (Hoang Sa and Truong Sa) with new and concrete information regarding Vietnam establishing sovereignty over the archipelagos.
- Kham Dinh Dai Nam Hoi Dien Su Le (1851) mentions about Hoang Sa in book 207. In book 221 it is written: “Hoang Sa is located in a very dangerous part of the sea. Each year there needs to be an expedition to make thorough explorations by sea. From this year on, in the last week of the first month, this will be done as customary.”
- Chau ban trieu Nguyen (19th century) is a very valuable document. Here we find reports made by various officials about as well as instruments used in the process of establishing sovereignty over the islands. Explorations were made, maps were drawn. An expedition was not made in the fifth year of Thieu Tri (1845), but was renewed the following year.
- Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (prepared in 1882, edited and printed in 1910) reported that Hoang Sa belonged to Quang Ngai Province and continued to confirm the activities of the Hoang Sa and Bac Hai Companies.
- Quoc Trieu Chinh Bien Toat Yeu, Book 3 of Quoc Su Quan trieu Nguyen, during the reign of emperor Minh Mang, has three passages related to the task of establishing sovereignty over Hoang Sa.
In addition the maps of Vietnam from the 17th to the 19th century all include Bai Cat Vang or Hoang Sa and Van Ly Truong Sa as part of Vietnam.
2.1.2 Evidence from China and the West
- In book 3 of Hai Ngoai Ky Su of Thich Dai San (written by a Chinese author), 1696 mentions about Van Ly Truong Sa (which is Hoang Sa) and confirms that the Nguyen Lords have been making explorations and exploiting the products on the islands.
- Ancient maps of China drawn by Chinese before 1909 all indicate that Tay Sa (Xisha or Paracel) and Nam Sa (Nansha or Spratly) did not belong to China. Looking at the Chinese maps before 1909, we see that there is no notation of Tay Sa and Nam Sa archipelagos. All those maps indicated that Hai Nan was the southernmost territory of China.
After China used violence to take over Hoang Sa in January 1974, Chinese expedition groups to the island claimed to “discover” ancient artifacts, potteries, etc.. on these islands, but none of these are valuable in determining Chinese sovereignty over the islands. On the contrary, they discovered on the Northern face a shrine “Hoang Sa Tu” on the Vinh Hung island (or Ile Boisée), which is further evidence of Vietnamese establishing sovereignty over the islands.
Evidence from the West
- The Diary on the Amphitrite Ship (1701) confirms that Paracels is an archipelago belonging to An Nam (Viet Nam).
- “Le Mémoire sur la Cochinchine” of Jean Baptiste Chaigneau (1769-1825) confirms that in 1816 the emperor Gia Long established sovereignty of Vietnam over the Paracels islands.
- “Univers, histore et description de tous les peuples, de leurs religions, mours et coutumes” of Bishop Taberd (1833) recounts that the emperor Gia Long officially asserted Vietnamese sovereignty over the Hoang Sa islands in 1816.
- The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. VI published the article written by Bishop Taberd regarding the above matter.
- In The Journal of the Geographycal Society of London (1848), GutzLaff noted that An Nam established a small port and camp to collect taxes on Paracels.
2.2. Vietnamese Government
2.2.1 The Emperor Minh Mang and Bo Cong has asserted numerous times that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belonged to Vietnam.
2.2.2 Throughout the Nguyen Lords period, Hoang Sa and Truong Sa were seen as one and were administered bye Quang Nghia or Nghia under various administrative levels depending on the historical period.
2.2.3 The Hoang Sa Company began before or during the period of Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan (1648-1687) in the area of Sa Ky – Cu Lao which is an opening to the sea. The people here are seafarers who go out to search for valuable products of the ocean.
The responsibilities of the Hoang Sa Company were to collect valuable sea products and goods from sunken ships in the area of the Hoang Sa archipelago, manage, and direct the Bac Hai Company in the South, explore and report about criminal elements on the sea.
The Hoang Sa Company had both civil and military, both private and governmental characteristics. It had an economic role as well as a security role in the Eastern Sea.
2.2.4 The Bac Hai Company worked under the direction of the Hoang Sa forces.
2.2.5 The emperor’s naval forces began to carry out activities in 1816 by making explorations, taking measurements, and drawing maps.
