White Paper on the
Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands
Republic of Vietnam
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Vietnamese archipelagoes of Hoang Sa (Paracel)
and Truong Sa (Spratly) are both situated in the South China Sea
off the Republic of Vietnam's shore.
Their very modest size by no means lesser the importance
given them by the Vietnamese: to Vietnamese hearts, these remote
insular territories are as dear as could be any other part of the
fatherland. The Hoang Sa Islands to the North were occupied by force
of arms by the People's Republic of China on January 20, 1974, following
a brazen act of invasion which left the world extremely indignant.
As for the Truong Sa Islands 500 km to the South, two other foreign
powers are illegally stationing troops on four of the main islands
in the archipelago.
The Government of the Republic of Vietnam and the
Vietnamese people, determined to defend their sovereignty and the
territorial integrity of the country, solemnly denounce the occupation
of these Vietnamese territories by foreign troops. Regarding the
Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands, not only was the gross violation of
Vietnamese sovereignty by the People's Republic of China a defiance
of the law of nations and the Charter of the United Nations: in-as-much
as this involved the use of force by a world power against a small
country in Asia, it also constitutes a threat to peace and stability
in South East Asia In the case of the Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands,
although foreign occupation was not preceded by bloodshed, it nevertheless
represents a grave violation of the territorial integrity of the
Republic of Vietnam. The rights of the Vietnamese people over those
islands have been as firmly established there as on the Hoang Sa
The Republic of Vietnam fulfils all the conditions
required by international law to assert its claim to possession
of these islands. Throughout the course of history, the Vietnamese
had already accomplished the gradual consolidation of their rights
on the Hoang Sa Islands.
By the early 19th century, a systematic policy of
effective occupation was implemented by Vietnamese emperors The
Truong Sa Islands, known to and exploited by Vietnamese fishermen
and laborers for many centuries, were formally incorporated into
Vietnamese territory by France on behalf of Vietnam. On both archipelagoes,
Vietnamese civil servants assured a peaceful and effective exercise
of Vietnamese jurisdiction. The continuous display of state authority
was coupled with the constant Vietnamese will to remain the owner
of a legitimate title over those islands.
Thus military defense of the archipelagoes and diplomatic
activities were put forth in the face of false claims from other
countries in the area. Vietnamese rights being indisputable, the
People's Republic of China chose to resort to military force in
order to assert her sudden claims to the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands.
Two other foreign powers took advantage of the war
situation in Vietnam to militarily occupy some of the Truong Sa
(Spratly) Islands over which they have no legal rights. Since both
the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagoes are situated below the
17th parallel, this is primarily a matter of concern for the Republic
This White Paper is designed to demonstrate the validity
of the claims made by the Republic of Vietnam. It is also an appeal
for justice to the conscience of all law-abiding and peace-loving
nations in the world.
Proclamation by the Government of the Republic of
The noblest and most imperative task of a Government
is to defend the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity
of the Nation. The Government of the Republic of Vietnam is determined
to carry out this task, regardless of difficulties it may encounter
and regardless of unfounded objections wherever they may come from.
In the face of the illegal military occupation by
Communist China of the Paracels Archipelago which is an integral
part of the Republic of Vietnam, the Government of the Republic
of Vietnam deems it necessary to solemnly declare before world opinion,
to friends and foes alike, that:
The Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes
are an indivisible part of the territory of the Republic of Vietnam.
The Government and People of the Republic of Vietnam shall not yield
to force and renounce all or part of their sovereignty over those
As long as one single island of that part of the
territory of the Republic of Vietnam is forcibly occupied by another
country, the Government and People of the Republic will continue
their struggle to recover their legitimate rights.
The illegal occupant will have to bear all responsibility
for any tension arising therefrom.
