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Historical documents on Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands

VietNamNet Bridge - The Paracel (Hoang Sa) and the Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands are two archipelagos offshore Vietnam. The closest point of the Paracel Islands is 120 nautical miles east of the central city of Da Nang and Ré Island, a coastal island of Vietnam. Meanwhile, the closest point of the Spratly Islands is about 250 nautical miles to the east of Cam Ranh Bay, Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa province.

VN condemns Chinese intrusion

In the old days, with vague information about the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, navigators only knew about a large area in the middle of the sea with submerged cays, which was very dangerous for watercrafts, referred to as “Bien Dong (East Sea) by Vietnamese. Ancient Vietnamese documents indicate this area with various names, including “Bai Cat Vang” (Golden Sandbank), “Hoang Sa” (Golden Sand), “Van Ly Hoang Sa” (Ten-Thousand-Li [1] Golden Sand), “Dai Truong Sa” (Grand Long Sand), or “Van Ly Truong Sa” (Ten-Thousand-Li Long Sand). Most of the nautical maps made by Western navigators from the 16th to the 18th centuries depict the Paracel and the Spratly Islands as a single archipelago and name it “Pracel”, “Parcel”, or “Paracels”[2].

Later progress in science and navigation allowed the differentiation between the two archipelagos. It was not until 1787–1788 that the Paracel Islands were located clearly and accurately as they are known today by the Kergariou - Locmaria survey mission to help distinguish the Paracel from the Spratly Islands in the south.

All of the above-mentioned maps define Pracel (including both the Paracel and the Spratly Islands) as an area in the middle of the East Sea, to the east of mainland Vietnam and located further offshore compared to Vietnam’s coastal islands.

The two archipelagos indicated as the “Paracels” and the “Spratley” or “Spratly” Islands in current international nautical maps are indeed those that are Vietnam’s “Hoang Sa” and “Truong Sa” archipelagos.

1. Vietnam’s historical sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands

A 16th-century Portuguese nautical map depicting the Paracel and the Spratly

Islands as a single archipelago located to the east of Vietnam’s mainland.


The Vietnamese people have long discovered the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, and Vietnam has occupied and exercised its sovereignty over the two archipelagos in a continuous and peaceful manner.

Many ancient geography books and maps of Vietnam clearly indicate that “Bai Cat Vang”, “Hoang Sa”, “Van Ly Hoang Sa”, “Dai Truong Sa”, or “Van Ly Truong Sa” (Paracel and Spratly islands), has long been included within the territory of Vietnam.

“Toan Tap Thien Nam Tu Chi Lo Do Thu” (The Handbook of the South’s Road Map), compiled in the 17th century by a man named Do Ba, clearly noted in the maps of Quang Ngai Prefecture in Quang Nam area that “there was a long sandbank in the middle of the sea that is called Bai Cat Vang (Golden Sand)”, and that “during the last month of every winter, the Nguyen rulers [3] send 18 boats there to collect goods, mainly jewelries, money, guns, and ammunition”.

In the book entitled “Giap Ngo Binh Nam Do” (The Map for the Pacification of the South in the Giap Ngo Year) made by duke Bui The Dat in 1774, Bai Cat Vang is also indicated as a part of Vietnam’s territory [4].

During his assignment in Southern Vietnam, scholar Le Quy Don (1726–1784) in 1776 compiled the book named “Phu Bien Tap Luc” (Miscellany on the Pacification at the Frontier) on the history, geography, and administration of Southern Vietnam under the Nguyen lords (1558–1775). In this book, Le Quy Don described that Dai Truong Sa (including the Paracel and the Spratly Islands) was under the jurisdiction of Quang Ngai Prefecture.

“An Vinh Commune, Binh Son District, Quang Ngai Prefecture has a mountain [5] outside its seaport called Re Island, which is 30-li wide. It takes four watches to reach the island, on which there is a ward named Tu Chinh with bean-growing inhabitants. Further offshore are the Dai Truong Sa Islands, where there are plenty of sea products and other goods. It takes the Hoang Sa Flotilla, founded to collect those products and goods; three full days to reach the islands, which are near Bac Hai.”

Scanned image of a page of “Toan Tap Thien Nam Tu Chi Lo Do Thu”

“… Bình Son District of Quang Ngai Prefecture includes the coastal commune of An Vinh. Offshore to the northeast of An Vinh are many islands and approximately 130 mountains separated by waters which can take from few watches to few days to travel across. Streams of fresh water can be found on these mountains. Within the islands is a 30-li long, flat and wide golden sand bank, on which the water is so transparent that one can see through. The islands have many swift nests and hundreds or thousands of other kinds of birds; they alight around instead of avoiding humans. There are many curios on the sandbank. Among the volutes are the Indian volutes. An Indian volute here can be as big as a mat; on their ventral side are opaque beads, different from pearls, and are as big as fingertips; their shells can be carved to make identification badges or calcinated to provide lime for house construction. There are also conches that can be used for furniture inlay, and Babylon shells. All snails here can be salted for food. The sea turtles are oversized. There is a sea soft-shell turtle called “hai ba” or “trang bong”, similar to but smaller than the normal hawksbill sea turtles; their thin shell can be used for furniture inlay, and their thumb-sized eggs can be salted for food. There is a kind of sea cucumbers called “dot dot”, normally seen when swimming about the shore; they can be used as food after lime treatment, gut removal and drying. Before serving “dot dot”, one should process it with freshwater crab extract and scrape all the dirt off. It will be better if cooked with shrimps and pork.

