White Paper on the
Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands
Republic of Vietnam
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
THE DEFENSE OF THE LEGITIMATE RIGHTS OF VIETNAM
In preceding Chapters, it has been mentioned that
the Vietnamese have always assured an appropriate defense of their
rights over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands.
Vietnamese or French troops were stationed permanently
on both archipelagoes in a display of authority that is inherent
to rightful sovereignty. In the diplomatic field, it has been recalled
that France remained active until 1956 in the defense of the legitimate
title it held on behalf of Vietnam. In 1932, then again in 1939,
France issued particularly strong protests against pretenses from
China concerning the Paracels and from Japan concerning the Spratlys.
Independent Vietnam had later to confront serious
challenges to her sovereignty over these islands. At the San Francisco
Peace Conference of 1951, Vietnam unequivocally reaffirmed its rights
over both archipelagoes. The Vietnamese chief delegate dearly stated
the position that, in settlement of territorial problems resulting
from World War II, only Vietnam was entitled to recover the Hoang
Sa and Truong Sa Islands from Japan. The defense of this cause continued
actively during the following years. In response to the Chinese
invasion of January 19-20, 1974, the Republic of Vietnam's soldiers
fought heroically in the face of superior military force. Backed
by all segments of the population, they kept alive the Vietnamese
tradition that the temporary loss of physical control over a territory
does not mean the relinquishing of a legitimate right.
From the San Francisco Peace Conference to
When Japanese military control ended in 1945, the
Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Islands returned ipso facto to their legitimate
owners. However, the confusion resulting from the war allowed other
countries make bolder moves toward asserting their groundless claims.
Specifically, the Republic of China illegally continued
to station on some of the Hoang Sa Islands the troops that had been
sent there to disarm Japanese soldiers in implementation of the
Potsdam agreement. Thus the successive governments of newly independent
Vietnam assumed the task of doing their utmost to protect the territorial
integrity of the country. The first opportunity to do so was at
the San Francisco Conference held in 1951 to work out a peace treaty
The gathering was attended by delegates from 51 countries.
According to agreements reached, Japan renounced all rights and
claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
The head of the Vietnamese delegation to this Conference
was Prime Minister Tran Van Huu, who was also Minister of Foreign
Affairs. On September 7, 1951, during the seventh plenary session
of the Conference, the Vietnamese delegate made the following statement:
"as we must frankly profit from all the opportunities
offered to us to stifle the germs of discord, we affirm our right
to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which have always belonged to
The statement aroused no objections from any of the
51 countries attending the Conference. This must be considered as
having been the universal recognition of Vietnamese sovereignty
over these islands. The declaration by Premier Huu was designed
to reaffirm an existing right, therefore it has an effect erga omnes,
i.e., even vis-a-vis those countries not represented at the Conference
(for instance, the People's Republic of China).
On the other hand, the full text of Article 2 of
the Peace Treaty shows that the two archipelagoes were considered
as one single entity in the settlement of territorial matters:
Chapter II Territory
a) Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea renounces
all right, and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart,
Port Hamilton and Dagelet.
(b) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to
Formosa and the Pescadores.
(c) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to
the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands
adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a consequence
of the Treaty of Portsmouth of September 5, 1905.
(d) Japan renounces all right, title and claim in
connection with the League of Nations Mandate System, and accepts
the action of the United Nation Security Council of April 2, 1947,
extending the trusteeship system to the Pacific Islands formerly
under mandate to Japan.
(e) Japan renounces all claim to any right or title
to or interest in connection with any part of the Antarctic area,
whether deriving from the activities of Japanese nationals or otherwise.
(f) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to
the Spratly Islands and to the Paracel Islands.
The Treaty does not specify which countries were
to recover which specific territories renounced by Japan. However,
from the above, it is clear that each sub-paragraph is relevant
to the rights of one particular country, for example:
sub-paragraph (b): rights of China.
sub-paragraph (c): rights of the USSR.
sub-paragraph (d): rights subsequently conferred
upon the United States.
sub-paragraph (f): rights of Vietnam.
This interpretation was confirmed by the refusal
by the Conference to consider a Soviet amendment that would include
the Paracels and Spratlys into the sphere of Chinese rights. The
Soviet amendment reads as follows:
"1. To Article 2.