On this occasion, the Government of the Republic
of Vietnam also solemnly reaffirms the sovereignty of the Republic
of Vietnam over the islands off the shores of Central and South
Vietnam, which have been consistently accepted as a part of the
territory of the Republic of Vietnam on the basis of undeniable
geographic, historical and legal evidence and on account of realities.
The Government of the Republic of Vietnam is determined
to defend the sovereignty of the Nation over those islands by all
and every means.
In keeping with its traditionally peaceful policy,
the Government of the Republic of Vietnam is disposed to solve,
through negotiations, international disputes which may arise over
those islands, but this does not mean that it shall renounce its
sovereignty over any part of its national territory.
(Proclamation by the Government of the Republic of
Vietnam dated February 14, 1974)
The Early Historical Rights of Vietnam
The Vietnamese have had knowledge of the Hoang Sa
Islands long before the arrival to the South China Sea of Westerners
who publicized internationally the name of "Paracels"
for this part of their territory. It has been scientifically determined
that the Vietnamese presence on this archipelago started in the
The systematic exploitation of the islands' resources
started early and gradually developed Vietnamese interest in these
territories, leading in the 18th century to official state decision
such as the formation of the Hoang Sa Company to ensure a rational
exploitation of those islands.
As evidenced by reliable Vietnamese and foreign sources,
Vietnam progressively asserted her rights and the Hoang Sa archipelago
was formally taken possession of the Vietnamese authorities in the
The Hoang Sa Archipelago is a string of islets off
the Vietnamese coast between 111 and 113 degrees longitude East
of Greenwich, and between 15045' and 17015' North latitude. The
nearest island in the archipelago is roughly at equal distance from
the coast of Vietnam and the southern shore of Hainan Island in
China. Using Pattle Island (dao Hoang Sa), the largest of the group,
as a point of reference, the distances are as follows:
* Pattle to the Vietnamese harbor of Danang: 200
* Pattle to the closest shore on Hainan: 150 nautical miles.
* Pattle to the closest shore in the Philippines: 450 nautical miles.
* Pattle to the closest shore in Taiwan: 620 nautical miles.
The Hoang Sa Islands are divided into two groups:
to the East lies the Tuyen Duc (or Amphitrite) Group and to the
West lies the
Nguyet Thiem (or Crescent) Group. The main islands are:
Tuyen Duc Group:
* Dao Bac - North Island
* Dao Trung - Middle Island
* Dao Nam - South Island
* Phu Lam - Wooded Island (French: Ile Boisee)
* Hon Da - Rocky Island
* Dao Linh Con - Lincoln Island
* Dao Cu Moc - Tree Island
* Con Nam - South Bank
Nguyet Thiem Group:
* Dao Hoang Sa - Pattle Island
* Dao Cam Tuyen - Robert Island
* Dao Vinh Lac - Money Island
* Dao Quang Hoa - Duncan Island
* Dao Duy Mong - Drummond Island
* Dao Bach Qui - Passu Keah Island
* Dao Tri Ton - Triton Island.
Apart from Pattle, the only other large island is
Phu Lam or Wooded Island in the Amphitrite Group. The total surface
area of the isles in both Groups barely exceeds 10 square kilometers
or about 5 square miles. Most Islets were originally coral reefs
and have the appearance of bare sand-banks, except for Wooded Island
and Pattle Island, which is known for its coconut trees.
The islands are surrounded by rings of reefs which
make the approach by vessels very dangerous. An abundance of tortoises,
sea slugs and other marine creatures are found there. Rich beds
of phosphate have been produced by the interaction of the sea birds'
guano with tropical rains and the coral limestone.
The climate on the archipelago is marked by constant
humidity and little variation in mean temperatures. In economic
terms, the Hoang Sa Islands have been frequented long ago by Vietnamese
fishermen and in recent times have attracted many companies exploiting
First Vietnamese document on the Hoang Sa
Evidence showing Vietnamese sovereignty over the
Hoang Sa Islands extends back over three hundred years. The oldest
Vietnamese document on this part of the national heritage is the
work done sometime between 1630 and 1653 by a scholar named Do Ba
and also known under the penname of Dao Phu. It is a series of maps
of Viet Nam which constitutes the third part of the "Hong Duc
Atlas" (1): the Atlas started under the reign of Emperor Le
Thanh Tong alias Hong Duc (1460-1497).