In 1833 the emperor Minh Mang escalated the process of establishing sovereignty by ordering the erection of ownership tablets, and planting stakes annually with detailed information about individuals having responsibility on the islands.
The Emperor Minh Mang erected shrines and ordered the planting of trees on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. The purpose of planting trees was to help ships recognize the islands in order to avoid accidents.
The Continued Effort to Affirm and Defend Vietnamese Sovereignty in the Face of Foreign Aggression
3.1 From 1909 to Present
It is unfortunate that France did not protest Chinese aggression from the very beginning. It wasn’t until after China incorporated the Paracels into its Quang Dong Province that France began to pay attention to Hoang Sa. On 29 April 1932, the French government officially made a protest and included clear evidence of Vietnamese possession of the islands after making detailed investigations. After that, France proposed to take the case to international court. China refused this proposal.
On 13 April 1933, a small French naval force began the effort to retake Truong Sa. After that, the French government began to take more actions to re-assert Vietnamese sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. On 21 December 1993, France decided to incorporate Truong Sa into the Ba Ria province.
On 29 February 1938, Emperor Bao Dai incorporated Hoang Sa into Thua Thien province.
In 1938 a sign was erected on the Pattle (Hoang Sa) island with the following words: Républicque Francaise – Royaume d’An Nam – Archipels des Paracels – 1816 – Ile de Pttle 1938.
Other actions indicating sovereignty was taken on this and other islands in the same year. In June 1938, a Vietnamese defense force was sent to Hoang Sa.
On 5 May 1939 the Indochina Governor Jules Brévíe signed directive 3282, establishing two geographical agencies on the Hoang Sa archipelago.
Taking advantage of the situation of conflict between Vietnam and France, on 26 October 1946 Chinese forces invaded Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. The French government made a formal protest against Chinese occupation of the islands on 17 October 1947. China continued to refuse to resolve the conflict with the help of an international arbitrator. France sent forces (including Vietnamese national forces) to Hoang Sa.
In April 1950, Chinese forces withdrew from Hoang Sa and Truong Sa previous to that. On 14 October 1950, the French government officially returned Hoang Sa to the Bao Dai government to manage.
On 7 September 1951, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tran Van Huu in the Bao Dai government officially declared that the two archipelagos belonged to Vietnam. There was no opposition.
According to the Geneva Accord, the Paracel and Spratly islands fall below the 17th parallel, and therefore belonged to South Vietnam whose forces were sent to station on the Western side of Hoang Sa.
On 1 June 1956 South Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau declared again Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa after the Philippines made claims of possession of the islands. France also reminded the Philippines of its control of the islands from 1933. On 22 August 1956, South Vietnam forces made their way upon the islands of Truong Sa and erected a tablet and flew Vietnamese flag.
On 13 July 1961, South Vietnam incorporated Hoang Sa into the Quang Nam province and established village Dinh Hai under Hoa Vang district.
On 6 September 1973, Truong Sa was transferred to the province of Phuoc Tuy.
On 19 January 1974, China invaded Hoang Sa.
On 20 January 1974 Vietnamese UN Observer requested that the UN Security Council examine China’s invasion and occupation of Hoang Sa.
On 14 February 1975, South Vietnam released the White Papers on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
3.1.4 After unification, the Vietnamese government continued to assert proper authority Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 30 December 1978 Vietnam declared its opposition to China’s assertions in the issue of Truong Sa, re-asserted Vietnamese sovereignty over the two archipelagos, and restated that Vietnam wished to resolve the issue through peaceful diplomatic means.
On 30 July 1979, China released a document which supposedly said Vietnam had “admitted” that China had rightful ownership of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 7 August 1979, Vietnam claimed that China’s assertion was a distortion of the truth regarding Vietnam’s position on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 28 September 1979, Vietnam released a number of documents asserting Vietnam’s sovereignty over the islands and disputed the Philippines’ claim to virtually all of Truong Sa.
In December 1981, Vietnam released the White Papers: “Hoang Sa and Truong Sa are Vietnamese territories”.
On 4 February 1982, Vietnam incorporated Hoang Sa into Quang Nam-Da Nang province.