Foreign boats often take refuge in these islands to avoid storms. The Nguyen rulers have established Hoang Sa Flotilla with 70 sailors selected from An Vinh commune on a rotation basis. Selected sailors receive their order in the third month of every year, bring with them sufficient food for six months, and sail on five small fishing boats for three full days to reach the islands. Once settled down on the islands, they are free to catch as many birds and fish as they like. They collect goods from boats passing by, such as sabers, jewelries, money, porcelain rings, and fur; they also collect plenty of sea turtle shells, sea cucumbers, and volute shells. The sailors return to mainland in the eighth month through Eo Seaport. On their return trip, they first sail to Phu Xuan Citadel, where the goods that they have collected shall be submitted to be measured and classified; they can then take their parts of volutes, sea turtles, and sea cucumbers for their own trading businesses, and receive licenses before going home. The amount of collected materials varies; sometimes the sailors could not collect anything at all. I have personally checked the notebook of the former flotilla captain Thuyen Duc Hau, which recorded the amount of collected goods: 30 scoops of silver in the year of Nham Ngo (1762), 5,100 catties of tin in the year of Giap Than (1764), 126 scoops of silver in the year of At Dau (1765), a few sea turtle shells each year from the year of Ky Suu (1769) to the year of Quy Ty (1773). There were also years when only cubic tin, porcelain bowls, and two copper guns were collected.

The Nguyen rulers also established Bac Hai Flotilla without a fixed number of sailors, selected from Tu Chinh Village in Binh Thuan or from Canh Duong Commune. Sailors are selected on a voluntary basis. Those who volunteer to join the flotilla will be exempted from poll tax, patrol and transportation fees. These sailors travel in small fishing boats to Bac Hai, Con Lon Island, and other islands in Ha Tien area, collecting goods from ships, and sea products such as turtles, abalones, and sea cucumbers. Bac hai Flotilla is under the command of Hoang Sa Flotilla. The collected items are mostly sea products and rarely include jewelries.”

Scanned image of An Nam Dai Quoc Hoa Do.

Among those documents that have been preserved until today is the following order dated 1786 made by Lord Superior:

“Hereby command Hoi Duc Hau, captain of Hoang Sa Flotilla, to lead four fishing boats to sail directly towards Hoang Sa and other islands on the sea, to collect jewelries, copper items, cannons of all size, sea turtles, and valuable fishes, and to return to the capital to submit all of these items in accordance with the current regulation”.

Bishop J.L. Taberd, in his 1837 “Note on the Geography of Cochinchina” [6], also describes “Pracel or Paracels” as a part of Cochinchina’s territory and indicates that Cochinchinese people refer to Paracels as “Cat Vang”. In “An Nam Dai Quoc Hoa Do” (Tabula geographica imperii Anamitici - The Map of the An Nam Empire) [7] published in 1838, Bishop Taberd depicted part of Paracels and noted “Paracel seu Cat Vang” (Paracel or Cat Vang) for the islands farther than those near the shore of central Vietnam, corresponding to the area of the Paracel Islands nowadays.

“Dai Nam [8] Nhat Thong Toan Do” (The Complete Map of the Unified Dai Nam - The map of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty in 1838) indicated that “Hoang Sa”(number 1) and “Van Ly Truong Sa” (number 2) are Vietnamese territories. These islands were depicted to be further offshore compared to those near the central coast.

“Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi” (The Geography of the Unified Dai Nam), the geography book completed in 1882 by the National History Institute of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1845), indicates that the Paracel Islands are part of Vietnam’s territory and was under the administration of Quang Ngai province.

In the paragraphs describing the topography of Quang Ngai Province, the book wrote:

Scanned image of a portion of "Dai Nam Nhat Thong Toan Do"

“In the east of Quang Ngai Province is Hoang Sa Island, in which sands and waters are alternate, forming trenches. In the west is the area of mountainous people with the steady and long rampart. The south borders Binh Dinh province, separated by the Ben Da mountain pass. The north borders Quang Nam province, marked by the Sa Tho Creek …”

“… The previous custom of maintaining Hoang Sa Flotilla was continued in the early days of the Gia Long Era but later abandoned. At the beginning of the Minh Menh Era, working boats were sent to the area for sea route survey. They found an area with verdant plants over white sands and a circumference of 1,070 truong (unit of ten Vietnamese feet). In the middle of Hoang Sa Island is a well. In the southwest lies an ancient temple with no clear indication of the construction time. Inside the temple is a stele engraved with four characters “Van Ly Ba Binh” (calm sea for a thousand li). This island had previously been called “Phat Tu Son” (The Mountain of Buddha’s Temple). In the east and the west of the island is an atoll named Ban Than Thach (coral reef). It emerges over the water level as an isle with a circumference of 340 truong and a height of 1.2 truong. In the 16th year of the Minh Menh Era, working boats were ordered to transport bricks and stones to the area to build temple. In the left side of the temple, a stone stele was erected as a remark, and trees are planted all over three sides, namely the left, the right, and the back, of the temple. While building the temple’s foundation, the military laborers found as much as 2,000 catties of copper leaves and cast iron.”