"(a) To include, instead of paragraphs (b) and
(f), a paragraph reading follows: Japan recognizes full sovereignty
of the Chinese People's Republic over Manchuria, the Island of Taiwan
(Formosa) with all the islands adjacent to it, the Penlinletao Islands
(the Pescadores), the Tunshatsuntao Islands (the Pratas Islands),
as well as over the Islands of Sishatsuntao and Chunshatsuntao (the
Paracel Islands, the group of Amphitrites, the shoal of Maxfield)
and Nanshatsuntao Islands including tile Spratly, and renounces
all right, title and claim to the territories named here in.
The Soviet Amendment was defeated during the 8th
plenary session of the Conference. The President of the Conference
ruled it out of order, the ruling being sustained by a vote of 46
to 3 with 1 abstention (49).
Chinese claims to the Paracels and Spratlys were
thus overwhelmingly disregarded.
At a later date, the government of the Republic of
China restated its claims based on the separate peace treaty between
it and Japan (April 28, 1952). Actually, the provision concerning
the Paracels and Spratlys in that treaty was an exact restatement
of Article 2 (f) of the San Francisco Treaty.
Once again, Japan declined to specify in favor of
which country it renounced its occupied territories. In any case,
it must be stressed again that there exists an elementary principle
of law that a state (in this case Japan) cannot transfer more rights
than it itself possesses, in accordance with the maxim Nemo dat
quod non habet.
Generally speaking, the illegitimacy of China's claims
over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes is due to the lack
of animus occupandi on Chinese's part. It is true that fishermen
from Hainan Island have frequented these islands in the past and
that Chinese travelers occasionally stopped there. But unlike what
has been done by Vietnam, activities by private Chinese citizens
were never followed by governmental action.
As late as 1943, although Marshall Chiang Kai Shek
represented the only country having claims to the Paracels and Spratlys
at the Cairo Conference, he did not have any reference to these
islands included in the final Declaration (which did state that
Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores must be returned to China).
Because of the weakness of its argument, China has always declined
all suggestions, repeatedly made, in the past by France, that the
dispute be settled before international courts.
For the same reason, the People's Republic of China
had to resort to gratuitous affirmations, threats and violence to
assert her claims to the Vietnamese Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Islands.
These claims are a mere revival of the old Chinese imperialistic
drive known to all South-East Asia nations. The islands, islets,
shoals and banks that the People's Republic of China claims as a
the outposts of Chinese territory)) cover the entire South China
Sea, and would virtually convert the whole sea into a communist
After the San Francisco Peace Conference, successive
Vietnamese Governments have assured a systematic defense of the
Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands by all means available to a sovereign
After 1956, when stability had returned to the Republic
of Vietnam following the Geneva Agreement of 1954, military and
diplomatic activities became more intense. As mentioned before,
navy patrols were conducted on a regular basis. When deemed necessary,
the government of the Republic of Vietnam solemnly reiterated its
rights over the islands (statements by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
on June 1, 1956 and July 15, 1971). Necessary steps were also taken
vis-a-vis foreign governments in order to assert the Vietnamese
title. For instance, a note to the Malaysian Government dated April
20, 1971 contained all the convincing arguments in support of Vietnamese
sovereignty. This sovereignty was so evident that it could only
be contested through military actions.
The Chinese invasion of January 19-20, 1974
Before 1974, the People's Republic of China had aired
sporadic claims to the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Islands. Occasionally,
it conducted secret actions against the islands, such as the intrusion
of - fishermen, into Vietnamese uninhabited territories.
However, at the beginning of 1974, the People's Republic
of China resorted to blatantly aggressive tactics in order to militarily
seize the Hoang Sa archipelago.
The following is an account of the invasion made
by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam. In
the face of the extremely grave situation created by the PRC's imperialistic
action, RVN Foreign Minister Vuong Van Bac summoned the heads of
all diplomatic missions in Saigon on January 21st, 1974 and made
the following statement:
"I have invited you to gather here today
to inform you of recent events which have taken place in the area
of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago off the central coast of Vietnam.
These events have created an emergency situation susceptible of
endangering peace and stability in South East Asia and the world.
"The Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly)
archipelagoes are a part of the territory of the Republic of Vietnam.
The sovereignty of our country over these archipelagoes based on
historical, geographical and legal grounds as well as on effective
administration and possession, is an undeniable fact.
"On the 11th of January 1974, the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs of Red China suddenly claimed sovereignty over
these archipelagoes. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately
rejected those unfounded pretensions.
"From then on, Communist China chose to
use force to seize that portion of our national territory. It sent
men and warships into the area of the islands of Cam Tuyen (Robert),
Quang Hoa (Duncan) and Duy Mong (Drumond) of the Hoang Sa (Paracel)
archipelago, and landed troops on these islands.
