Spratlys - Nansha Islands of China
This paper is collected here for acdemic study purpose. We don't agree with what is said in this paper.
White Paper on the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands
Republic of Vietnam
The Vietnamese archipelagoes of Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) are both situated in the South China Sea off the Republic of Vietnam's shore. Their very modest size by no means lesser the importance given them by the Vietnamese: to Vietnamese hearts, these remote insular territories are as dear as could be any other part of the fatherland. The Hoang Sa Islands to the North were occupied by force of arms by the People's Republic of China on January 20, 1974, following a brazen act of invasion which left the world extremely indignant. As for the Truong Sa Islands 500 km to the South, two other foreign powers are illegally stationing troops on four of the main islands in the archipelago.
The Government of the Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people,
determined to defend their sovereignty and the territorial integrity of
the country, solemnly denounce the occupation of these Vietnamese
territories by foreign troops. Regarding the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands,
not only was the gross violation of Vietnamese sovereignty by the People's
Republic of China a defiance of the law of nations and the Charter of the
United Nations: in-as-much as this involved the use of force by a world
power against a small country in Asia, it also constitutes a threat to
peace and stability in South East Asia In the case of the Truong Sa
(Spratly) Islands, although foreign occupation was not preceded by
bloodshed, it nevertheless represents a grave violation of the territorial
integrity of the Republic of Vietnam. The rights of the Vietnamese people
over those islands have been as firmly established there as on the Hoang
Proclamation by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (1974)
The noblest and most imperative task of a Government is to defend
the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Nation. The
Government of the Republic of Vietnam is determined to carry out this
task, regardless of difficulties it may encounter and regardless of
unfounded objections wherever they may come from.
On this occasion, the Government of the Republic of Vietnam also
solemnly reaffirms the sovereignty of the Republic of Vietnam over the
islands off the shores of Central and South Vietnam, which have been
consistently accepted as a part of the territory of the Republic of
Vietnam on the basis of undeniable geographic, historical and legal
evidence and on account of realities.
(Proclamation by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam dated February 14, 1974)
The Early Historical Rights of Vietnam
The Vietnamese have had knowledge of the Hoang Sa Islands long before the arrival to the South China Sea of Westerners who publicized internationally the name of "Paracels" for this part of their territory. It has been scientifically determined that the Vietnamese presence on this archipelago started in the 15th century. The systematic exploitation of the islands' resources started early and gradually developed Vietnamese interest in these territories, leading in the 18th century to official state decision such as the formation of the Hoang Sa Company to ensure a rational exploitation of those islands. As evidenced by reliable Vietnamese and foreign sources, Vietnam progressively asserted her rights and the Hoang Sa archipelago was formally taken possession of the Vietnamese authorities in the year 1816.
The Hoang Sa Archipelago is a string of islets off the Vietnamese coast between 111 and 113 degrees longitude East of Greenwich, and between 15045' and 17015' North latitude. The nearest island in the archipelago is roughly at equal distance from the coast of Vietnam and the southern shore of Hainan Island in China. Using Pattle Island (dao Hoang Sa), the largest of the group, as a point of reference, the distances are as follows:
The Hoang Sa Islands are divided into two groups: to the East lies the
Tuyen Duc (or Amphitrite) Group and to the West lies the
Tuyen Duc Group:
Nguyet Thiem Group:
Apart from Pattle, the only other large island is Phu Lam or Wooded Island in the Amphitrite Group. The total surface area of the isles in both Groups barely exceeds 10 square kilometers or about 5 square miles. Most Islets were originally coral reefs and have the appearance of bare sand-banks, except for Wooded Island and Pattle Island, which is known for its coconut trees. The islands are surrounded by rings of reefs which make the approach by vessels very dangerous. An abundance of tortoises, sea slugs and other marine creatures are found there. Rich beds of phosphate have been produced by the interaction of the sea birds' guano with tropical rains and the coral limestone. The climate on the archipelago is marked by constant humidity and little variation in mean temperatures. In economic terms, the Hoang Sa Islands have been frequented long ago by Vietnamese fishermen and in recent times have attracted many companies exploiting phosphate.
First Vietnamese document on the Hoang Sa Islands.
