Firm evidence proves Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty over archipelagoes
06-11-2014, 07:14 am
Chinaâ€™s recent unilateral acts in the East Sea, particularly its illegal placement of the Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig in Vietnamâ€™s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, seriously violated Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty and international law, threatening peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea.
To vindicate its wrong actions, China claims to have evidence proving its sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, which belong to Vietnam.
In this article, the Vietnam News Agency provides readers with historical and legal evidence of Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty over the two archipelagoes as well as the true nature of Chinaâ€™s so-called â€˜proofâ€™.
Legal historical evidence of Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes
Due to many reasons, such as historical circumstances, wars and poor preservation conditions, many historical documents relating to Vietnamâ€™s Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes have been damaged or lost. However, even with this setback there is a wealth of existing historical and geographical documentation held by Vietnam which proves that the country discovered the two archipelagoes a long time ago. It occupied and exercised sovereignty over them for at least five centuries, through many dynasties.
The â€œTuyen tap Thien Nam Tu Chi Lo Do Thuâ€ (A Route Map from the Capital in the Four Directions) drawn by Do Ba in the 17 th century gave a very accurate description of the two archipelagoes and confirmed that the Nguyen Lords established the Hoang Sa Flotilla to exploit Hoang Sa islands in the 17 th century.
â€œDuring the last month of every winter, the Nguyen Lords send a flotilla of 18 boats to Bai Cat Vang (Hoang Sa) to collect goods, and they brought back a large amount of gold, silver, coins, guns and ammunition. It took one day and a half to sail from Dai Chiem river mouth to the islands, but only half a day from Sa Ky,â€ the book reads.
The book also cites some writings from the third part of the â€œHong Duc Ban Doâ€ (Hong Duc Maps) collection dating from the 15 th century, which read, â€œIn Kim Ho Village, there are two mountains on the two banks of the river, each mountain has a gold mine run by the State. Offshore, an archipelago with long sandbanks rise above the sea, called â€œBai Cat Vangâ€ (Golden Sandbank), which is about 400 â€œliâ€ (a unit of measurement used in ancient Vietnam equivalent to about half a kilometre) in length and 20 â€œliâ€ in width, facing the coastline between Dai Chiem river mouth and that of Sa Vinh. During the South-West monsoon season, foreign commercial ships sailing along the coast of the sandbanks are often wrecked and run aground there; many boats suffer the same fate during the North-East monsoon season. All those who land on the islands after their ships sank starve to death and the cargo piles up.â€
The document indicated that Vietnam discovered or knew about the islands at least as early as the 15 th century.
Hoang Sa and Truong Sa were also recorded in detail in some ancient bibliographies, especially the official documents of the Nguyen Dynasty. â€œPhu bien tap lucâ€ (Miscellaneous Records of Pacification in the Border Area), written by Le Quy Don in 1776, mentions Vietnamâ€™s exercise of sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes in the 18th century.
â€œIn Quang Ngai prefecture, offshore An Vinh commune, Binh Son district, there is a mountainous island called Re, which is 30-â€œdamâ€ wide (dam-an old measurement unit in Vietnam, equivalent to half a kilometre). It takes four â€œcanhâ€ (Vietnamâ€™s old measurement unit equivalent to two hours) to reach the island, on which there is a ward named Tu Chinh where residents live on bean-growing. Further offshore are Dai Truong Sa Island, where there used to be plenty of sea products and goods from wrecked ships; the Hoang Sa flotilla was created to gather these things. It takes three days and three nights to reach there. Foreign trade boats usually anchor at the island to take shelter from storm.
â€œIn the past, the Nguyen lords set up the Hoang Sa Flotilla with 70 crew members who were selected among An Vinh villagers. They took turn to sail to sea every March on five small boats, bringing along food quota for six months. They used to reach the islands after a voyage of three days and three nights. In addition, there was a Bac Hai detachment whose members were recruited from Thu Chinh commune in Binh Thuan province or from Canh Duong village. It was sent to Bac Hai areas, the island of Con Lon, and other islands in Ha Tien to gather items from wrecked ships and sea products. The Bac Hai detachment was under the command of the Hoang Sa flotilla,â€ it wrote.
This document shows that the Hoang Sa and Bac Hai detachments exploited the two archipelagoes from the 17 th to the late 18 th century. Their activities were conducted systematically. The detachments performed their tasks in the islands for eight months each year. Sailors were recruited and paid by the royal court, and performed the tasks at the order of the royal court.