Many Western navigators and Christian missionaries in the past centuries attested that Hoang Sa (Pracel or Paracel) belongs to Vietnam’s territory.

A Western clergyman wrote in a letter during his 1701 trip on the ship Amphitrite from France to China that: “Paracel is an archipelago of the Kingdom of An Nam” [9].

J.B. Chaigneau, one of the counsellors to Emperor Gia Long, wrote in the 1820 complementary note to his “Mémoire sur la Cochinchine” (Memoir on Cochinchina) [10] that: “The Country of Cochinchina, whose emperor has just ascended to the throne, includes the Regions of Cochinchina and Tonkin [11] … some inhabited islands not too far from the shore, and the Paracel Islands composed of uninhabited small islands, creeks, and cays.”

In the article “Geography of the Cochinchinese Empire” [12], written by Gutzlaff and published in 1849, some parts clearly indicate that Paracel is part of Vietnam’s territory and even noted the islands with the Vietnamese name “Cat Vang”.

As sovereigns of the country, successive feudal dynasties in Vietnam had for many times conducted survey on the terrains and resources of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands over centuries. The results of these surveys have been recorded in Vietnamese geography and historical books since the 17th century.

“Toan Tap Thien Nam Tu Chi Lo Do” (The Collection of the South’s Road Map”) of the 17th century reads:

Scanned image of a page in “Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi”.

“In the middle of the sea is a long sandbank, called Bai Cat Vang, with a length of 400 li and a width of 20 li, spanning in the middle of the sea from Dai Chiem to Sa Vinh Seaports [13]. Foreign ships would be drifted and stranded on the bank if they traveled on the inner side (west) of the sandbank under the southwest wind or on the outer side under the northeast wind (east). Their sailors would starve to death and leave all their goods there [14].”

“Dai Nam Thuc Luc Tien Bien” (The First Part of The Chronicles of Dai Nam), the historical document collection about the Nguyen lords completed by Quoc Su Quan in 1844, reads:

“Offshore of An Vinh Commune, Binh Son District, Quang Ngai Prefecture, are more than 130 sandbanks whose distances from each other can take anywhere from a few watches to a few days to travel. They span an area of thousands of li, and are thus called “Van Ly Hoang Sa”.There are freshwater wells on the sandbanks, and sea products of the area include sea cucumber, sea turtles, volutes, and so on and so forth.”

“Not long after the founding of the Dynasty, Hoang Sa Flotilla was established with 70 sailors selected from An Vinh Commune. In the third month of every year, they sail for about three days to the islands. They collect goods there and return in the eighth month. There is also another flotilla named Bac Hai, whose sailors are chosen from Tu Chinh Village in Binh Thuan or Canh Duong Commune, ordered to sail to Bac Hai and Con Lon areas to collect goods. This flotilla is under the command of Hoang Sa Flotilla.”

The parts covering the eras of Emperors Gia Long, Minh Menh, and Thieu Tri completed in 1848 in “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien” (The Main Part of The Chronicles of Dai Nam), the historical document collection about the Nguyen emperors, record the events of: Emperor Gia Long’s possession of the Paracel Islands in 1816, and the temple construction, stele erection, tree planting, measurement and mapping of the islands following Emperor Minh Menh’s order [19].

Scanned image of a page in “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien”

Volume 52 of “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien” reads:

“In the Binh Ty year, the 15th year of the Gia Long Era (1816) … His Majesty the Emperor commanded the naval forces and Hoang Sa Sa Flotilla to sail to Hoang Sa Islands for sea route survey.”

Volume 104 reads:

“In the eighth month, during the autumn, of the Quy Ty year, the 14th year of the Ming Menh Era (1833) … His Majesty the Emperor told the Ministry of Public Works that: In the territorial waters of the Province of Quang Ngai, there is the Hoang Sa range. The water and the sky in that range cannot be distinguished from afar. Trading boats have recently become victims of its shoal. We shall prepare sampans, waiting until next year to go to the area for constructing temple, erecting stele, and planting many trees. Those trees will grow luxuriant in the future, thus serving as recognition remarks for people to avoid getting stranded in shoal. That shall benefit everyone forever.”

Volume 154 reads:

Scanned image of the petition that the Ministry of Public Works submitted to

Emperor Thieu Tri in 1847 with the Emperor’s approving note highlighted in the red circle.

