VietNamNet Bridge - Prof. Carl Thayer, from the Center for Defense and Strategic Studies (CDSS), Australia, a well-known expert on security in Southeast Asia, the East Sea and China, has been to Vietnam many times to attend international conferences. But, perhaps, this is the first time he visited a small province like Quang Ngai.
Prof. Carl Thayer (left) in Quang Ngai.
On April 27, 2013, Vietnam organized an international workshop on historical and legal evidence for Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagoes at the University of Pham Van Dong, Quang Ngai province.
At that meeting, Prof. Thayer met his colleagues who joined him in workshops on the East Sea conflict in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, such as the Secretary General of ASEAN Rod Severino, Dr. Renato de Castro from the Philippines, Dr. Subhash Kapila from India, and Prof. Ngo Vinh Long from the University of Maine (USA).
More specifically, he met Murray Hiebert, a senior expert of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC (USA), who for the last several years chaired the regular sessions on the East Sea held at CSIS, where Prof. Thayer was always invited as a guest.
As a leading expert on Vietnam, Prof. Thayer knew that before becoming a CSIS expert, Hiebert was a famous reporter of the "Far Eastern Economic Review". Hiebert himself had memorable experiences with Vietnam in the early '90, when he was the above magazine’s correspondent in Hanoi, at the time Vietnam beginning its economic reforms.
At the workshop in Quang Ngai’s Prof. Thayer’s presentation on the lawsuit against China to the UN, filled by the Philippines, perhaps for the first time, was not present, because his presentation had the same topic with the one by Murray Hiebert and because the CSIS scholars will continue to chair the two sessions of a workshop on the East Sea in early June at CSIS.
But Prof. Thayer was not alone because other scholars, such as ASEAN General Secretary Rod Severino, Dr. Renato de Castro from the Philippines, Dr. Subhash Kapila from India and Vietnamese scholar Pham Hoang Quan were also in the same situation. Since the workshop was held in just one day, there was not enough time for presentations. The organizers gave a significant time for the debate.
Historical evidence for foreign scholars
The evidence for Vietnam's sovereignty over Hoang Sa.
During discussion on the historical evidence, Prof. Thayer asked all Vietnamese scholars a question: In the process of reading historical books of Vietnam, is there any document mentioning the presence of foreigners in the Hoang Sa Archipelago (Paracel Islands)?
All respondents had very specific answers, Prof. Thayer said.
For example, there are documents noting that Chinese citizens went to Hoang Sa, but according to Chinese law at that time, living on such foreign islands was illegal.
Some documents noted that officials of Guangdong province, China, engaged in acts of claims of sovereignty in Hoang Sa, but there was no involvement of the central government of China.
Or, the Chinese only went to Hoang Sa during the fishing season, not entirely settling down there. As for Vietnam, Vietnamese scholars pointed out many decrees of the Nguyen Lords sending flotillas to Hoang Sa.
"Foreign scholars have devoted much time to the study of historical documents and evidence on territorial disputes in the East Sea, but they still have to depend on Vietnamese scholars who can read ancient documents in Vietnamese which are archived in Vietnam," Prof. Thayer said.
For example, Mr. Nguyen Dang Vu, Director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Quang Ngai, presented a very interesting presentation on King Minh Mang, who issued edicts to send the Hoang Sa flotilla to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc of the Vietnam National University provided newly-discovered documents on the Hoang Sa flotilla.
"These documents (by Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc) really made me feel enlightened," Prof. Thayer said.
Dr. Nguyen Nha, from the Vietnam History Association, was excellent in refuting the weaknesses of China's sovereignty claims.
According to Prof. Thayer, seminars, such as the one held at the Pham Van Dong University, are extremely valuable for foreigners, in the sense of education.
For the first time in Ly Son
Ly Son Island.
Perhaps Prof. Thayer, along with foreign delegates attending the workshop, are almost the first foreigners visiting Ly Son island in Quang Ngai province, at least since China apparently showed its intention to invade 80 percent of the East Sea through the U-shaped line.
In the eyes of Professor Thayer, Ly Son Island has provided a demonstration of the practical aspects of a long maritime history of Vietnam. That is, when the ship docked Ly Son wharf, all workshop participants saw a large number of fishing boats.
Moreover, the purpose of this trip was not for sightseeing but to participate in the Hoang Sa flotilla memorial ceremony on the Ly Son Island. This ceremony recreated the history of sacrifices and victory of the Vietnamese over two centuries ago.
"But, for me, the most exciting event on the island is the story of two fishermen,'' Professor Thayer said.
A fisherman who brought home a piece of cloth printed with the words on a rock that he did not understand the meaning after fishing in Hoang Sa in 1981. It is a stone inscription from the second year of the Nguyen Dynasty, which provides historical evidence that the Hoang Sa Archipelago is under the jurisdiction of Vietnam.
The fisherman also told that the Chinese tried to destroy that evidence.
He also recalled how he was arrested and badly treated by the Chinese. But, finally, he showed his determination to continue fishing in the waters of Hoang Sa - the waters under the sovereignty of Vietnam.
The second story was told by the captain of a fishing boat that was fired upon with flares by Chinese ships on the morning of March 20, 2013 - a story that will be told in the second part of this story.