Today, which is hundreds of years later, in the second and third lunar months every year, people in Ly Son Island, central Quang Ngai province, still maintain rituals in commemoration of Hoang Sa soldiers. The annual â€œLe khao le the linh Hoang Saâ€ (Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Soldiers) pays tribute to the men enlisted in the flotilla to perform missions at the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos. They tapped the areaâ€™s natural resources and defended national island sovereignty.
Activities organised by the Nguyen Lord to exploit Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes and other islands were also recorded in many other books and documents. Some of them are:
Â· â€œKham dinh Dai Nam hoi dien su leâ€ (Dai Nam Administrative Repertory) and â€œLich trieu hien chuong loai chiâ€ (Classified Rules of Dynasties) compiled by Phan Huy Chu
Â· â€œViet su cuong giam khao luocâ€ (A Brief History of Vietnam) by Nguyen Thong
Â· â€œHoang Viet dia du chiâ€ (Geography of Imperial Vietnam) and â€œDai Nam nhat thong chiâ€ (History of the Unified Dai Nam) by the National Historiographerâ€™s Office of the Nguyen Dynasty
Â· Official documents of the Nguyen Dynasty under the reigns of King Minh Menh (1820-1840) and King Thieu Tri (1841-1847)
Many historical documents also record Vietnamâ€™s official ownership and exercise of sovereignty over the two archipelagoes in the 19th century. â€œDai Nam thuc luc chinh bienâ€ (The Main Part of The Chronicles of Dai Nam) writes that in the Year of the Mouse during the 15 th year of the Gia Long reign (1816), the king commanded the navy and the Hoang Sa flotilla to sail to Hoang Sa archipelago for a sea route survey.
In 1833, King Minh Menh ordered the planting of stone steles, trees and poles as well as the building of a temple on Hoang Sa archipelago. Volume No. 104 of the â€œDai Nam thuc luc chinh bienâ€ states, â€œIn the eighth month, during the autumn of the Year of the Snake, the 14 th year of the Minh Menh reign (1833), the king issued an edict to the Ministry of Public Works which read,â€ In the waters of Quang Ngai, there is the Hoang Sa strip. From a distance, the sky and the sea there have the same colour, which makes it difficult to estimate the depth of the sea. Recently, many trading boats had gone aground there. Now you should prepare junks, and next year send people to the area to build a temple, erect steles and plant trees on this land. When the trees grow up, it is easy for people to see them from afar, thus avoiding running aground. This will benefit many generationsâ€.
Volume No. 122 of the collection wrote, â€œIn the Year of the Horse, the 15 th year of the Minh Menh reign, the king ordered Captain Truong Phuc Si and more than 20 sailors to sail to Hoang Sa to draw a map of the archipelagoâ€¦â€.
Volume No. 154 recorded that in 1835, the building of the temple and the planting of stone steles had been completed.
Volume No. 165 wrote, â€œThe King approved a proposal by the Ministry of Public Works and ordered a Suat Doi (Commander) of the Navy, Pham Huu Nhat, to command a fleet and bring ten wooden steles to be used as markers in the area. Each wooden stele is five â€œthuocâ€ long, five â€œtacâ€ wide and one â€œtacâ€ thick (one thuoc equivalent to 40cm and one tac, 4cm), and is engraved with the words: â€œIn the 17 th year of the Minh Menh reign, the Year of the Monkey, Commander Pham Huu Nhat of the Navy, complying with the order to go to Hoang Sa for management and survey purposes, arrived here and therefore placed this sign.â€
Under the Nguyen Dynasty (the 19 th century), the measurement of sea routes and drawing of maps of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes were conducted annually by the Ministry of Public Works. In particular, in 1834, the Nguyen court, under the reign of King Minh Menh, completed and officially announced a national map called â€œDai Nam nhat thong toan doâ€ (The Complete Map of the Unified Dai Nam). The map featured Vietnamâ€™s coastline and islands in detail, noting the countryâ€™s sovereignty over the archipelagoes in the East Sea.
Before the Minh Menh reign, Hoang Sa and Truong Sa was considered as a single archipelago called Hoang Sa or sometimes Van Ly Truong Sa. However, after King Minh Menh sent working teams to survey and measure the islands, the later map (which is the â€œDai Nam nhat thong toan doâ€) recorded two different names for the two archipelagoes.
