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By Luu Van Loi

Being aware that its historical and juridical titles are not easily defendable before an impartial judge. Peking does its best to exploit the negative points of Hanoi and to abuse the good disposition of the readers in order to have its argumentation approved of.


The document of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs quotes two excerpts from the Vietnamese white book of 1979:

"On the high sea, there is an oblong sand shoal called Băi Cát Vàng (yellow sand shoal). From the Đại Chiêm port, this sand shoal can be reached by crossing the sea in a day and a half, and if onedeparts from the Sa Kỳ port, the journey will take only half a day" (excerpt from the book Thiên nam tứ chi lộ đồ thư (Collection of Road Maps of the Southern Country) - the intentional omission of the detail: a sand shoal 400 dặm long and 20 dặm wide - Author).

"The An Vĩnh village, B́nh Sơn district, Quảng Nghĩa prefecture, is in proximity of the sea. To the northeast of this village, there are islands forming over 130 scattered summits. The hills are separated from each other by one day or a few geng. On some hills, source water is found. Among these islands, there is the Hoàng Sa Chử, over 30 li long: it is a flat and vast island provided with limpid water" (Bad translation, it should be replaced by the following: The An Vĩnh commune, B́nh Sơn district, Quảng Nghĩa prefecture, lies in proximity of the sea, off-shore and to the Northeast there are numerous islands forming over 130 summits, separated by the sea from one another by one day or a few geng of sailing in junks. On the islands, there is drinking water, in the archipelago, there is a yellow sand shoal 30 dặm long, flat and vast, where the water is clear to the bottom. Note by the author(39).

And the said document concludes that "the Hoàng Sa archipelago mentioned by Vietnam do not absolutely constitute the Xisha of China, it can only be the islands and the sand shoals near the Central coast of Vietnam", for the following three reasons:

1. The Hoàng Sa are half a day from Sa Kỳ and a day and a half from Đại Chiêm are at 200 li from the Central coast of Vietnam, a distance that could not be covered in one day, considering the technique of that time.

2. In the Xisha archipelago, there is no island 2 km long, but the Vietnamese documents speak about a 30 li long shoal.

3. The Xisha archipelago is composed of 35 islands reefs and shoals in all; there are not the so-called 130 summits (39).

Regarding the Truờng Sa archipelago of Vietnam, the document gives no clear argumentation, it only vaguely affirms that many ancient books of China and Vietnam mention the Great Truờng Sa. But in view of its position, it is clear that it is not the Nansha archipelago of China but the coastal islands and shoals of Vietnam(39).

It is important, first of all, to reach agreement on one thing: the Paracels are the Hoàng Sa of Vietnam and the Xisha of China, and the Spratly are the Truờng Sa of Vietnam and the Nansha of China. What is, at least, unexpected is that since 1956 to this day, Vietnam and China have several times stuck to the Paracels. China actually occupied the eastern part of the Paracels in 1956, failed in the attempt to land on the western part of this archipelago in 1959, but succeeded in occupying it at last in 1974. This area is precisely the Hoàng Sa of Vietnam. Since 1988 China has advanced in the region of the Spratly, where it still occupies a number of shoals. This area is precisely the Trường Sa archipelago of Vietnam. Why is it now that China realizes the existence of other Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa? When the Government of the RVN reproached it for having occupied the Hoàng Sa, would it then become the coastal islands and shoals of Central Vietnam? Concerning the three reasons invoked by China, they are not convincing to anyone:

1. For the distance between the Hoàng Sa and the Vietnamese coast, Peking quoted an excerpt saying a day and a half s voyage. But why did it not quote the passage just following the page of the same White Book published by Vietnam in 1979?

"Quảng Nghĩa prefecture: at sea from the port of An Vinh commune, B́nh Sơn district, there is the Ré island over 30 dặm large where Tư Chính village was formerly found. Practising the cultivation of beans, this island can be reached in 4 geng; beyond the Re island, there is the Great Trường Sa three days and three nights away from the coast, in proximity of the Sea of the North, where the Hoang Sa company was previously dispatched to catch sea products and to gather the merchandise coming from wrecked ships".

It is clear that:

- The Re island (what the Chinese called Wailasan) is 4 geng sailing from the coast.
- From the Re island, it takes three days and three nights to reach the Great Trường Sa (i.e. the Hoàng Sa). The Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí (Settlements of matters by the successive dynasties) by Phan Huy Chú, the Việt sử cương giám khảo lược (Brief history of Vietnam) by Nguyễn Thông all speak that it takes 3-4 days and nights to reach Hoàng Sa.