“In the sixth month, during the summer, of the At Mui year, the 16th year of the Minh Menh Era (1835) … a temple was built on Hoang Sa Island, under the administration of Quang Ngai Province. Hoang Sa, in the territorial waters of Quang Ngai, has a white sand island covered by luxuriant plants with a well in the middle. In the southwest of the island is an ancient temple in which there is a stele engraved with four characters “Van Ly Ba Binh” (calm sea for a thousand dặm). Bach Sa Island has a circumference of 1,070 truong; previously referred to as Phan Tu Son, the island is surrounded by a gently-sloping atoll in the east, west, and south. In the north is an atoll named Ban Than Thach, emerging over the water level with a circumference of 340 truong, an elevation of 1.3 truong, as high as the sand island. Last year, His Majesty the Emperor had already considered ordering the construction of a temple and a stele on it, but the plan could not be executed due to harsh weather conditions. The construction had to be postponed until this year when the naval captain Pham Van Nguyen and his soldiers, the capital’s patrol commander, and labourers from the Provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh came and carried building materials with them to build the new temple (seven truong away from the ancient temple). A stone stele and a screen were erected on the left hand side and in the front of the temple, respectively. They finished all the works in ten days and returned to mainland.”

Volume 165 reads:

Scanned image of the Imperial Edict signed by Emperor

Bao Dai on March 29th, 1938.

“On the first of the first month, during the spring, in the Binh Than year, the 17th year of the Ming Menh Era (1836) … The Ministry of Public Works submitted a petition to His Majesty the Emperor, saying that: In the frontier of our country’s territorial waters, Hoang Sa is a critical and hardly-accessible area. We have had the map of the area made; however, due to its wide and long topography, the map only covers part of it, and this coverage is not sufficiently detailed. We shall deploy people to the area for detailed sea route survey. From now on, in the last ten days of the first month of every year, we shall implore Your Majesty’s permission to select naval soldiers and the capital’s patrolmen to form a unit on a vessel. This unit shall travel to Quang Ngai within the first ten days of the second month, requesting the Provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh to employ four civilian boats to travel together to Hoang Sa. For every island, cay, or sandbank that they encounter, they shall measure its length, width, elevation, area, circumference, and the surrounding water’s depth; they shall record the presence of submerged cays and banks, and the topography. Maps shall be drawn from these measurements and records. Also, they shall record the departure date, departure seaports, directions, and estimated distance estimated on the traveling routes. These people shall also look for the shore to determine the provinces, their directions and distances to the surveyed positions. One and all must be recorded clearly and presented once they return.”

“His Majesty the Emperor approved the petition, ordered the naval detachment commander Pham Huu Nhat to command a battleship and bring ten wooden steles to be used as markers in the area. Each wooden stele is five meter long, five decimeter wide, one meter thick, and is engraved with characters meaning: The 17th year of the Minh Menh Era, the Binh Than year, Detachment 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.”

“Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien” also recorded that, in 1847, the Ministry of Public Works submitted a petition to Emperor Thieu Tri, saying: “Hoang Sa is within the territory of our country. It is a regular practice that we deploy boats to the area for sea route surveys every year. However, due to the busy work schedule of this year, we implore Your Majesty’s permission to postpone the survey trip until next year”. Emperor Thieu Tri wrote “dinh” (suspended) in the petition to approve it.

The 1882 “Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi” (The Geography of the Unified Dai Nam) reads:

The sovereignty stele erected by France in 1938.

“Hoang Sa Islands lies in the east of Re Island, under Binh Son District. From Sa Ky Seaport, it can take three or four days to sail to the islands under favorable wind. There are more than 130 small islands, separated by waters which can take a few watches or a few days to travel across. Within the islands is the golden sandbank spanning tens of thousands of li and thus called Van Ly Truong Sa. There are freshwater wells, and numerous birds gather on the bank. Sea products there include sea cucumbers, sea turtles, and volutes. Goods from ships wrecked by storms drift onto the bank.”

Other books completed under the Nguyen Dynasty, such as the 1821 “Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi” (Classified Rules of Dynasties), the 1833 “Hoang Viet Du Dia Chi” (Geography of the Viet Empire), the 1876 “Viet Su Thong Giam Cuong Muc Khao Luoc” (Outline of the Viet History Chronicles) all have similar description for the Paracel Islands.

Due to the aforementioned richness of sea products and goods from wrecked ships in the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, the Vietnamese feudal dynasties had long exploited sovereignty over the islands. Many ancient history and geography books of Vietnam provide evidence of the organization and operation of the Hoàng Sa flotillas, which performed these exploitation duties.

Succeeding the Nguyen lords in governing the country, the Tay Son Dynasty always paid fair attention to maintaining and deploying Hoang Sa flotillas although it had to continuously deal with the invasions of the China’s Qing Dynasty and Siam. Under the Tay Son Dynasty, the Imperial Court continued organizing various forms of exploitation of the Paracel Islands with the awareness that it was exercising the sovereignty over the islands.

From the foundation of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802, until the 1884 Treaty of Hue with France, the Nguyen emperors had made every effort to consolidate Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.