"On January 16, 1974, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam issued a statement to denounce
these unlawful acts.
"In the meantime, in accordance with international
regulations, naval units of the Republic of Vietnam instructed those
men and ships violating the land and sea territory of the Republic
of Vietnam to leave the area.
"The Red Chinese authorities not only refused
to put an end to their unlawful incursions but also sent in additional
reinforcements in troops and warships. They opened fire on the troops
and naval units of the Republic of Vietnam, causing causalities
and material damages. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic
of Vietnam issued a communiquờ on the 19th of January alerting world
public opinion on these serious acts of hostility.
"On the 20th of January 1974, the Red Chinese
authorities escalate further in the use of force against an independent
and sovereign country. They sent their warplanes to bomb three islands
: Cam Tuyen (Robert), Vinh Lac (Money) and Hoang Sa (Pattle) where
units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam were stationing,
and also 'landed their troops -with the aim of capturing these islands.
"Communist China is therefore openly using
force to invade a portion of the Republic of Vietnam's territory
in violation of international law, of the Charter of the United
Nations, of the Paris Agreement of January 27, 1973 which it pledged
to respect and of the Final Act of March 2, 1973 of the International
Conference on Vietnam to which it is a signatory.
"The Government and people of the Republic
of Vietnam shall not yield to such brazen acts of aggression. They
are determined to safeguard their national territory.
"I kindly request you to report to your
Governments on this grave situation. The Government of the Republic
of Vietnam also wishes that your Governments would adopt an appropriate
attitude and take appropriate action in view of those acts committed
recently by the Communist Chinese authorities in the Hoang Sa (Paracels)
archipelago, in complete disregard for international law and the
sovereignty of other nations.
In the naval battle, the soldiers of the Republic
of Vietnam fought heroically although they were outnumbered and
They suffered 18 deaths and 43 wounded, and, in addition,
48 Vietnamese personnel were illegally detained by the PRC's invaders.
Among those were four civilian employees of the Pattle Meteorological
Station: this is an evidence that Vietnamese authorities were conducting
peaceful activities on the islands before troops had to be sent
in to cope with PRC's provocations.
Strongly condemned by world opinion, the PRC government
had to release these personnel within 3 weeks in an attempt to appease
the indignation caused by its blatant violation of the law of nations.
Opinions sympathetic to the Republic of Vietnam were
expressed everywhere in the world, especially in Asia where Vietnam
was often hailed as the nation resisting communist Chinese expansionism.
Even the Soviet newspaper Pravda accused the PRC a not to hesitate
to resort to arms in order to impose its will in Southeast Asia,
specifically on the Paracel and Spratly Islands - (50).
Also in Moscow, Tass provided a summary of an article
from "New Times - (a Soviet political weekly). The article
quoted the PRC's support of separatist movements in Burma, Bangladesh
and India among other Peking's provocations in order to - intensify
pressures on independent countries of Asia)-. According to -New
Times,, this coincided with Peking's military actions on the Paracels
Convinced of its rightful position, the Republic
of Vietnam appealed to world opinion and seeked the intervention
of all bodies that could contribute to a peaceful settlement. As
early as January 16, 1974 its Minister for Foreign Affairs sent
a note to the President of the Security Council of the United Nations
to bring to his attention the grave tensions created by the PRC's
After he had presented arguments in support of Vietnamese'
sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Islands, Minister Vuong Van Bac wrote:
"In view of all the Precise facts listed above,, the sudden
challenge by Communist China of the Republic of Vietnam's sovereignty
over the Paracels archipelago and its violation of the Republic
of Vietnamese sovereignty are unacceptable. They constitute a threat
to the peace and security of this region.
"The Government and people of the Republic of
Vietnam are determined to defend their sovereignty and their territorial
integrity and reserve the right to take all appropriate measures
to this end.
"The Republic of Vietnam considers the situation
created by the above People's Republic of China's action as one
which is likely to endanger international peace and security. Therefore
the Government of the Republic of Vietnam wishes to request the
Security Council to take all appropriate measures that the Council
deems necessary to correct that situation.".
The Minister addressed the United Nations again on
January 20. .1974, while troops of the Republic of Vietnam were
still fighting back the PRC's invaders in the Hoang Sa waters. He
wrote to the Secretary General of the U.N. to inform him of the
hostilities that started on January 19, 1974 when the Chinese landing
party opened fire on Vietnamese defenders.