2. The Thiên nam tứ chí lộ đồ thư (Collection of road maps of the South Country) writes: "In the middle of the sea there is a long sand shoal called Băi Cát Vàng (yellow sand shoal) about 400 dặm long and 20 dặm wide which spreads out on the high sea" (the calligrapher mistakenly put a day and a half). The Đai Nam thực lục tiên biên (1844) (True writings on the Đại Nam), in the part about the Nguyễn seigneurs, writes: "At sea, beyond the An Vĩnh commune, B́nh Sơn district, Quảng Nghĩa province, there are over 130 sand shoals and reefs separated from one another by one day or several geng of navigation. No body knows how many dam the length is (but commonly called Vạn Lư Hoàng Sa). The Đại Nam nhất thống chí (Geography of the Unified Đại Nam) claims:

"To the East of the Ré island (Lư in Sino-Vietnamese), B́nh Sơn district, are the Hoàng Sa which, from the coats of Sa Kỳ, one can reach in 3-4 days and nights in favorable wind. The archipelago is composed of at most 130 summits, distant from one another by one day or some geng of navigation. In the middle of the archipelago is the shoal Hoàng Sa (yellow sand) which spreads out one doesn't know how many thousand dặm, commonly called Vạn Lư Trường Sa (shoal of ten thousand miles)".

3. At first, the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Portuguese, and the Spanish, all knew only of the existence in the middle of the Biển Đông of innumerable islands, islets, and reefs forming an archipelago. Only in 1787-1788 did the French Kergariou-Locmaria expedition determined exactly the position of the Paracel archipelago (Hoàng Sa). It was known then that to the southeast of the Paracels, at a distance of 500 km, there was another archipelago, which would be named the Spratly. At the start, discovering the Hoàng Sa, the Vietnamese knew also that it was a region strewn with a multitude of islands, islets, and shoals, which spread in length without knowing that there were two distinct archipelagoes there. They were aware that the Hoàng Sa (i.e. the two archipelagoes, Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa) was composed of approximately 130 islands, islets, and sand shoals. Now, the number of islands, islets, reefs, and shoals of the two archipelagoes taken together gives a figure of about 130, depending on the way of counting.

That the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa of Vietnam is considered different from the Xisha and the Nansha of China cannot be viewed as a contribution to geographic science. Indeed, it can no way strengthen the argumentation on the Chinese sovereignty vis-a-vis the two archipelagoes.

The Chinese researchers are also to be reproached for having simply quoted an excerpt of Archbishop J.L. Taberd, written in 1837, saying that the southern end of the Paracels was at the 11th parallel and to conclude that this was a serious error, without making allusion to the map An nam Đại quốc họa đồ (Map of the Great Country Annam), published in 1838 and attached to the Dictionnarium latino-annamiticum. On this map, one can see that between approximately the 17th parallel and longitude 110°, a few islands are drawn with the mention:


For Archbishop Taberd, Paracels and Cát Vàng were very clear notions and he exactly located a part of the Paracels in its place. In front of the Paracels are drawn the coastal islands of the Đà Nẵng- Quảng Nghĩa region: Cù Lao Chàm, Cù Lao Ré seu Poulo Canton and the two ports, Sa Kỳ and Cửa Đại. This intentional failure to refer to this map is, at the least, indicative of a nonscientific attitude.


Situated in the middle of the Bien Dong and disputed by several states, the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa have, after all, not attracted the attention of public opinion in general. The problem is complex in itself, so it is primarily known to researchers. With these conditions, Peking has taken advantage of all possible opportunities to obtain a de facto recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the said archipelagoes.

1. The true significance of zone 6G

In March, 1978 the World Conference on radio-communications administration of the mobile aeronautic service was convened in Geneva without the presence of the delegation of the General Direction of the PTT of Vietnam. The final act of the Conference stipulates: "In the regions where the subdivisions 6D, 6F, and 6G are common, the frequencies allotted to the subdivision of zone 6G must be used uniquely by the aeronautic stations of the People's Republic of China"(40). This means that China has the monopoly on a number of frequencies over a region covering all the Biển Đông, in which there are naturally the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa archipelagoes.