Hoang Sa Flotilla, later reinforced by Bac Hai Flotilla, was maintained and continuously active under the Nguyen lords (1558–1783) to the Tay Son Dynasty (1786–1802) and the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945).

Scanned image of the Decree of May 5th, 1939 issued

by the Governor-General Jules Brévié.

In conclusion, ancient history and geography books of Vietnam as well as evidence found in documents written by several Western navigators and clergymen, all point to the fact that successive dynasties in Vietnam have been the sovereigns of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands for centuries. The Vietnamese states-founded Hoang Sa flotillas’ regular presence from five to six months annually to perform certain duties in these islands is itself incisive evidence, demonstrating the exercise of Vietnamese sovereignty. The acquisition and exploitation by Vietnamese sovereign states of these islands were never opposed by any other countries, further proving that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands have long been part of Vietnam’s territory.

2. France, on behalf of Vietnam, continued exercising sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands

Since the conclusion of the Treaty of Hue on June 6th, 1884, France had represented Vietnam in all of its external relations and protected Vietnam’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Within the framework of those commitments, the Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands was exercised by France. That sovereignty exercise is clearly illustrated with numerous examples of which some are listed below.

The French battleships often patrolled in the South China Sea, referred to as “East Sea” by Vietnamese, including the areas of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.

In 1899, Paul Doumer, the then Governor-General of Indochina, sent a proposal to Paris for building a lighthouse on Pattle Island within the Paracel Islands to guide ships in the area. The plan, however, was abandoned due to budget issue.

Since 1920, Indochinese ships of customs had intensified their patrol in the area of the Paracel Islands to prevent smuggling.

Scanned images of the World Meteorological Organization documents containing

information about the Vietnam’s meteorological stations in the Sprartly Islands

(on Itu Aba) (left) and the Paracel Islands (right) in 1949 and 1973, respectively.

In 1925, the Institute of Oceanography in Nha Trang sent the ship De Lanessan for an oceanography survey in the Paracel Islands. In addition to A. Krempf, the then Institute’s Director, and other researchers including Delacour and Jabouille also joined the trip for their geological and biological research and other studies. Also in 1925, the Minister of Military Affairs Than Trong Hue of the Imperial Court reaffirmed that the Paracel Islands are within Vietnam’s territory.

In 1927, the ship De Lanessan went to the Paracel Islands for a scientific survey.

In 1929, the Pierre de Rouville delegation proposed that four lighthouses to be set up at four corners of the Paracel Islands, namely Triton (Tri Tôn) and Lincoln (Linh Con) Islands, and the North (Da Bac) and Bombay Reefs (Bong Bay).

In 1930, the gunboat La Malicieuse went to the Paracel Islands.

In March 1931, the ship Inconstant went to the Paracel Islands.

In June 1931, the ship De Lanessan went to the Paracel Islands.

In May 1932, the battleship Alerte went to the Paracel Islands.

From April 13th, 1930 to April 12th, 1933, the Government of France deployed the naval units to garrison in major islands of the Spratly Islands, namely Spratly (Truong Sa Lon), Amboyna Cay (An Bang), Itu Aba (Ba Binh), Group des Deux Iles (Song Tu) [21], Loaita (Loai Ta), and Thitu (Thi Tu).

On December 21st, 1933, the then Governor of Cochinchina M.J. Krautheimer signed the decree of annexing the islands of Spratly, Amboyna Cay, Itu Aba, Song Tu group, Loaita, and Thitu to Ba Ria Province [22].

In 1937, the French authorities sent a civil engineer named Gauthier to the Paracel Islands to examine the positions for building lighthouses and a seaplane terminal.

Scanned image of the statement of Tran Van Huu, head of the State

of Vietnam’s delegation at the 1951 San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of Peace with Japan.

In February 1937, the patrol ship Lamotte Piquet commanded by Rear-Admiral Istava came to the Paracel Islands.

On March 29th, 1938, Emperor Bao Dai signed the Imperial Edict to split the Paracel Islands from Nam Nghia Province and annex them to the Thua Thien Province [23]. The Edict reads:

“Consider that the Hoang Sa Islands (Archipel des îles Paracels) have been for long under the sovereignty of Nuoc Nam [24], and directly under the Province of Nam Nghaa during the previous dynasties’ time, and that this administration had not been changed until the reign of The to Cao hoang de [25] as all the communications with these islands were carried out via the seaports in the Province of Nam Nghia;

Consider that by nautical progress, the communications have changed, and that the Imperial Court’s representative who went on an inspection tour and the Protectorate’s representative petitioned to annex those islands to the Province of Thua Thien for the sake of convenience;

Order:

Single item –– To annex the Hoang Sa Islands (Archipel des îles Paracels) to the Province of Thua Thien. In terms of administration, these islands are under the command of the Governor of the Province.”

On June 15th, 1938, the then Governor-General of Indochina Jules Brévié signed the decree on establishing an administrative unit in the Paracel Islands under Thua Thien Province.