Notes accompanying the maps clearly indicate that
as far back as the early 17th century, Vietnamese authorities had
been sending, on a regular basis, ships and men to these islands,
which at that time were named "Cat Vang" (both "Cat
Vang" and "Hoang Sa" mean "yellow sand").
These are the islands now known internationally by the name "Paracels".
The following is the translation of Do Ba's remarks:
"At the village of Kim Ho, on both banks of
the river, stand two mountains each containing a gold deposit exploited
under government control. On the high sea, a 400-ly long and 200-ly
large archipelago (2) called " Bai Cat Vang " (Yellow
sand banks) emerges from the deep sea facing the coastline between
the harbor of Dai Chiem and the harbor of Sa Vinh (3). During the
South-West monsoon season, commercial ships from various countries
sailing near the coasts often wreck on the insular territories.
The same thing happens during the North-East monsoon season to those
ships sailing on the high sea. All the people on board wrecked ships
in this area would starve. Various kinds of wrecked cargoes are
amassed on these islands. Each year during the last month of winter,
the Nguyen rulers send to the islands an 18-junk flotilla in order
to salvage them. They obtain big quantities of gold, silver, coins,
rifles and ammunitions. From the harbor of Dai Chiem the archipelago
is reached after a journey of one-and-a-half day, while one day
suffices if one embarks from Sa Ky."(4)
Although geographical descriptions of former times
are not as precise as they are now, it is clear from the above that
the "yellow sand" or Hoang Sa Islands have been part of
the economic heritage of the Empire of Vietnam at least before 1653,
the latest year when Do Ba could have completed his map drawing.
Moreover, an eminent Vietnamese historian and scholar, Vo Long Te,
has been able to determine that. taking into account other factors
in the Do Ba's text (e.g. historical references and linguistic style),
the salvage expeditions described therein actually started in the
15th century (5).
First evidence from foreign sources
Vietnamese scholars are not the only people to record
that Vietnam, formerly known as the 'empire of Annam', had early
displayed state authority over the Hoang Sa Islands. Actually, foreign
sources have been even more accurate in regard to the dates concerning
Vietnamese sovereignty. As presented above, on the basis of the
Do Ba document, economic exploitation of the Hoang Sa Islands by
Vietnamese started, at least, before 1653.
However as early as 1634, the Journal of Batavia.
Published by the Dutch East Indies Company, recorded incidents showing
that Vietnamese jurisdiction was then already recognized by citizens
of other countries.
According to the Journal of Batavia published in
1634-1636, (6) on July 20, 1634, three Dutch ships named Veenhuizen,
Schagen (7) and Grootebroek left Touron (present-day Da Nang) on
their way to Formosa, after having come from Batavia (present-day
Djakarta). On the 21st, the three ships were caught in a tempest
and lost contact with one another. The Veenhuizen arrived in Formosa
on August 2 and the Schagen. on August 10. But the Grootebroek capsized
near the Paracel Islands, north of the 17th Parallel. Of the cargo
estimated at 153,690 florins, only 82,995 florin-worth of goods
severe recovered by the surviving crew; the rest went down to the
bottom of the sea. Of the ship's company nine men were also missing.
After he had taken every disposition to have the
remains of the cargo safely stored on the islands, under the guard
of 50 sailors, the captain of the Grootebroek took to sea with another
12 sailors and headed toward the Vietnamese coast to seek help in
the realm of the Nguyen Lords. However, when the group reached the
mainland, they were taken prisoners by fishermen and their money
was confiscated. This led to a dispute with the Vietnamese authorities.
