White Paper on the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands

Republic of Vietnam

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Saigon, 1975


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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 archipelago.


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 of Vietnam.


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 Vietnam (1974)

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 archipelagoes.


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 15th century.


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 year 1816.


Geographic position


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 nautical miles.
* 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 phosphate.


First Vietnamese document on the Hoang Sa Islands


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 Don


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 following results:


- "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 month.

- In the eight month, they arrive home through the port of Eo (Thuan An).

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.


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