In 1938, France erected a sovereignty stele, completed the constructions of a lighthouse, a meteorological station, a radio station on Pattle Island (Hoang Sa Island), and a meteorological station and a radio station on Itu Aba Island within the Paracel Islands. The inscription on the stele reads: “The French Republic, The Kingdom of An Nam, The Paracel Islands, 1816 – Pattle Island – 1938” (1816 and 1938 are the years of Vietnam’s sovereignty exercise over the Paracel Islands by Emperor Gia Long, and of the French erection of the stele, respectively).

On May 5th, 1939, the Governor-General of Indochina Jules Brévié signed a decree on amendment of the decree of June 15th, 1938. The new decree established two administrative delegations, namely the Delegations of Croissant And Its Dependents, and Amphirite And Its Dependents.

Scanned image of Decree 174-NV of the President of the Republic

of Vietnam on transferring the jurisdiction of the Paracel Islands

from Thua Thien to Quang Nam Provinces.

For the whole time of representing Vietnam for its external relations, France consistently affirmed the sovereignty of Vietnam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, and protested those actions that seriously violated this sovereignty. For instance, on December 4th, 1931 and April 24th, 1932, France opposed the Government of China on the intention of the Guangdong provincial authorities to invite bids for exploiting guano on the Paracel Islands. Other examples include the French announcement on July 24th, 1933, to Japan that its armed forces would encamp on major islands within the Spratly Islands; and the France’s objection on April 4th, 1939, to the Japan’s inclusion of some islands within the Spratly Islands under its jurisdiction.

3. Protection and exercise of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands since the end of World War II

After returning to Indochina after World War II, in early 1947, France requested the Republic of China to withdraw their troops from some islands within the Paracel and the Spratly Islands that had been illegitimately occupied in late 1946. The French armed forces then arrived at the islands to replace those of China and to rebuild their meteorological and radio stations.

On September 7th, 1951, Tran Van Huu, the head of the State of Vietnam’s delegation at the San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of Peace with Japan, declared that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands have long been the territories of Vietnam, and that “to take full advantage of every chance to prevent any seed of dispute in the future, we affirm our long-standing sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands”. This statement did not meet any objections and/or reserves of opinion.

In 1953, the French ship Ingénieur en chef Girod went on its survey trip on oceanography, geology, geography, and ecology in the Paracel Islands.

Later governments in South Vietnam, including both the Saigon Administration (the Republic of Vietnam), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (abbr. RSVN Government), exercised Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands as clearly showed by the following examples.

On June 16th, 1956, the Saigon Administration’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to re-affirm Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Spratly Islands. In the same year, the Saigon Administration strongly objected to the occupation of the eastern islands within the Paracel Islands by the People’s Republic of China.

In 1956, the naval forces of the Saigon Administration took over the Paracel and the Spratly Islandswhen France withdrew its troops. In the same year, with the assistance of the Saigon Administration’s naval forces, the Department of Mining, Technology, & Small Industries organized a survey on four islands within the Paracel Islands, namely Pattle (Hoang Sa), Money (Quang anh), Robert (Huu Nhat), and Drumond (Duy Mong).

On October 22nd, 1956, the Saigon Administration placed the Spratly Islands under the Province of Phuoc Tuy.

On July 13th, 1961, the Saigon Administration transferred the jurisdiction of the Paracel Islands from Thua Thien province to Quang Nam province. The administrative commune of Dinh Hai, headed by an administrative envoy directly under the District of Hoa Vang, was established in the islands.

From 1961 to 1963, the Saigon Administration built sovereignty steles on major islands within the Spratly Islands such as Spratly, Itu Aba, and the Southwest Cay.

On October 21st, 1969, the Saigon Administration annexed Dinh Hai Commune into Hoa Long Commune, also under Hoa Vang District of Quang Nam Province.

On February 22nd, 1959, the Saigon Administration detained for some time 82 people who claimed to be “fishermen” from the People’s Republic of China and had landed on the islands of Robert, Drummond, and Duncan (Quang Hoa) within the Paracel Islands.

The sovereignty stele erected by the Republic of Vietnam on Spratly Island in 1961.

On April 20th, 1971, the Saigon Administration once again re-affirmed that the Spratly Islands are Vietnam’s territories. This affirmation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Islands was repeated by the Sài Gòn Administration’s Foreign Minister in the July 13th, 1971 press conference.

In July 1973, the Institute of Agricultural Research under the Ministry of Agricultural Development & Land conducted its investigation on Namyit Island (Nam Ai or Nam Yet) within the Spratly Islands.

In August 1973, the Saigon Administration’s Ministry of National Planning & Development, in collaboration with Marubeni Corporation of Japan, conducted an investigation on phosphates in the Paracel Islands.

On September 6th, 1973, the Saigon Administration annexed the islands of Spratly, Itu Aba, Loaita, Thitu, Namyit, Sin Cowe (Sinh Ton), the Northeast and Southwest Cays, and other adjacent islands into Phuoc Hai Commune, Dat Do District, Phuoc Tuy Province [26].