Evidence showing Vietnamese sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Islands extends back over three hundred years. The oldest Vietnamese document on this part of the national heritage is the work done sometime between 1630 and 1653 by a scholar named Do Ba and also known under the penname of Dao Phu. It is a series of maps of Viet Nam which constitutes the third part of the "Hong Duc Atlas" (1): the Atlas started under the reign of Emperor Le Thanh Tong alias Hong Duc (1460-1497). Notes accompanying the maps clearly indicate that as far back as the early 17th century, Vietnamese authorities had been sending, on a regular basis, ships and men to these islands, which at that time were named "Cat Vang" (both "Cat Vang" and "Hoang Sa" mean "yellow sand"). These are the islands now known internationally by the name "Paracels".
The following is the translation of Do Ba's remarks:
"At the village of Kim Ho, on both banks of the river, stand two mountains each containing a gold deposit exploited under government control. On the high sea, a 400-ly long and 200-ly large archipelago (2) called " Bai Cat Vang " (Yellow sand banks) emerges from the deep sea facing the coastline between the harbor of Dai Chiem and the harbor of Sa Vinh (3). During the South-West monsoon season, commercial ships from various countries sailing near the coasts often wreck on the insular territories. The same thing happens during the North-East monsoon season to those ships sailing on the high sea. All the people on board wrecked ships in this area would starve. Various kinds of wrecked cargoes are amassed on these islands. Each year during the last month of winter, the Nguyen rulers send to the islands an 18-junk flotilla in order to salvage them. They obtain big quantities of gold, silver, coins, rifles and ammunitions. From the harbor of Dai Chiem the archipelago is reached after a journey of one-and-a-half day, while one day suffices if one embarks from Sa Ky."(4)
Although geographical descriptions of former times are not as precise as they are now, it is clear from the above that the "yellow sand" or Hoang Sa Islands have been part of the economic heritage of the Empire of Vietnam at least before 1653, the latest year when Do Ba could have completed his map drawing. Moreover, an eminent Vietnamese historian and scholar, Vo Long Te, has been able to determine that. taking into account other factors in the Do Ba's text (e.g. historical references and linguistic style), the salvage expeditions described therein actually started in the 15th century (5).
First evidence from foreign sources.
Vietnamese scholars are not the only people to record that Vietnam,
formerly known as the 'empire of Annam', had early displayed state
authority over the Hoang Sa Islands. Actually, foreign sources have been
even more accurate in regard to the dates concerning Vietnamese
sovereignty. As presented above, on the basis of the Do Ba document,
economic exploitation of the Hoang Sa Islands by Vietnamese started, at
least, before 1653. However as early as 1634, the Journal of Batavia.
Published by the Dutch East Indies Company, recorded incidents showing
that Vietnamese jurisdiction was then already recognized by citizens of
Testimony by Vietnamese historian Le Qui Don.
Other references to the early historical rights of Vietnam over the
Hoang Sa Islands (called " Pracels" in the Journal of Batavia
account) are made by the Encyclopedist Le Qui Don (1726-1784) in his
history work Phu Bien Tap Luc (Miscellaneous Records on the Pacification
of the Frontiers). Le Qui Don was a mandarin sent to the South by the
Court in order to serve as administrator in the realm recently taken over
by the Court from the Nguyen Lords (hence the appellation of
"Frontier Provinces" for these lands in the title of the book).
"The village of An Vinh, Binh Son District, Quang Ngai Prefecture, is close by thc sea. To the northeast (of the village) there are many islands and miscellaneous rockheads jutting out of the sea, totaling 130 altogether. From the rockheads out to the islands, it sometimes takes a day (by sea) or at least a few watches. On top of the rocks there sometimes are freshwater springs. Linking the islands is a vast strip of yellow sand of over 30 ly in length, a flat and vast expanse where the water is clear and can be seen through to the bottom."
On a following page, the fauna and flora of the Paracels are described
in detail, thus allowing one to compare them with laterscientific
descriptions made in the twentieth century: sea-swallows and their
valuable nests (among the thousands of varieties of birds found on the
islands), giant conches called "elephant-ear conches",
mother-of-pearls, giant tortoises and smaller varieties of turtles, sea
urchins, and so forth.
"When they encounter strong winds, large
sea-going ships usually take shelter in these islands,".
