Former Border Committee Head refutes Chinese scholars’ quibble

 VietNamNet Bridge – Former chief of the Government Border Committee Tran Cong Truc rejected quibble by Chinese specialists over his research in the book “Vietnam’s Imprints in the East Sea.”

The East Sea disputes

Dr. Tran Cong Truc.

After Dr. Truc’s book was published, the Chinese radio network on August 10 had a report on the book, adding comments by Chinese scholars who did not agree with Dr. Truc’s key points.

VietNamNet talked with Dr. Truc about Chinese scholars’ arguments.

In your book, you wrote that it is needed to use the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) to solve the East Sea disputes. However, President Wu Shicun of the Institute for South China Sea Studies said that it is unable to apply the UNCLOS to settle territory-related issues. What do you think about Mr. Wu’s opinion, who you met in negotiation rounds about the Tonkin Gulf many years ago?

First of all, I’m glad because my book has received feedback from Chinese scholars, from Mr. Wu, who used to be a member of the Chinese negotiation delegation with Vietnam about the Tonkin Gulf delimitation.

But I don’t understand why my book could not come to Chinese readers in a full and accurate form. Whether they could not read my book entirely, because of errors of translation or because of some motives that they made such subjective comments. For those who have some understanding and experience in research or negotiation of border and territory, they could not have that misunderstanding.

Yes, it is “unreal” to rely on the UNCLOS to protect sovereignty claims overthe Hoang Sa (Paracel) and the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes.

You know, there are two major types of disputes in the East Sea: disputes of sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands and disputes over overlapped waters and continental shelves.

As to the territorial disputes over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, I’ve said that this type of dispute must be settled under the international law and practice that have been widely recognized and applied in the world. In my point of view, at present, the principle “as you possess” has the highest legal value, which is commonly used to solve every territorial disputes.

What is the “as you possess” principle? That is the possession must be implemented by the State over ownerless territories or the territories that are left fallow by a country that possessed the territories previously. That possession must be real, unceasing, peaceful, does not use force and clearly, and it must be made public for everyone.

China’s argument is based on the principle “historical sovereignty.” They said that China used to be here, used to discover this archipelago, used to name, map…

Many international scholars have warned that if using historical events that were noted in different historical and geographic documents to consider territorial sovereignty or to settle territorial claims, this world will see a lot of changes. If using history, Spain, Portugal or Britain will have the right to claim all islands or the waters that they used to pass or come to.

Therefore, it is unable to rely on history and the name of history to defend territorial claims over islands amid the East Sea, and it is even unable to use the name of history to raise the U-shape claims and to seek every way to regularize that claim, regardless of clear criteria of the international law and practice.

In the book, we provided clear and specific information about the process of establishing sovereignty of the Vietnamese state over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Readers can see the fact that the Vietnamese state is the first state in the history which has possessed and practiced its sovereignty over the two archipelagoes since they were ownerless territories. The possession is true, clear, continuous, peaceful and appropriate to international law and practice. Vietnam has abundant legal foundation, historical evidences of legal values to prove this truth.

Readers can see by their own eyes decrees, royal documents on the establishment of administrative agencies of the Vietnamese state on these archipelagoes through historical periods, its objection against violations made by other countries over Vietnam’s two archipelagoes. Everything is very clear, with unceasing events and these are valuable evidences. The possession started at least from the 17th century, from the dynasty of Nguyen Lords until now.

Could you explain the viewpoint of using the UNCLOS to settle disputes in the East Sea as you suggested in your book?

The UNCLOS is the legal foundation to solve disputes over territorial waters and continental shelves between coastal countries that are adjacent or opposite to each other. I would like to repeat that the UNCLOS is not the legal basis to consider and solve national territorial disputes.

The UNCLOS clearly stipulates this content. Article 15 of the UNCLOS says: “Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured.”

It is very clear like that. Persons who are researchers of or managers of the sea are not allowed to misunderstand or intentionally explain it wrongly. You should remember that once a country is a member of the UNCLOS, it has to obey the entire content of this convention. That is the prerequisite for related parties to be able to negotiate and solve maritime border conflicts.

If claims are raised not based on the UNCLOS like the U-shape line, it will surely to reach not any fair result.

We have had many lessons from negotiation of delimitation of water territory in the East Sea which need to be seriously considered and applied. The scientism, objectivity and mutual constructiveness of related parties in negotiation is the most important factor to go to success.

The Chinese radio network also cited the Vice Chair of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Zhou Xiaobing as saying that the Qing performed administrative management over islands in the East Sea and drew over ten maps of islands here. Chinese scholars researched historical evidences of Vietnam and said that some geographic names in Vietnamese historical documents are not the geographic names of some islands and shoals in the East Sea but the geographic names of some islands and shoals near Vietnam’s shore. Therefore, this is a wrong way of explanation which makes misunderstanding for the public opinion and international scholars. What do you think about this viewpoint?

I’ve heard about this a lot of times. They have many times confirmed that the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands are islands near the shore of central Vietnam. We have also many times pointed out their wrong approach. There are no islands of Huu Nhat, Quang Anh, Quang Hoa, Luoi Liem, An Vinh or Song Tu Tay, Song Tu Dong, Thi Tu, Tien Nu, etc. along the shore of central Vietnam. Many Asian and European documents and maps are clear answers for this. It is certainly that true scientists, researchers and scholars do not have such an approach!

Xuan Linh