On January 19th, 1974, the military forces of the People’s Republic of China occupied the southwestern islands of the Paracel Islands; this violation of Vietnam’s territorial integrity was condemned in the same day by the Saigon Administration. The RSVN Government declared its three-point position on the solution for territorial disputes on January 26th, 1974, and re-affirmed Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands on February 14th, 1974.

On June 28th, 1974, the RSVN Government claimed its sovereignty over the Paracel and the SpratlyIslands at the Third Law of Sea Conference in Caracas, Venezuela. On May 5th and 6th, 1975, the RSVN Government announced its liberation of the Spratly Islands, which had been under the control of the Sài Gòn Administration.

In September 1975, the delegation of the RSVN Government at the Colombo Meteorological Conference stated that the Paracel Islands are Vietnam’s territories, and requested that the Vietnam’s meteorological station in the Islands to be registered in the WMO’s list of meteorological stations (this station had previously been entered in the WMO’s list under the registration number 48.860).

After the country’s re-unification, the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has been promulgating many critical legal documents on sea and the Paracel and the Spratly Islands. These include: the 1977 Statement by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Vietnam’s Territorial Waters, Contiguous Zones, Exclusive Economic Zones, and Continental Shelf; the 1982 Statement by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on the Basic Line Used in the Calculation of the Area of Vietnam’s Territorial Waters; the 1992 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; the 1994 Resolution of the Fifth Session of the Ninth National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Ratification the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); and the 2003 Law of the National Borders.

In terms of administration, the Government of Vietnam made the Spratly and the Paracel Islands districts under Dong Nai and Quang Nam–Da Nang provinces, respectively. After some administrative revisions, the Paracel Islands are currently under Da Nang City, while the Spratly Islands belong to Khanh Hoa Province.

The Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has repeatedly affirmed Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands in diplomatic notes sent to the involved parties, in the statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in international meetings including the WMO meeting in Geneva (June 1980) and in the International Geological Congress in Paris (July 1980).

Vietnam has for several times issued its white papers (in 1979, 1981, and 1988) on the sovereignty of Vietnam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands to affirm that these two archipelagos are inseparable territories of Vietnam, and that Vietnam has full sovereignty over them in accordance with international laws and practice.

On March 14th, 1988, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam issued a statement condemning the China’s act that caused military conflict and its seizure of some submerged cays from Vietnam in the Spratly Islands.

Scanned image of Decree 420-BNV/HCĐP/26 of the Ministry of the Interior

of the Republic of Vietnam on annexing the Spratly Islands into Phuoc Tuy Province.

In April 2007, the Government of Vietnam established Truong Sa Township, Song Tu Tay and Sinh Ton Communes under Truong Sa District in the Spratly Islands.

Conclusion

In summary, there are three major points one can clearly conclude with references to the aforementioned historical documents as well as international law and practice.

First, successive sovereign states in Vietnam have actually possessed the Paracel and the Spratly Islands for long since the time when there was no sovereignty claim over those archipelagos.

Second, for hundreds of years since the 17th century, Vietnam has indeed exercised its sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands in a continuous and peaceful manner.

Third, Vietnam has always been proactive in protecting its rights and titles against any intentions and actions that violate Vietnam’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and rights in the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.

APPENDIX

Some international documents and treaties related to Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly islands

1. The Cairo Communiqué on November 27th, 1943

When World War II entered its fiercest stage, a conference of the three powers of the Allies, namely the United Kingdom of Great Britain & North Ireland, the United States of America, and the Republic of China (represented by Chiang Kai-shek), was organized in Cairo, Egypt. The Cairo Communiqué [28], the outcome of the conference, states that: “The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped off all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.”

In accordance to this statement, the three Great Allies expressed their purpose to force Japan to return to the Republic of China those territories that were seized from the Chinese, including Manchuria,Formosa (Taiwan), and the Pescadores (Penghu), without any mention of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.

2. Potsdam Declaration on July 26th, 1945

Heads of state and government of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain & North Ireland, and the Republic of China declared that the terms given in the 1943 Cairo Communiqué should be executed [29]. After declaring war with Japan in the Far East, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics also joined this Declaration.

The Potsdam Agreement assigned China the responsibility to disarm the Japanese forces in the north of the 16o Latitude in Vietnam. Accordingly, from late 1946, Chiang Kai-shek’s troops entered the northern provinces and the Paracel Islands of Vietnam. Their disarming activities in these areas do not mean, in any sense, affirmation and/or restoration of Chinese sovereignty over the Paracel and theSpratly Islands.

3. Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951

The San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of Peace with Japan was held from September 4th to 8th, 1951 with the attendance of 51 countries. Article 2 in Chapter II of the draft treaty states: that Japan shall renounce all rights, titles, and claims to specific territories that are listed. These territories include: Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), the Pescadores (Penghu), the Kuril Islands, the southern portion of Sakhalin Island, the Pacific islands, Antarctic areas, the Spratly Islands, and the Paracel Islands.