In addition to ancient books and official documents, many old maps also indicated that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belong to Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty. According to â€œDai Viet su ky toan thuâ€ (The Complete History of Dai Viet), as early as in 1467, King Le Thanh Tong ordered topography surveys of localities to draw a national map. The Hong Duc Maps collection, which was completed in 1469 and then supplemented many times, comprises a national map and maps of localities featuring the countryâ€™s seas and islands.
Internationally recognised historical and legal proof of Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty
From the 16 th century, there were many publication and maps drawn by Western navigators which depicted the archipelago in the middle of the East Sea called â€œPracelâ€, â€œParacelâ€ or â€œParacelsâ€ as belonging to Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty.
The â€œWorld Mapâ€ of Mercator, published in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1606 named the archipelago in the middle of the East Sea Baixos de Chapar (the Shoal of Champa) or Pulo Capaa (the Islands of Champa).
Maps drawn by Bartholomeu Lasso in 1590 and between 1592-1594 which were published in the â€œLes Portugains sur les cotes du Vietnam et du Campaâ€ collection of P.Y.Manguim in Paris in 1972, and a famous map drawn by Van Langren in 1598, which is included in the â€œIconographie Historique de lâ€™Indochineâ€ by P. Boudet and A. Masson, published in Paris in 1931, all show a stretch of coastline corresponding to the area from the Dai Chien river mouth in Quang Nam province to Sa Ky river moutn in Quang Ngai province, under the name of â€œCosta da Pracelâ€ (the Coast of Paracel).
A map drawn by Jodocus Hondius in 1613 shows the â€˜Pracelâ€™ (Hoang Sa) archipelago as encompassing all islands of Vietnam from the south of the Tonkin Gulf to the end of the countryâ€™s southern waters, except for Pulo Condor (Con Dao) and Pulo Cici (Phu Quoc) which were drawn separately.
In particular, â€œAn Nam Dai quoc hoa doâ€ (The Map of the Great Country of An Nam) made by Bishop Jean Louis Taberd and published in 1838 is said to reflect in-depth and precise knowledge of Western people about the relationship between Hoang Sa archipelago and Dai Viet, which the author called An Nam Dai Quoc (The Great Country of An Nam) from the 15 th to early 19 th centuries. The map affirmed that Cat Vang (Hoang Sa) is the Paracels and is located within the waters of Vietnam.
â€œThe Times Atlas of the Worldâ€, or the Atlas in short, includes a map clearly named as â€œthe map of the Dang Trong areaâ€ (the central part of Vietnam). The territory of the Empire of An Nam (the former name of Vietnam) is featured in four maps. A summary introduction about the Empire of An Nam is attached besides the Hoang Sa archipelago in the map, affirming that the archipelago is part of the Dang Trong area, which belongs to the present-day Vietnam.
Maps in the atlas demonstrate that Chinaâ€™s southernmost boundary does not reach the 18 th parallel. All maps published by China up to the first decade of the 20 th century are also consistent with Western maps, and none of them depict Chinaâ€™s southernmost territory beyond the 18 th parallel. It stops at Hainan Islands.
Thus, Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes is acquired by two means: the historical right deriving from the long-lasting use and occupation of an ownerless territory under the time of the Nguyen Lords from the 17 th to the 18 th century and the sovereignty formed from the official occupation and uninterrupted exercise of sovereign under the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19 th century.
Following the Nguyen Dynastyâ€™s exercise of sovereignty, during the period of French colonisation in Vietnam (from the late 19 th century to the first half of the 20 th century), in the 1945-1975 period, and since national reunification in 1975, Vietnam has always maintained its exercise of sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa as well as its real management and exploitation of the archipelagoes.
The truth about the sovereignty claims of China:
Facing historical and legal evidence provided by Vietnam to prove her sovereignty over both Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, several Chinese scholars and officials have quoted ancient documents in an attempt to prove their countryâ€™s discovery of the archipelagoes and the exercise of sovereignty there. They cited books such as â€œ Hou Han Shu â€(Book of Later Han) and â€œ Yi Wu Zhi â€ (Records of strange things) from the Han era and â€œ Zhu Fan Zhi â€ (Notes on foreign countries) (the 13th century), â€œ Hai Lu â€ (Oceanic records) by Yang Ping-nan (1820-1842), Nanzhou Yi wu zhi (Exotic things of the Southern region), Daoyi Zhilue (Overview of barbarous island countries), Guangdong Tongzhi (General Records of Guangdong province)â€¦ to prove that China discovered and exercised its sovereignty in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes from an early date.