"I (Le Qui Don) have had the opportunity to check the records of the former Count of Thuyen Duc and found the following results:
"From the year of Ky Suu (1709) to the year of Quy Ti (1713) i.e. during five consecutive years, the company managed to collect only a few catties of tortoise shell and sea urchins. At one time, all they collected included a few bars of tin a few stone bowls and two bronze cannons".
It is clear from the above that in the eighteenth century at least, the Nguyen Lords of southern Vietnam were very much concerned with the economic possibilities of the Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands and in fact actually organized the annual exploitation of this archipelago. The fact that no counterclaims were made by any other nation is patent proof that the Nguyens' sovereign rights over the islands were not challenged by any country.
Elsewhere in the book, Le Qui Don also records an incident dating from 1753 which throws some light over the question of Chinese-Vietnamese relationships regarding the Paracel Islands. "The shores of the Hoang Sa Islands are not far from Lien-chou Prefecture in Hainan Province, China. (For that reason) our ships sometimes meet with fishing boats from our Northern neighbor (China) on the high sea. Ship-mates from both countries inquire about one another in the midst of the ocean... On one occasion, there was a report coming from the hall officer in charge of sea traffic investigations in Wen-ch'ang District, Ch'iung-chou Prefecture (Hainan Island, China), which says: "In the eighteenth year of Ch'ien-lung (1753), ten soldiers from An Binh Village belonging to the Cat Liem Company, District of Chuong Nghia, Quang Ngai Prefecture, Annam, set out during, the seventh month to go to the Van Ly Truong Sa (7) to collect sea products. Eight of the ten men went ashore for the collection of products, and two remained on the ship to watch it. A typhoon soon developed w which caused the anchor cord to split, and the two who remained in the ship were washed into the port of Ch'ing-lan. After investigation the Chinese officer found the story to be correct and consequently had the two Vietnamese escorted home to their native village. Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu subsequently had the Governor of Thuan Hoa (present-day Thua Thien) Province, the Count of Thuc Luong, write a courtesy note to the hall officer of Wen-ch'ang to acknowledge his help."
This story illustrates a number of points, besides the general civility
of intercourse already evinced at the time between China and Vietnam. It
is apparent from the story that the Chinese officer from Wen-ch'ang was
not bothered by the fact that the Vietnamese were intruding into Chinese
territorial waters when they went to the Van Ly Truong Sa. The only
concern of the officer was to find out whether the statements made by the
two Vietnamese sailors had any basis in fact. In other words, the Chinese
officer was only worried about the possibility of the Vietnamese being
spies sent into Hainan under the pretense of a storm encountered at sea.
When this was disproved, the Chinese immediately had the Vietnamese
released and dealt with them very kindly by having them escorted home. The
whole incident clearly proves that Vietnamese exploitation of the economic
resources on the Paracels in the eighteenth century was a very open
activity, carried out peacefully and acknowledged by the Chinese to be an
exercise of legitimate rights over the islands.
From the above, it can be seen that exploitation of the Paracel Islands was becoming an operation of diminishing return in the early nineteenth century, thus necessitating an excursion of two months only, instead of the six-month excursion needed in the eighteenth century. However Vietnamese interests in the islands were not merely economic, as can be seen in the following testimonies.
Confirmation by other foreign sources.
Various foreign authors confirmed that the Hoang Sa Islands were fully
part of the Vietnamese territory as early as the 18th century. For
instance, testimony in 1701 by a missionary travelling on the Amphitrite
(reportedly the first French ship to enter South-China Sea late in the
17th century) describing frightening dangers experienced by ships in the
vicinity of the Paracels, mentioned specifically that this archipelago
be-longed to the Empire of Annam i.e., a former name for Vietnam (8).
In the same document, Admiral d'Estaing also gave various detailed
descriptions of the defense installations on the shore. He wrote that
"the Hue citadel contained 1,200 cannons, of which 800 were made of
bronze, many bearing the arms of Portugal and the date 1661. There were
also some smaller pieces (bearing the arms of Cambodia and the monogram of
the British Company of India) that had been salvaged from driftwood of
wrecked vessels in the Paracels."
THE EXERCISE OF VIETNAMESE SOVEREIGNTY OVER THE HOANG SA ISLANDS
Historical consolidation of the Vietnamese title to the Hoang Sa
Islands continued under the Nguyen dynasty' i.e., after 1802. From that
date, it is possible to speak of a Paracel policy , by the successive
emperors of Vietnam as manifested through systematic measures taken in the
fields of administration, defense,. transports and economic exploitation.