At the plenary session on September 5th, 1951, the Conference agreed with the decision of the Conference’s President to reject another proposal requesting “that Japan shall recognize the complete sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China over Manchuria, Formosa and its adjacent islands, Penlinletao (the Pescadores), the Tunshatsuntao Islands (Pratas), the Sishatsuntao and Chunshatsuntao (the Paracel Islands, the Amphirites, and the Maxfield submerged cays), and the Nanshatsundao (including the Spratly Islands), and that Japan shall renounce all rights, titles, and claims to these territories”. This rejection decision was approved by the Conference with 46 ayes, three noes, and one abstain. Countries that voted to reject this proposal include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vietnam, and Japan.

In the ratified Treaty of Peace with Japan, Article 2 of Chapter II [30] remains unchanged as it had initially been drafted, which states:

“(a) Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet.

(b) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.

(c) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a consequence of the Treaty of Portsmouth of September 5th, 1905.

(d) Japan renounces all right, title and claim in connection with the League of Nations Mandate System, and accepts the action of the United Nations Security Council of April 2nd, 1947, extending the trusteeship system to the Pacific islands formerly under mandate of Japan.

(e) Japan renounces all claims to any right or title to or interest in connection with any part of the Antarctic area, whether deriving from the activities of Japanese nationals or otherwise.

(f) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Spratly Islands and to the Paracel Islands.”

Apparently, the territories proclaimed by the 1943 Cairo Communiqué and the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan to be under China’s sovereignty only include Taiwan and Penghu. The fact that the Treaty of Peace with Japan places Taiwan and Penghu together in one item (Item b), and the Paracel and the Spratly Islands together in a separate item (Item f) implies that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands are not recognized as parts of China.

Also at the 1951 San Francisco Conference, on September 7th, 1951, Trần Văn Hữu, the head of the State of Vietnam’s delegation, declared that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands have long been the territories of Vietnam, and that “to take full advantage of every chance to prevent any seed of dispute in the future, we affirm our long-standing sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands”. None of the representatives of 51 countries attending the Conference objected to and/or expressed their wish to reserve opinions about this statement.

All of these aforementioned documents and evidence clearly demonstrate that international legal documents, from the Cairo Communiqué of November 27th, 1943 (re-affirmed by the Potsdam Declaration of July 26th, 1945) to the San Francisco Treaty of Peace with Japan of September 8th, 1951, do not recognize the sovereignty of any other countries over the Vietnam’s Paracel and Spratly Islands. Also, the fact that none of the countries attending the 1951 San Francisco Conference objected to or wished to reserve their opinion on the statement of the Vietnam’s delegation on Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands shows that the international community implicitly recognized the sovereignty of Vietnam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.

[1] “Li” is an old length measurement unit, equivalent to 0.5 km.

[2] These nautical maps were made by Portuguese, Dutch, and French navigators including Lazaro Luis, Fernão vaz Dourado, João Teixeira, Johannes Janssonius, Willem Janszoon Blaeu, Jacob Aertsz Colom, Theunis Jacobsz, Hendrick Doncker, Frederick de Wit, Pierre du Val, and Henricus van Langren.

[3] “The Nguyen rulers” refer to the Nguyen lords, the feudal rulers of Southern Vietnam (Dang Trong) from 1558 to 1775 while Northern Vietnam (Dang Ngoai) was ruled by the Trinh lords. Both of these feudal houses nominally swore their allegiance to the Le Imperial Dynasty.

[4] In “Hong Duc Ban Do” (The Hong Duc Map).

[5] For Vietnamese and Chinese people, “mountain” is also used to indicate an island in the sea.

[6] “Note on the Geography of Cochinchina” by Bishop Jean-Louis Taberd was published in the 1837 Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 6, page 745.

[7] “Tabula geographica imperii Anamitici” is attached in the 1938 Latin–Annamese Dictionary (Dictionarium Latino–Anamiticum).

[8] “Dai Nam” (The Great South) and “Nuoc Nam” (The Southern Country) are among various names used to refer to Vietnam by the Vietnamese people.

[9] J.Y.C. cited from “Mystere des atolls – Journal de voyage aux Paracels” (English: Mystery of the atolls – Journal of the voyage to the Paracel Islands), published in the issues 3, 10, and 17 of the weekly magazine Indochine in July 1941. The name “Cochinchina” in these articles refers to Vietnam as a whole country.

[10] A. Salles cited from “Le mémoire sur la Cochinchine de J.B. Chaigneau” (The memoir of Cochinchina by J.B. Chaigneau), published in the 1923 Bulletin des amis du vieux Huê (Bulletin of the Friends of Old Huế), Volume 2, page 257.

[11] “Cochinchine” (French) or “Cochinchina” (English) indicates either Southern Vietnam (Dang Trong) or Vietnam as a whole, which also included Northern Vietnam (Dang Ngoai).

[12] “Geography of the Cochinchinese Empire” was published in the 1849 Journal of the Royal Geography Society of London, Volume 19, page 93.

[13] Dai Chiem and Sa Vinh Seaports are now called Dai and Sa Huynh Seaports under the Provinces of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai, respectively.

[14] Bai Cat Vang has for long been known as an area with many dangerous submerged cays in the East Sea.

Source: National Committee for Border Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 
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