The SRVN protested against the decision of the UIT and refused to accept it because the rules of the UIT clearly stipulate: "The mention of the name of a country or of a geographic zone in the descriptions of maps, as well as the delineation of frontiers on the maps do not imply any UIT taking of position regarding the political status of that country or that geographic zone, nor any recognition of these frontiers"(41).

In the course of the same Conference, and in spite of that stipulation, in the case of the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa where there is a conflict of territorial sovereignty, the behaviour is as if the zone belongs to China; whereas, an identical case, that of the Sensaku archipelago where there is a conflict of territorial sovereignty between Japan and China, is treated as a disputed zone and the problem of allotment is left pending.

2. The dangerous zones

On 23rd July, 1979 the Chinese General Direction of Civil Aviation published a communique creating four "dangerous zones" Southwest of the Hainan island and composed of the air space of the Paracels, and demanded that foreign civil airplanes pass it in hours fixed by the Chinese authorities. On 1st September, 1979 Peking published the regulation to be observed by foreign civil planes in the air space of China, that of the Paracels included. Through these acts, China wants to show that it is effectively the sovereign of the airspace over the Paracels and to oblige other states to recognize its de facto rights over the Paracels.

3. At the 26th International Geological Congress in Paris

At this Congress, held in Paris from 7th to 17th July, 1980, the Chinese delegation refrained from speaking about the Xisha and Nansha in plenary sessions, which would have been inappropriate at a scientific congress; but it circulated behind the scenes documents saying that the Xisha and the Nansha belonged to China.

4. The FIR Canton and Sanya

As everyone knows, the ICAO has established on a world scale flight information regions (FIR) managed by determined states. In Vietnamese airspace, there have been created the FIR Ho Chi Minh and the FIR Hanoi that are confined to the North of the FIR Canton and Hongkong.

Preparing for the 3rd RANS (Conference on air transports in the Asia Pacific region) which would be held in Bangkok from 20th April to 10th May, 1993, as early as the beginning of 1992, China proposed the creation of a new FIR called FIR Sanya, between Canton and Hongkong, including the airspace of the Paracels. The FIR, Canton and Hongkong have been ensuring excellent service; the creation of the FIR Sanya is clearly futile and may even cause difficulties for the air transports in the region. But China persists in maintaining its proposal at RANS III, which, in consequence, hindered the determination of the northern limits of the FIR Ho Chi Minh. In fact, the idea of creating the FIR Sanya is not prompted by a technical necessity in the interest of international air navigation, but by a political need of China: to obtain once again the de facto recognition of its sovereignty over the Xisha.

5. The two Vietnamese meteorological posts in the Paracels

Since 1938 the French authorities had installed two meteorological posts on Hoang Sa island (Pattle) and Phú Lâm island (Woody island). Later WMO included these two posts in its world network under the code number 48859 (for Phú Lâm) and 48860 (for Hoàng Sa). After occupying the western part of the Hoàng Sa archipelago in January, 1974, on 18th September of the same year, the Chinese delegation, at the Meteorological Conference of the Asian region held in Colombo, declared the cessation of the activities of the Vietnamese post installed on Pattle island and registered by the WMO under the code number 48860 and proposed its replacement
by a Chinese post installed on the same island under the code number 59985.

All specialized international organizations have stipulated in their regulations that the mention of the name of a country or of a geographic zone on the map does not mean in any way the recognition by these organizations of the political status of the country or the geographic zone. Evidently, anything contrary to this stipulation is null and void. In spite of this, China has always demanded that the Paracels belong to China, in an attempt to affirm its sovereignty.


In its propaganda, Peking affirms that Vietnam has recognized the sovereignty of China over the Xisha and has later changed its attitude. As proof, it cited the letter addressed by Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng to Prime Minister Zhou Enlai regarding the question of the territorial waters of China, the Declaration of the Government of the DRVN in 1965, where it is said that the Xisha belong to China.

First, about Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng's letter. It should be recalled that it was the period of the cold war. The US imperialists had interfered in Vietnamese affairs in South Vietnam to contain socialism. In spite of their failure in Korea, the hawks in the US military circles called for war against China and the US fleet crisscrossed the Taiwan straight. China had to prepare itself for an eventual adventure with the US fleet, especially since the continuous pounding of Quemoy and Matsou. It is in this context that China announced on 4th September, 1958 its 12-mile territorial waters. On 14th September, 1958 Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng addressed to Prime Minister Zhou Enlai a note, the full text of which reads:

"Comrade Prime Minister,

We have the honour to bring to your knowledge that the Government of the DRVN acknowledges and approves the declaration dated 4th September, 1958 of the Government of the PRO fixing the width of the Chinese territorial waters. The Government of the DRVN respects this decision and will give instructions to its State bodies to respect the 12-mile width of the territorial waters of China in all their relations in the maritime field with the PRC. I address to you, comrade Prime Minister, the assurance of my distinguished consideration".

Here, Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng had no intention of tackling a juridical question, the question of territory or sovereignty, nor spoke of the Hoàng Sa and the Truờng Sa. He was
thinking only of one thing: the bellicosity of US imperialism and the activities of the 7th fleet in the Taiwan straight which were threatening China. These factors led him to make as soon as possible a gesture of support for the fixation of the 12-mile width of the territorial waters so as to help create an obstacle to the US schemes.

Honest Vietnamese and Chinese who lived in the 1950s and 1960s should remember the extremely close ties between the two peoples "who are at the same time comrades and brothers", with the same idea as "Chinese and Vietnamese are of the same family"; for them, Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng's note was a symbol of Sino-Vietnamese friendship. Any person seeing the note as the recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the Xisha and the Nansha would have gone beyond its content and aim, and would have denied the sacred sentiments which inspired the Vietnamese and the Chinese of that time. In its 1965 Declaration regarding the fixation of the limits of combat zones by the US military, the DRVN Government said that the Xisha belonged to China. That was true, but it was not a statement abandoning the sovereignty vis-a-vis the Hoàng Sa archipelago nor vis-a-vis the Trường Sa archipelago. It is important to place these facts in their historical contest: the years from 1956 to 1965, when the Vietnamese people had to struggle against the intervention and aggression of the US imperialists in the two zones. We must see the situation of Vietnam at that moment in the light of two factors.

From an administrative point of view, under the provisions of the 1954 Geneva Agreement, Vietnam was temporarily divided into two zones on either side of the 17th parallel, which was considered the provisional military demarcation line, pending reunification. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRVN) administered the northern part, the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) the southern part. The Government of RVN took
charge of the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa archipelagoes in 1956, when France withdrew from Indochina, and since then, it had organized the administration, exploration and exploitation of maritime resources, remaining determined to defend the two archipelagoes against the acts and schemes of aggression of Peking, as well as of other countries. It had defended the interests and the sovereignty of Vietnam in different international conferences and organizations. The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, together with that of Saigon, signed the Paris Act on Vietnam and reaffirmed the sovereignty of Vietnam vis-a-vis the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa archipelagoes. The responsibility for the administration of the territory is here evident.

From the point of view of defense of territorial sovereignty, since 1965 the Vietnamese people had to cope with a local war in the South and a war of destruction in the North, both waged by the US. It was an extremely atrocious war, the most atrocious since World War II, in which the US extremely powerful armed forces resorted to all their war machinery, flying fortresses, electronic machines, and chemical weapons. It was a battle between David and Goliath; it dominated the conscience of the era. Determined not to lose their freedom again, the Vietnamese people were resolute in doing everything possible to repulse aggression; it was a matter of life or death. The People's Republic of China had raised high the banner of struggle against imperialism after its founding. Ever since, the colonial peoples or those who had just recovered their independence had found in it faith and hope. China did not want a new confrontation with the US, but it strove to raise high the anti-imperialist banner and to continue assistance to the just struggle of various peoples. Moreover, Vietnam was a socialist country, a neighbour and brother of China, with "rivers and mountains joining one another". In such conditions, China had, in fact, become an ally of Vietnam. It did its utmost to help the Vietnamese people politically, morally, and materially as well. It sent to Vietnam armaments, ammunitions, food, and vehicles, and let the aids of the USSR and the East European and other countries pass in transit to Vietnam. The Chinese people were bound to the Vietnamese people like "lips to teeth". As the US also did not want to have a new confrontation with China, Vietnam tried to involve China as much as possible in its war of resistance. It had sincere confidence in China and thought that once the war ended all territorial problems would be satisfactorily settled between those who were simultaneously "comrades and brothers". In theory as well as in practice for the Vietnamese, it was international solidarity. The Declarations should be recalled in the spirit of the Vietnamese and the events of the 1950s and 1960s to understand their true meaning, and also to comprehend the actions of their allies at that time.