Formal taking of possession by Emperor Gia Long.
The first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Gia Long, consecrated the will of the Vietnamese to confirm their sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Islands by formally taking possession of the archipelago. According to various historic sources, in the year 1816 the Vietnamese flag was planted in a formal ceremony on the Paracels. In 1837 the Reverend, Jean-Louis Taberd, then Bishop of Isauropolis, wrote the following in his "Note on the Geography of Cochinchina printed in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, India, (12):
"The Pracel or Paracels is a labyrinth of small islands, rocks and sand-banks, which appears to extend up to the 11st degree of north latitude, in the 107th parallel of longitude from Paris. Some navigators have traversed part of these shoals with a boldness more fortunate than prudent, but others have suffered in the attempt. The Cochin Chinese called them Con-Vang. Although this kind of archipelago presents nothing but rocks and great depths which promise more inconveniences than advantages, the king GIA LONG thought he had increased his dominions by this sorry addition. In 1816, he went with solemnity to plant his flag and take formal possession of these rocks, which it is not likely any body will dispute with him."
The Reverend Jean Louis Taberd was not the only one to give testimony in support of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracels. Another foreigner, a Frenchman who spent many years in the Far East and who was a contemporary eyewitness, wrote (13):
"Cochinchina, of which the sovereign king today carries the title of Emperor, includes Cochinchina proper, Tonkin: a few scarcely inhabited islands not far from the coastline and the Paracel archipelago made up of islets, coral reefs and uninhabited rocks. It was in 1816 that the present Emperor (Gia Long) took possession of this archipelago."
Consolidation of sovereignty under subsequent emperors.
Numerous documents in Vietnamese archives give the most convincing
facts about the display of the Nguyen dynasty's authority over the Hoang
Sa Islands. One of the striking facts was the order given in 1833 by
Emperor Minh Mang to his minister of Public Work to plant trees on some of
these islands because "trees will grow up and will offer a
luxuriant vegetation that would allow navigators to reconnoiter these
vicinities so to avoid having their ships being wrecked in these not very
deep waters. This will be for the profit of ten thousand generations to
come" (14). Considering the fact that most ships that sank in the
area were foreign-owned, there is no doubt that the Vietnamese executed
this act to meet their international responsibilities. Thus, by offering
certain guarantees to other states and their nationals, by being an
identifiable addressee of international claims regarding the Hoang Sa
Islands, Vietnam further asserted her title to the property of these
Preservation of rights under French colonial rule.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Southern part of Vietnam,
named Cochinchina, became a French possession (1867). This was followed by
the establishment of a French protectorate over the remaining Vietnamese
territory (1883). Therefore the French temporarily took over the
responsibility to defend the territorial integrity of the "Annam
Empire". On behalf of Vietnam, the French continued the normal
exercise of sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Islands (Paracels).
The international responsibility that the Nguyen emperors had already
accepted in regard to navigation of foreign vessels was not neglected by
the French, who completed in 1899 a feasibility study for the construction
of a lighthouse on one of the Hoang Sa Islands. Unfortunately, this
project, which was supported by Indochina Governor General Paul Doumer,
could not be realized for lack of funds. However, French patrol vessels
assured the security of sea traffic and conducted many rescue operations
for wrecked foreign ships in the Paracel. Beginning in 1920, apparently
worried by the suspect presence of various kinds of vessels in the Hoang
Sa area, the Indochinese customs authorities started making regular
inspections to the islands for the purpose of checking illegal traffic. As
early as the end of World War I, the French control was so evident that
Japanese nationals called on French Indochina's authorities for the
exploitation of phosphate. This was the case of the Mitsui Bussan Kaisha
Company, which extracted phosphates for many years from two islands, Ile
Boisee (Phu Lam) and Ile Roberts (Cam Tuyen). The Japanese Government, on
its part, implicitly recognized French jurisdiction in 1927. In a report
to the Minister of Colonies in Paris dated March 20, 1930, the French
Governor of Indochina wrote that in 1927, the Japanese consul in Hanoi,
Mr. Kurosawa, was instructed by his government to inquire with the French
authorities about the status of some groups of islands in the South China
Sea. But the Consul declared that, according to instructions from the
Japanese Government, the Paracels were expressly left outside of the
discussions, the question of ownership of these islands not being a matter
of dispute with France (Japan was then involved in controversies over the
Truong Sa or Spratly Islands).