After denouncing the clear case of c aggression across
international borders, against an independent and sovereign state.
Minister Vuong Van Bac requested that the Secretary General, in
accordance with Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations,
draw the attention of the Security Council on the grave situation.
For its part, K the Government of the Republic of
Vietnam accepts in advance the obligations of pacific settlement
provided in the Charter of the United Nations, and - reaffirms its
faith on the United Nations and its acceptance of the purposes and
principles enunciated in the Charter of the Organization.
Although the Government of the Republic of Vietnam
was fully aware that the PRC, as a permanent member of the Security
Council had the power of veto (a fact which left little hope for
any constructive debate or positive action), it chose to request
an immediate meeting of the Security Council.
The attention of the Council must be drawn on the
grave situation resulting from the PRC's aggression because, as
Minister Bac pointed out in has note of January 24, 1974 to the
Council's President (Ambassador Gondola Facio): "It behooves
the Security Council and its members to fulfill their responsibilities
and to decide on what to be done to correct that situation".
Indeed, the PRC promptly tried to justify its blatant act of invasion
by presenting a completely distorted version of the facts.
A PRC's statement referred to c actions by the Saigon
authorities in South Vietnam which sent naval and air forces to
encroach on the Yungle Islands of China's Hsisha Islands(!).
In a press conference on January 25, 1974, the President
of the Security Council stated that the Vietnamese request had all
legal grounds to deserve consideration, therefore he regretted that
a Council meeting could not be convened for that purpose.
The legitimacy of its rights motivated the Republic
of Vietnam to use all available means of action to defend its just
stand. A recourse to the International Court of Justice has been
contemplated. On January 22, 1974 the President of the Republic
of Vietnam wrote personal letters to the Heads of State in all friendly
countries. After he had presented how the PRC's violation of Vietnamese
sovereignty created a threat to peace in South East Asia, President
Nguyen Van Thieu concluded:
"I am therefore writing to you.... to kindly
request that you raise your voice in defense of peace and stability
in this area of the world and resolutely condemn the violation by
the PRC of the sovereignty of the Republic of Vietnam over the archipelago
of Hoang Sa".
In other actions taken in defense of Vietnamese sovereignty,
the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam solemnly
reaffirmed before the 3rd United Nations Conference on the Law of
the Sea in Caracas that the Vietnamese people will not yield to
the PRC's act of violence and that they will never renounce any
part of their insular territories (June 28, 1974). The Government
of the Republic of Vietnam also sent a note on January 21, 1974
to the. signatories of the Act of the International Conference on
Vietnam (March 2, 1973).
This document, signed in Paris by 12 countries including
the PRC and in the presence of the Secretary General of the United
Nations acknowledged, and provided guarantees for, the provisions
of the agreement to end the war signed on January 27, 1973. First
the Vietnamese note presented the facts related to the PRC's aggression,
then it pointed out that:
"It is clear from these developments that the
government of the People's Republic of China is deliberately resorting
to the use of force as a means of acquiring territories, which is
a gross violation of... the Agreement to End the War and Restore
Peace in Vietnam signed in Paris on January 27, 1973 and the Act
of the International Conference on Vietnam signed at Paris on March
"The Government of the Republic of Vietnam wishes
to call the particular attention of the Parties to Article 1 of
the Paris Agreement and Article 4 of the Act of the Paris International
Conference, which both solemnly recognize that the territorial integrity
of Vietnam must be strictly respected by all states and especially
by the signatories of the Final Act.
"In view of the seriousness of the present situation,
the Government of the Republic of Vietnam appeals to the Parties,
in the interest of peace and stability in the Western Pacific area,
to take all measures which the Parties deem appropriate as provided
in Article 7 of the Act of the international Conference on Vietnam
The PRC's aggressive aims is not limited to the Hoang
Sa Islands. There were indications that Chinese troops were preparing
to head for the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago after they had seized
the Paracels on January 20, 1974 (53).
On the other hand, in February 1974, the Philippines
and the Republic of China also restated their claims to the Truong
The Republic of Vietnam rejected these unfounded
claims by separate notes to the Republic of China (January 29, 1974)
and to the Philippines (February 12, 1974). But the Government of
the Republic of Vietnam also deemed it necessary to make its position
clear to x friends and foes alike , and to reiterate its right before
an universal audience. Thus, a solemn proclamation at the governmental
level was issued on February 14, 1974.
This declaration is the text reproduced at the beginning
as an introduction to this White Paper