During the first Indochina war, in 1949, at the request of the Chinese communists in the South, the troops of the People's Army of Vietnam came into the region of One Hundred Thousand Mountains, the great mountain chain between Guangdong and Guangsi, destroyed many military positions of the Tchang Kaishek troops and finally liberated Tchuksan (a locality on Chinese territory). They then handed over Tchuksan to the liberation troops. In implementation of the 1954 Geneva Agreement, in 1955, the French completed their evacuation from North Vietnam, North of the 17th parallel, the island Bạch Long Vĩ included. Busy taking charge and organizing the administration of the land handed over by French troops, North Vietnamese troops were practically incapable of administering an island situated 130 km from Hai Phong, so they had to request China to provisionally ensure the government of that island. The Chinese had agreed finally to return it to the Vietnamese in 1957, to whom they even offered a motor-launch to keep liaison between the island and Hai Phong. The confidence ,of the Vietnamese in China was at that time so great that after the reconstruction of the Hanoi Đồng Đăng railroad, the General Direction of Railway of Vietnam accepted minutes which mentioned that the juncture, of "the two railways passes by the State frontier" and is actually at a point on the Vietnamese territory 316 m far from the official frontier between the two countries, as marked in the Vietnamese-Chinese Railway Agreement dated 25th May, 1955(42).

Vietnam acted in the same way with regard to their Laos brothers. At the start of the resistance against the US aggression, the Vietnamese side temporarily put certain Vietnamese territories at the disposal of the Lao patriotic forces as bases, such as Na Mèo (Thanh Hóa province), Keng Đu (Nghệ An province). This is just like when the Laos patriotic forces gave their consent to the construction of the Ho Chi Minh trail on part of the Laos territory bordering Vietnam (the liberated regions under the control of the Laos patriotic forces). At the end of the anti-US war, the SRVN and the LPDR settled in a satisfactory way all their problems: Vietnam gave back to Laos the territories that had been put at its disposal and vice-versa. On 18th July, 1977, the two countries signed the Treaty of delimitation77 of the frontier existing at the moment of the Declaration of Independence of their countries in 1945.

In many respects, the present relations between the PLO and the Arab States can be compared to the Sino-Vietnamese relations in the past, both bearing the marks of the combatant solidarity against the common enemy. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a characteristic of the era. The aforesaid explanations can be either totally accepted or partly accepted or rejected. In spite of that, the above-mentioned declarations cannot be considered an abandonment of the Vietnamese title vis-à-vis the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa archipelagoes; they continue to remain the image of the finest period of Sino-Vietnamese friendship.

* *

China has attached great importance to the question of maps and has published many of them. It is not an important question however:

1. China has incessantly pretended that the Nanhai islands constitute its southernmost end and marked the fact by many maps. But it has refrained from citing, as proofs, ancient books or maps, saying that the Chinese territory stops at the island of Hainan. For instance, the part in Generalities of the Manual of Geography of China writes:

"In the South, at 18°13' of latitude North, the terminus being the coast of Yazhou, island of Hainan; in the North, at 53°50' of latitude North, the terminus being the confluence of the Amour river and the Oussouri river. In the West, as far as 42°11' of longitude East, the terminus being the mount Tunglinh. From South to North there are over 36° measuring 7,100 li, from East to West, over 61° measuring over 8,000 li. The area is 32,605,156 square li or 1/4 of Asia, 1/10 of the continents, larger than Europe". This general view completely corresponds to the Da Qing Zhi Sheng Quan Tu, published in 1862, Dong Si reign, and the Huang Chao Yi Tong Yu Di Zen Tu (General Map of the Unified Empire), published in 1894, Guang Zi reign, which are all official maps and which have not drawn the Xisha and Nansha archipelagoes.

In the Guangdong Yu Di Tu published in 1897 under the reign of Guang Zi and prefaced by the Governor of the two Guang, Zhang Renjun, there is a map of the province of Guangdong and one of Guangzhou, both of them present no archipelago in the South Sea, in conformity with the map-legend marking that the southernmost end of the Chinese territory is "the external point of the port of Yulin, Yazhou". According to jurisprudence, the value of maps in conflicts about sovereignty is but relative. Regarding the affair Palmas, arbitrator Max Huber made the following remark:

"It is with the greatest circumspection that one can take into account maps to settle a question of sovereignty"(43). Even more explicitly, he said: "When the arbitrator is convinced of the existence of determining juridical facts which contradict the affirmations of cartographers whose information sources are unknown, he is at liberty to give no value to the maps, however numerous and appreciated they may be"(44). The problem of the value of the maps presented by the Chinese side is thus clear.