The De Lanessan survey mission also proved the existence of a continental shelf which reaches out in platforms from the Vietnamese coast into the sea: the Paracels rest on one of these platforms, and thus are joined to the coast of Vietnam by a submarine plinth. In the following years, the names of many French ships have entered the history of both the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes: the Alerte, Astrobale, Ingenieur-en-Chef Girod made other survey trips to the Hoang Sa Islands. The result was an increasing number of other scientific publications about these islands in all fields of human concern and activities. Some of these are:
French scientists continued to work for Vietnam-in its early years of independence and continued to contribute to our knowledge of these Vietnamese islands. Among them was Mr. E. Saurin, the author of numerous studies of great scientific value:
Another French scientist, H. Fontaine, produced, 'm cooperation with a Vietnamese colleague a remarkable study of the islands' flora called "Contribution de la connaissance de la flore des iles Paracels" (Faculty of Sciences, Saigon 1957). These scientific achievements, accomplished over a long period of time, could only have been achieved by a country exercising sovereignty over these islands to the fullest extent. As a matter of fact, Vietnam would not run any risk by challenging othern countries having a pretense to sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Islands to show the list of scientific publications they had made available in the past.
In their acts mentioned above, the French, who merely took over rights
and responsibilities temporarily transferred to them by the people under
their "protection", simply assured a normal continuation of
jurisdiction on behalf of the Vietnamese. However, in the face of
unfounded Chinese claims over and illegal actions connected with, the
Hoang Sa Islands in 1932, the French felt that it was necessary to take
defensive measures. Since 1909, China has made sporadic claims over the
islands. On one occasion during that year, the provincial authorities of
Kuang Tung sent gun-boats to conduct a reconnaissance mission there. On
March 20, 1921 the Governor of Kuang Tung, signed a peculiar decree
annexing the Hoang Sa Islands to the Chinese Island of Hainan. However,
his action went unnoticed because it is recorded only in the provincial
records therefore, nobody could know about it in order to make comments or
to protest. Although not followed by occupation of any sort, actions such
as these were enough to cause some preemptive actions by the French. For
instance. in 1930 crew-members of La Malicieuse landed on many of the
Hoang Sa Islands to plant flags and set up "sovereignty
These dates marked the taking of possession -by Emperor Gia Long and the year the column was erected (29).
These troops, commanded by French officers, were to stay on the islands until 1956 with a brief interruption after 1941. Men the Japanese seized the Paracels (and the Spratlys) by force in -that year, France was the only power to officially protest against it. ' In 1946, shortly after their return to Indochina at the end of World War II, the French sent troops on. the vessel Savorgnan de Brazza to re-occupy the archipelago. However, events in the French-Vietminh war compelled these troops to withdraw from the Paracels in September, 1946. Informed that Chinese troops (who had supposedly arrived to disarm defeated Japanese troops pursuant to agreements between the Allied powers) continued to stay on the islands, the French issued a formal protest on January 13, 1947. Then they dispatched the warship Le Tonkinois to the area. Crewmembers found Boisee Island (Phu Lam) still occupied (January 17, 1947). The Chinese troops refused to leave and, being outnumbered, the French-Vietnamese soldiers left for Pattle Island where they established their headquarters. They also rebuilt the Weather Station which had operated for 6 years in the past, between 1938 and 1944. The new station became operative in late 1947 and, under international station code 48860, provided the world with meteorological data for 26 more years, until the day when Communist Chinese troops seized the Hoang Sa archipelago by force (January 20, 1974).
Beginning in the 1930's, these disputes, with China had already
motivated the French authorities in Indochina to take stronger measures in
administrative organization. By Decree No. 156-SC dated June 15, 1932 the
Governor General of Indochina gave the Hoang Sa Islands the name of
"Delegation des Paracels" - and the status of an administrative
unit of Thua Thien Province. This decree was later confirmed by a
Vietnamese imperial ordinance signed by Emperor Bao Dai on March 30, 1938
(the confirmation was necessary because, as the ordinance recalled, the
Hoang Sa Islands had traditionally been part of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai
provinces, from whence communications with the islands had originated). A
subsequent Decree of May 5, 1939 by the French Governor General divided
the archipelago into two Delegations: Crescent et Dependences, and
Amphitrite et Dependences.
Return to Vietnamese sovereignty.
After the French-Vietnamese Agreement of March 8, 1949, Vietnam gradually regained its independence. Although some French troops were intermittently stationed on some of the Hoang Sa Islands until 1956, it was on October 14, 1950 that the French formally turned over the defense of the archipelago to the Vietnamese. General Phan Van Gao, then Governor of Central Vietnam, went in person to Pattle Island to preside over the ceremony. The general made the trip to the remote and isolated island because, as he reported to Prime Minister Tran Van Huu in Saigon:
"I was persuaded that my presence among the Viet Binh Doan (Regional Guard Unit) would have a comforting impact on its morale on the day the unit took over heavy responsibilities" (31).
No doubt Premier Tran Van Huu was pleased by the Govemor's initiative, since in the following year (1951) he was to attend the San Francisco Peace Conference with Japan where he solemnly and unequivocally reaffirmed the rights of his country over both the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes. After its defeat in 1945, Japan had relinquished all its claims to these islands that their forces had occupied. This matter will be discussed further in another chapter.
Reassuming all responsibilities for the Hoang Sa archipelago, the
Vietnamese felt that it was more practical to re-incorporate it as part of
Quang Nam Province (as things were before the French decree of 1932)
because links between these insular territories and the mainland had
always originated from the Quang Nam provincial capital of Da Nang. A
proposal to that end was made in 1951 by regional authorities in Hue (32),
but it was a full ten years later that the President of the Republic, Ngo
Dinh Diem, signed a Decree (33) transferring the Hoang Sa Islands from the
jurisdiction of Thua Thien Province back to Quang Nam. The entire
archipelago was given the status of a "Xa" (village on the
mainland). Administrative organization was again perfected 8 years later:
by a Prime Minister's Decree (34) the islands became part of a village on
the mainland of Quang Nam, the village of Hoa Long, Hoa Vang District.
In 1956 the Ministry of Economy granted the first license to exploit
phosphate on the 3 islands of Vinh Lac (Money Island), Cam Tuyen (Roberts)
and Hoang Sa (Pattle) to a Saigon businessman named Le Van Cang. In 1959,
a license was issued to the "Vietnam Fertilizers Company" which
contracted actual extraction and transportation to a Singapore company Yew
Huatt (4, New Bridge Road, Singapore 1). Among other clauses, the
Vietnamese Company committed itself to obtain from the Government of the
Republic of Vietnam the granting of fiscal exemptions and the privilege to
use radio facilities 4 the Pattle Weather Station. After 1960, commercial
exploitation of Pattle was granted to the Vietnam Phosphate Company, which
stopped all operations in 1963 because of insufficient returns. Interests
in phosphate exploitation surfaced again in 1973 when the Republic of
Vietnam faced serious problems of fertilizer shortage.
The broad range of actions by the Vietnamese authorities regarding the Hoang Sa Islands provides an undeniable evidence of Vietnamese sovereignty. These actions include, among others, the approval of international contracts connected with the islands' economy ; police operations against aliens; extraction of natural resources ; the providing of guarantees to other states; and so forth. Vietnamese sovereignty was first built between the 15th and 18th centuries, consecrated by the Nguyen emperors, then temporarily assumed by the French, and finally continued in a normal manner by independent Vietnam. The exercise of Vietnamese jurisdiction was effectively displayed under a large variety of forms. It was open, peaceful, and not, like the Communist Chinese claim, asserted jure belli. Any interruption of Vietnamese sovereignty was due only to foreign powers' illegal military actions against which Vietnam, or France on behalf of Vietnam, had always protested in a timely fashion. Convinced of their legitimate rights over the Hoang Sa Islands, the Vietnamese will never indulge in compromises in the defense of their territorial integrity (see Chapter IV).
The Vietnamese islands of Truong Sa, known internationally as the
Spratly archipelago, are situated off the Republic of Vietnam's coast
between approximately 80 and 11040 North latitude. In. the course of
history, the Vietnamese people have had intermittent contact with these
islands known for their dangerous grounds and access. Unlike the case of
the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands, the former emperors of Vietnam did not
have the time to strengthen these contacts through the organization of an
administrative jurisdiction. However, the French, who occupied the
Southern part of Vietnam known as Cochinchina, took all those measures
necessary for the establishment of the legal basis for possession of the
Spratly Islands. In 1933, the Spratlys were incorporated into the French
colony of Cochinchina and from that year forward have had an adequate
Geographic and historic background.
The Truong Sa archipelago is spread over hundreds of miles in the South China Sea. However, it only contains 9 islands of relatively significant:
Because of the size of the area, the archipelago is divided into many groups. Using the main island of Spratly (which gave its name to the whole archipelago) as a point of reference, the distances to the shores of surrounding countries are as follows:
Like the Hoang Sa Islands, the Truong Sa archipelago is composed of
little coral islands which are often surrounded by smaller reefs. Because
of their proximity to the coast of Vietnam, these islands have always been
frequented by fishermen from the southern part of Vietnam. These fishermen
made regular expeditions to the islands and sometimes stayed there for
prolonged periods of time. Vietnamese history books often made reference
to the ,Dai Truong Sa Dao-, a term used to designate both the Paracel and
Spratly archipelagoes and, more generally, all insular possessions of the
Vietnamese (50). The map published circa 1838 by Phan Huy Chu and called
"Dai Nam Nhat Thong Toan Do" (fig. 8, page 32) expressly
mentioned the Spratlys, under the name Van Ly Truong Sa, as part of
Vietnamese territory, although the archipelago was not located at its
proper place because of the use of ancient geographic techniques.
Legal basis of Vietnamese possession.
In 1933, the French Government decided to take official possession of the islands. Three ships, the Alerte, the Astrobale and the De Lanessan took part in the expedition. The following are relevant quotations from an account given by H. Cucherousset in L'Eveil economique de l'Indochine (No. 790 of May 28, 1933):
"The three vessels first of all visited
Spratley and confirmed French possession by means of a document drawn up
by the Captains, and placed in a bottle which was subsequently embedded in
Further north still, at the level of Nhatrang, is the atoll named
"North Danger", the Alerte took possession of two sandy islands
(cayes) where it found some Japanese fishing. The De Lanessan went there
too and explored the little island. The latter is perceptibly higher than
the others, the highest point reaching 5 metres. The phosphate beds are
considerable and were much exploited by the Japanese.
The French government has caused the under mentioned isles and islets to be occupied by French naval units:
The above-mentioned isles and islets henceforward come under French
sovereignty (this notice cancels the previous notice inserted in the
Official Journal dated July 25, 1933, page 7784).
Notification of the occupation was made by France to interested
countries between July 24 and September 25, 1933. With the exception of
Japan, no State which could have had an interest in the matter raised any
protest against this act. Three powers in the area remained silent and
unconcerned: the United States (then occupying the Philippines), China,
and the Netherlands (then occupying Indonesia). In Britain, Foreign
Under-secretary Butter declared 6 years later that France exercised full
sovereignty over the Spratly archipelago and that all matters relevant to
these islands were primarily a French concern (37).
It should also be noted that the French occupation of the Spratly Islands in 1933 did not arouse any protest from the United States government, which was then acting on behalf of the Philippines. Five years earlier, the United States did engage in a dispute with the Netherlands over the island of Palmas off the Philippine coast (38). Since the United States did not act where a Philippine claim could have been made, this indicates that there was no ground for a challenge of French rights on behalf of the Philippines. It was only 35 years after the French took possession of the Spratly Islands that Philippine troops, taking advantage of the war situation in the Republic of Vietnam, surreptitiously occupied some islands in the Vietnamese archipelago:
All of these three islands are in the list of islands published in the French Official Journal of July 26, 1933 which recorded the possession of the Spratlys by French naval units. The present position of the Philippine government that these islands are not part of the Spratly archipelago but only res nuilius when Philippine troops occupied them is, therefore, obviously erroneous. All three islands (which were artificially given Malayo-Spanish sounding names) are an integral part of the Vietnamese Truong Sa archipelago. Moreover, it remains to be determined in a common and friendly spirit whether or not some other, smaller, islands occupied by Philippine soldiers are dependent islets of these Vietnamese main islands. In this regard, it should be recalled here that when the French took possession of the Spratlys, they only listed the major islands in the official act and indicated that these islands were incorporated - with their dependent islets.
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