On 1 June 1984, Vietnam protested China’s decision to establish an administrative area of Hai Nan which includes Tay Sa (Xisha) and Nam Sa (Nansha).
On 10 November 1987, Chinese forces went up Louisa Island and after that continued to take over many other islands to Vietnam’s strong protests. This again occurred in May 1989.
In 1994 Vietnam protested China’s contract with the American company Crestones to conduct oil exploration on the region.
3.2.2 Based on the evidence presented above, it can be seen that from the beginning of 17th century until the beginning of the 20th century, Vietnam had always established control over the islands in a peaceful manner and consistent with international principles at that time.
3.3 Disputing China’s Arguments
From 1909 until the present, China has made many changes in its arguments for ownership rights of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. The inconsistency in their arguments, even inconsistency in the names for the islands (sometimes Nam Sa, sometimes Macclesfield, sometimes Spratley) in itself speak of the lack of historical truth. At first, China claimed that Hoang Sa had no owners, and beginning in 1909 presented arguments along this line. After that China took actions trying to occupy the islands.
Then China changed to other arguments: China discovered the islands the earliest, conducted economic activities on the islands the earliest, and administered it the earliest, at least since the time of the T’ang or Han dynasties.
On 30 January 1980 China declared: “Chinese ownership of Tay Sa and Nam Sa is indisputable.”
China then released a 795 page document filled with subjective and distorted arguments and evidence that had no historical support to counter Vietnamese claims, which were based on solid historical evidence.
Virtually all the original evidence given by China do not have much value since China no longer refers to them. It is undeniable that historical evidence from Vietnam constitutes the strongest counter-argument to those given by China.
Because of international law which states that the process of establishing sovereignty must be true, peaceful, and continuous in order for it to be meaningful, China’s latest argument is to attempt to claim that China was the first to conduct administrative activities on the island as propagated in various documents including the 1980 White Papers.
If we take the time to read every page of the document, it is not difficult to discover that the arguments are unscientific and unpersuasive. Yet, China has used these illogical, unclear, and inaccurate arguments to criticize the arguments in Vietnam’s 1979 White Papers. It even went as far as saying that Hoang Sa, Truong Sa are in fact not Tay Sa, Nam Sa of China, but perhaps some other small islands off the coast of Central Vietnam.
3.3.2 (Disputing arguments from other Southeast Asian nations claiming ownership of the islands)……
From ancient times until French colonialism, Hoang Sa and Truong Sa were considered by Vietnamese as one entity. During the French colonial period, they were separated into two archipelagos.
The Chinese names Tay Sa and Nam Sa appeared only since the beginning of the 20th century while the Vietnamese names “Hoang Sa or Cat Vang” appeared since the beginning of the 17th century.
Many historical documents affirm the location of Hoang Sa which is consistent with the present location.
Vietnam has adequate geographical, historical, and legal evidence to clearly prove an indisputable process of occupation of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa that was peaceful and continuous. Virtually all of the documents of Vietnam are official records of the process of establishment of sovereignty, coming from the very Vietnamese court.
All these evidence repute absolutely the inconsistent and ever changing arguments of China. At first, China claimed that the islands had no owners. After that, it was changed to China being the first to discover, to carry out economic activities, and to administer the islands at least since the T’ang or the Han dynasty. Even in how China refers to the islands change from time to time.
It is Vietnamese policy to assert absolute and indisputable sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands in the past and in the future. Even if Vietnam has to wait a millennium as was the case in the first millennium for Vietnam to retake its control of Hoang Sa, it will wait patiently. The eternal strength that protects national territories and resist external invasion is still the strength of the Vietnamese people on the mainland as well as on the seas. As for Truong Sa, Vietnam must persist in defending until the end when the islands return in our control.
On the other hand, Vietnam has to patiently pursue the path of peaceful resolution, and engage in bilateral or multi-lateral negotiations in order to resolve the issue of sovereignty. In favorable conditions, Vietnam will continue to propose taking the matter to international court to resolve the issue of its sovereignty being violated. Vietnam always proves that it wants to engage in dialogue with other countries, and does not present a threat to any country.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Sovereignty of Vietnam over Spratly and Paracel Islands
Posted by Saigon Charlie