The dispute resulted in further visits by Dutch ships to the Vietnamese
Court (and ultimately, to the granting of free trade rights to Dutchmen
and the establishment of the first Dutch factory in Vietnam, headed
by Abraham Duijcker). For our purposes here, however, the significant
fact was that, when the Grootebroek sank, the sailors chose to go
to Vietnam instead of China, although China was nearer. This is
undoubtedly because they assumed the country exercising jurisdiction
over the site of the wreckage would naturally provide rescue and
be more responsive to their claims.
Testimony by Vietnamese historian Le Qui
Other references to the early historical rights of
Vietnam over the Hoang Sa Islands (called " Pracels" in
the Journal of Batavia account) are made by the Encyclopedist Le
Qui Don (1726-1784) in his history work Phu Bien Tap Luc (Miscellaneous
Records on the Pacification of the Frontiers). Le Qui Don was a
mandarin sent to the South by the Court in order to serve as administrator
in the realm recently taken over by the Court from the Nguyen Lords
(hence the appellation of "Frontier Provinces" for these
lands in the title of the book).
In his work, Le Qui Don recorded many of the things
he saw or heard while on duty in the southern realm. As a consequence,
there were several references to the islands belonging to the Nguyen
realm. The most extensive and precise reference to the Paracel Islands
occurs on pages where it is said:
"The village of An Vinh, Binh Son District,
Quang Ngai Prefecture, is close by thc sea. To the northeast (of
the village) there are many islands and miscellaneous rockheads
jutting out of the sea, totaling 130 altogether. From the rockheads
out to the islands, it sometimes takes a day (by sea) or at least
a few watches. On top of the rocks there sometimes are freshwater
springs. Linking the islands is a vast strip of yellow sand of over
30 ly in length, a flat and vast expanse where the water is clear
and can be seen through to the bottom."
On a following page, the fauna and flora of the Paracels
are described in detail, thus allowing one to compare them with
laterscientific descriptions made in the twentieth century: sea-swallows
and their valuable nests (among the thousands of varieties of birds
found on the islands), giant conches called "elephant-ear conches",
mother-of-pearls, giant tortoises and smaller varieties of turtles,
sea urchins, and so forth.
Regarding the usefulness of these islands and their
exploitation, Le Qui Don has this to say:
"When they encounter strong winds, large sea-going
ships usually take shelter in these islands,".
"In the past, the Nguyen had created a Hoang
Sa Company of 70 men, made up of people from An Vinh village. Every
year they take turns in going out to the sea, setting out during
the first month of the lunar calendar in order to receive instructions
regarding their mission. Each man in the company is given six months
worth of dry food. They row in five fishing boats and it takes them
three days before they reach the islands. They are free to collect
anything they want, to catch the birds as they see fit and to fish
for food. They (sometimes) find the wreckage of ships which yield
such things as bronze swords and copper horses, silver decorations
and money, silver rings and other copper products, tin ingots and
lead, guns and ivory, golden bee-hive tallow, felt blankets, pottery
and so forth. They also collect turtle shells, sea urchins and striped
conches in huge quantities.
"This Hoang Sa Company does not come home until
the eighth month of the year. They go to Phu Xuan (present-day Hue)
to turn in the goods they have collected in order to have them weighed
and verified, then get an assessment before they can proceed to
sell their striped conches, sea turtles and urchins. Only then is
the Company issued a certificate with which they can go home. These
annual collections sometimes can be very fruitful and at other times
more disappointing, it depends on the year. It sometimes happens
that the company can go out and return empty-handed.
"I (Le Qui Don) have had the opportunity to
check the records of the former Count of Thuyen Duc and found the
- "In the year of Nham Ngo (1702), the Hoang
Sa Company collected 30 silver ingots.
- "In the year of Giap Than (1704), 5,l00 catties
of tin were brought in.