But in fact, the excerpts extracted from Chinaâ€™s historical documents dating back before the 13 th century and cited by Chinese scholars do not mention the name of any particular island, but only the Nanhai. In addition, in those quoted pieces, the two archipelagoes were described only as physical landmarks observed by navigators during their voyages crossing the East Sea. Only from the 13th century, the quoted pieces mentioned the name of some islands, but there were no such names as â€˜Xi Shaâ€™ and â€˜Nan Shaâ€™ (the names China gives to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in Vietnam).
Some later historical sources described inspection, expeditionary and exploration trips China conducted in the region, including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. In particular, China argued that under the Ming dynasty in the 15 th century, explorer Zhenghe made seven journeys crossing the East Sea and after that he put the name of the two archipelagoes on the map. However, those trips were not intended to claim land. They in fact were meant to explore the sea to get a deeper understanding of its being, seek trade partners and show off force to regional countries. China cannot name any historical book that testifies to its sovereignty over the two archipelagoes. Even in its historical documents in the 19 th century, when Vietnamâ€™s Nguyen Kings declared their ownership and exercise of sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, the two archipelagoes were only described as things seen accidently by Chinese ships on their journey passing the East Sea.
It was noticeable that Chinaâ€™s ancient documents, such as Qiongzhou fu zhi (Geography of Qiongzhou), Guangdong sheng zhi (1731-Geography of Guangdong), Hoang Chao Yitong Yudi Zongtu (Chinese map of the unified empire) in 1894.., all described and stated clearly that Chinaâ€™s southernmost point was Hainan. In the Zhongguo Sihixue Jiao Keshu (Chinese Textbook of Geography), published in 1906, page 241 reads â€œthe southernmost point of China is the Jie Zhou coast, Qiongzhou island, at 18 degrees 13 minutes north latitudeâ€.
More than that, there are documents that implicitly acknowledge the link between these archipelagoes and Vietnam, or even recognise these archipelagoes as the defence line of Vietnam. For example, Yang Ping Nanâ€™s book â€œHai Luâ€ (1820-1842) wrote â€œthe external route is connected with the inner route by Van Ly Truong Sa which lies in the middle of the sea. The archipelago stretches tens of thousands of â€œdamâ€ in length. It serves as a shield to defend the outer part of Annam.â€
China has many times cited the France-Qing agreement signed in 1887 to confirm that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa belonged to them. However, the agreement did not regulate the demarcation of islands off the coast of Vietnam and China but mandated the boundary between Vietnamâ€™s northern region and China.
Recently, China has quoted a number of speeches and documents of Vietnam, in particular Prime Minister Pham Van Dongâ€™s diplomatic letter dated September 14, 1958 addressed to the then Premier of China Zhou En Lai and argued that Vietnam had acknowledged Chinaâ€™s sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago.
In fact, the late Prime Minister Pham Van Dongâ€™s diplomatic letter did not mention territorial and sovereignty issues relating to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. It only acknowledged and approved Chinaâ€™s expansion of its territorial sea to 12 nautical miles and at the same time instructed Vietnamese agencies to respect the 12-nautical mile limit declared by China. In addition, China knows only too well that the issue of defining borders and territory between the two nations could not be handled via a diplomatic letter, it must go through official negotiations by the two States and an agreement reached on the issue needs to be signed by representatives of the two States.
How did China occupy Hoang Sa and part of Hoang Sa?
Historical and legal evidence has proved Vietnamâ€™s undeniable sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. However, in 1956, China used force to occupy a cluster of islands called An Vinh of Hoang Sa archipelago. In 1974, it swallowed the entire archipelago. And they did not stop there; in 1988, China used force to take hold of several reefs in Vietnamâ€™s Truong Sa archipelago. These are invasive acts that seriously violated the sea and island sovereignty of the State of Vietnam and infringed the United Nations Charter and international law. They were not recognised by the international community.
Vietnam has gone through a lot of wars during which many Vietnamese laid down their lives for national independence, freedom and territorial integrity. In the face of the invading activities of China, her next-door neighbor, Vietnam has been pursuing peaceful measures to request China respect Vietnamâ€™s sovereignty and territorial integrity in compliance with the spirit of the United Nations Charter as well as the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to which China is a signatory.
Vietnam resolutely and persistently defends the sacred sea and island sovereignty over her Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes and strongly believes that justice will be enforced.