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Another side of the dispute in the East Sea

VGP – Vietnamese Ambassador to Indonesia Nguyen Xuan Thuy had his article “Another side of the dispute in the SCS” on the Jakarta Post published on May 25 to challenge the groundless claims by Liu Hongyang, chargé d’affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia.

May 30, 2014 5:31 PM GMT+7

The following is the full article written by Ambassador Nguyen Xuan Thuy:

In the piece “Viet Nam’s dangerous acts”, Liu Hongyang, chargé d’ affairs at the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia mentioned that the Xisha Islands (Paracels in English) “are an inherent territory of China,” the international community has since the World War II recognized this, and Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong on September 14, 1958 has publicly recognized these and other islands as Chinese territories. I feel compelled to offer the following points to set the record straight.

In the first place, Viet Nam has adequate historical evidence and legal grounds to assert sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys (or Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in Vietnamese). It is clear from the official historical records, Viet Nam has peacefully and continuously exercised sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys at least since the 17th century when these territories were terra nullius. A good example of the care that Vietnamese emperors took to consolidate their sovereignty over these territories was the building of a pagoda in 1835 and the placement of stone monument on the Paracels by Emperor Minh Mang. China, for its part, had expressed no intention to claim sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys. To the contrary, many maps describing Chinese territory under the Ch’ing Dynasty depicted Hainan Islands as the southern end of the Chinese territory. One of these maps was recently presented by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a gift during Xi’s visit to Germany in March 2014.

When France established its protectorate over Viet Nam in 1884, France took over the administration of the Paracels and the Spratlys on behalf of Viet Nam.

In addition, Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys was recognized by the San Francisco Conference held in September 1951 with the attendance of 51 states, the purpose of which was to address the territorial issues in the aftermath of World War II. At this Conference, the Head of the Vietnamese Delegation Tran Van Huu, the then Prime Minister under King Bao Dai regime, asserted Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracels and the Spratlys in the absence of protest from all the 50 other participating delegations. It is also interesting to note that, at the same San Francisco conference, the proposed amendment that would have made the San Francisco Peace Treaty provide for a recognition of China’s sovereignty over, inter alia, the Paracels and the Spratlys was rejected by 46 out of the 51 participants. In addition, the participants at the 1954 Geneva Conference on restoration of peace in Indochina – the PRC was among them – confirmed their recognition of and respect for Viet Nam’s independence and territorial integrity. As a participant in the Conference, France complied with the San Francisco Treaty and withdrew its forces from Viet Nam in 1956. The Republic of Viet Nam had, since the withdrawal of France, resumed the administration over these islands, undertook various acts and made several declarations to affirm its sovereignty over them.

There is no denying the fact that in 1974 China used force to occupy the entire Paracels. This act violated a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens), that is the prohibition of the use of force in international relations as provided in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Stemming from a grave breach of jus cogens, the current occupation of the Paracels by China cannot establish a valid title for China regardless of how long the Chinese have been there and of what measures they have done to enforce their administration. China itself endorsed this principle in the aide-memoire of May 12, 1988 of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated that aggression would never establish sovereignty. In legal and historical perspective, China’s claim over the Paracels is groundless. Mr. Liu Hongyang’s point that the Paracels belong to China, therefore, it faulse argument.

Secondly, Mr. Liu Hongyang was intentionally wrong in citing the letter dated September 14, 1958 by the then Prime Minister Pham Van Dong as a public recognition of China’s sovereignty over, inter alia, the Paracels. In his letter, the Prime Minister did not have a single word about mentioning China’s territories, still less the Paracels and the Spratlys. He only noted and supported China’s claim of 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. In addition, the fact that he did not mention these islands was appropriate in the historical context: these islands had been under the administration of the Republic of Viet Nam since 1956 as discussed above. China, as a participant in the Geneva Conference, was surely aware of the fact that the geographical scope of administration of Viet Nam was divided by the line at the 17th parallel by the 1954 Geneva agreements on Viet Nam.

Moreover, China’s statements that there is no dispute over the Paracels are contrary to what has been acknowledged by Chinese top leaders. For example, in September 1975, the then Deputy Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping told the then First Secretary General of the Viet Nam Workers’ Party Le Duan that the two sides (Viet Nam and China) had different opinions on the Paracels and the Spratlys and would later and solve this problem through negotiations. This statements was recorded in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs aide-memoire dated May 12, 1988.