- "In the year of At Dau (1704), 126 ingots
of silver were collected.
"From the year of Ky Suu (1709) to the year
of Quy Ti (1713) i.e. during five consecutive years, the company
managed to collect only a few catties of tortoise shell and sea
urchins. At one time, all they collected included a few bars of
tin a few stone bowls and two bronze cannons".
It is clear from the above that in the eighteenth
century at least, the Nguyen Lords of southern Vietnam were very
much concerned with the economic possibilities of the Hoang Sa (Paracel
Islands and in fact actually organized the annual exploitation of
this archipelago. The fact that no counterclaims were made by any
other nation is patent proof that the Nguyens' sovereign rights
over the islands were not challenged by any country.
Elsewhere in the book, Le Qui Don also records an
incident dating from 1753 which throws some light over the question
of Chinese-Vietnamese relationships regarding the Paracel Islands.
"The shores of the Hoang Sa Islands are not far from Lien-chou
Prefecture in Hainan Province, China. (For that reason) our ships
sometimes meet with fishing boats from our Northern neighbor (China)
on the high sea. Ship-mates from both countries inquire about one
another in the midst of the ocean... On one occasion, there was
a report coming from the hall officer in charge of sea traffic investigations
in Wen-ch'ang District, Ch'iung-chou Prefecture (Hainan Island,
China), which says: "In the eighteenth year of Ch'ien-lung
(1753), ten soldiers from An Binh Village belonging to the Cat Liem
Company, District of Chuong Nghia, Quang Ngai Prefecture, Annam,
set out during, the seventh month to go to the Van Ly Truong Sa
(7) to collect sea products. Eight of the ten men went ashore for
the collection of products, and two remained on the ship to watch
it. A typhoon soon developed w which caused the anchor cord to split,
and the two who remained in the ship were washed into the port of
Ch'ing-lan. After investigation the Chinese officer found the story
to be correct and consequently had the two Vietnamese escorted home
to their native village. Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu subsequently had the
Governor of Thuan Hoa (present-day Thua Thien) Province, the Count
of Thuc Luong, write a courtesy note to the hall officer of Wen-ch'ang
to acknowledge his help."
This story illustrates a number of points, besides
the general civility of intercourse already evinced at the time
between China and Vietnam. It is apparent from the story that the
Chinese officer from Wen-ch'ang was not bothered by the fact that
the Vietnamese were intruding into Chinese territorial waters when
they went to the Van Ly Truong Sa. The only concern of the officer
was to find out whether the statements made by the two Vietnamese
sailors had any basis in fact. In other words, the Chinese officer
was only worried about the possibility of the Vietnamese being spies
sent into Hainan under the pretense of a storm encountered at sea.
When this was disproved, the Chinese immediately had the Vietnamese
released and dealt with them very kindly by having them escorted
home. The whole incident clearly proves that Vietnamese exploitation
of the economic resources on the Paracels in the eighteenth century
was a very open activity, carried out peacefully and acknowledged
by the Chinese to be an exercise of legitimate rights over the islands.
A famous geography book written by Phan Huy Chu and
printed in l834 by the name of Hoang Viet Dia Du Chi contains a
text on the Hoang Sa Islands which does not present much that is
new in comparison to the information in Le Qui Don's work. Only
two minor differences are found:
- The Hoang Sa Company, according to this geographical
work, was still composed of 70 men from An Vinh Village. However,
they receive dry food and get instruction to go out to sea in the
third month of the lunar calendar (rather than in the first, as
recorded by Le Qui Don. They begin their return journey in the sixth
- In the eight month, they arrive home through the port of Eo (Thuan
From the above, it can be seen that exploitation
of the Paracel Islands was becoming an operation of diminishing
return in the early nineteenth century, thus necessitating an excursion
of two months only, instead of the six-month excursion needed in
the eighteenth century. However Vietnamese interests in the islands
were not merely economic, as can be seen in the following testimonies.