Wednesday, January 17, 2024

A comparative study of Chinese and Vietnamese claims on Spratly and Paracel islands


The Chinese history books mention that China discovered the islands in the SCS as early as the Second Century B.C. and their exploitation and development followed and finally the islands were put under the Chinese administrative jurisdiction. However, there is no authentic evidence of the Chinese sovereignty on the islands. Most of these are tiny rocks, and many of them are frequently under water. Till recently, humans had not settled there, though fishermen of the neighbouring states have been using them as temporary encampment.

A 10th Century Arab traveller and a geographer al-Masudi had made reference to the Cham Sea (SCS) and trade between Champ (Vietnam) and Luzon (part of Philippines). There was no mention of the Chinese sovereignty in the Cham Sea.

China also claims that Emperor Cheng Zu of the Ming dynasty had sent Admiral Cheng Ho seven times between 1405 and 1433 to Southeast Asia, India, Arabia, the Persian Gulf and Africa that covered the SCS, and the Cheng Ho officers gave details of the features in the SCS, hence they belonged to China. These voyages of Cheng Ho were for the specific purpose of spreading knowledge about emperor’s majesty and virtue and not for any administrative function. Cheng Ho only passed through these features but did not occupy them.

In 1909, the last Emperor Xuantong, sent Zhang Renjun, Governor of Guangdong and Guanxi, Li Zhun, Admiral of the Guangdong Fleet, accompanied by 170 naval officers and men on an inspection tour of the Paracel islands in three warships and they inspected fifteen islands and set up stone tablets engraved with the names of the islands. This can be regarded as the first attempt to demonstrate the Chinese sovereignty over Paracel. All previous voyages may have mentioned these islands, yet there was no effort to establish control over the islands.

While now China has published maps showing the areas in the nine-dashed-lines as part of China and project the maps of Song and Ming dynasty having included these islands, an authentic map of China of 18 th Century given by Merkel former Chancellor of Germany to Xi Jinping in 2014 during the latter’s visit to Germany [a 1735 map of China made by French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville and printed by a German publishing house] revealed that China the was limited to the heartland only. This map shows “China Proper” — that is, the Chinese heartland mostly populated by ethnic Han people, without Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, or Manchuria. Even the islands of Taiwan and Hainan were shown with a different colour border, indicating that then they were not the parts of China. The Paracel and Spratly too were not included in China. Crucially, a map of Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province and a description of the Quiongzhou Prefecture published in 1731 by China do not mention the Paracel and the Spratly islands as parts of China.

A Vietnam map drawn by French bishop Taberd in 1838
with accurate co-ordinates of Vietnam's Paracel islands

The Vietnamese White Paper (1974) mentions that the evidence of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel Islands can be found in the notes of Do Ba in a series of maps of Vietnam prepared in the 17th Century. The Nguyen rulers had commissioned a small naval fleet named Huang Sa Brigade for Paracel to carry out mapping, hydrographic surveys, erecting markers, fishing, planting trees and recover cargo from grounded merchant ships. Another unit known as the North Sea Brigade was formed for similar tasks in Spratly islands. This practice continued till the 19th Century. Between 17th and 19th Centuries several contemporary writings indicate that these were parts of Vietnam. In 1836 Emperor Ming Mang after the unification of Vietnam sent the Royal Navy to carry out surveillance of the SCS and a temple was erected in Paracel to formally possess the marine area, which were of ‘great strategic importance to Vietnam’. Records suggest that these islands were annually surveyed and occupied. The de facto sovereignty over the Spratly chain of Vietnam is supported by European sources. Portuguese and Dutch maps drawn by navigators in the early 17th century identify the islands as Vietnamese.

A Vietnam map drawn by Dutch experts in 1594, which clearly points out that
Paracel Islands belongs to Vietnam

In 1884, when France consolidated its occupation of Vietnam, it signed the Treaty of Protectorate with the then Vietnamese rulers, under which France took the responsibility of looking after the Vietnamese foreign relations including the safeguarding the kingdom. Consequently, the French troops established their dominance up to Paracel and Spratly islands. Reports suggest that both the groups of islands were equipped with a radio station and a lighthouse.

Vietnam’s sovereignty stele on Paracel Islands in 1930

Vietnam’s lighthouse on Paracel Islands before 1945

Vietnamese soldiers salute the flag on Paracel Islands

In 1930s, Japan showed interests in acquiring the Paracel and Spratly islands but France established its control over them in 1933 amid the protests from Japan and China. The French region in the Indo-China was interrupted by Japan during the World War II but France regained control in 1947. In 1949, France and Vietnam signed an agreement, which provided for the transfer of administrative powers to the Vietnamese government.

However, developments in Vietnam leading to its division, and conflicting interpretation of the Potsdam declaration were used by China to occupy some portions of Paracel islands. Vietnam took up the matter at the San Francisco Conference and claimed both the groups of islands, which was not challenged. Later when the Geneva Conference divided the Vietnam into two parts, the two group of islands became the part of Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). In 1974, China brought Paracel island under its control after ousting the garrison of the South Vietnam. In 1988, PRC and Vietnam forces again fought at Jonson Reef in which the Vietnamese forces suffered a major blow. Though the land border issue was resolved in 1999, the Paracel and Spratly remain unresolved.

The matter has been examined scholars with legal and historical background and have supported the claims of Vietnam. The view of Captain Raul “Pete” Pedrozo, USN, Judge Advocate Corps (ret.), an authority on the issue, deserves attention. He concluded that “Vietnam clearly has a superior claim to the South China Sea islands.” On China, he stated that “the first demonstration of Chinese sovereignty over the Paracel island did not occur until 1909, two centuries after Vietnam had legally and effectively established its titles to the islands.”

However, PRC has launched a high-voltage propaganda campaign fabricating historical facts to justify its claims over these islands. China perceives history as an instrument of statecraft, which plays a crucial role in determining the fate of nation states and that historical facts can be manipulated to justify its ‘imaginary claims.’ Xi, who has sold the idea of rejuvenation to his population, is likely to intensify its propaganda and if the situation favourable, he can use force in accordance with his ‘policy of wining local wars’ or can change geographical features to China’s advantage. It is imperative for Vietnam to launch an effective publicity campaign to project facts and counter Chinese propaganda so that the International Community clearly understands the issue and adopt the right approach. A strong rebuttal would also ensure that Beijing does not become a victim of its own propaganda and perceive that the world has accepted its version pushing it to use force against Vietnam.



0 coment rios: