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China’s Take on Vietnam’s Dispute with China in the S. China Sea

Recently, the Western media has been ablaze with Vietnam’s confrontation with China in the S. China Sea over an oil rig.  I thought it’s a good time for me to reference two documents that presents China’s side of the story.

First is an article by Ling Dequan in People’s Daily titled “Truth about South China Sea dispute.” Here is a copy.

Updated: 2014-06-14 09:17

Vietnam says it has evidence to prove its claim in South China Sea but is ignoring own historical documents that vindicate China’s position

Vietnam has been using China-Vietnam clashes in the South China Sea, and distorting facts, fanning passions and playing up the “China threat” theory, to vilify China. Ignoring the overall development of Beijing-Hanoi relationship, Vietnam is pretending to be a “victim” in the South China Sea dispute, saying it is prepared to seek international arbitration on the issue.

Vietnamese leaders have said that they have enough historical evidence to justify Vietnam’s sovereignty over “Huangsha” and “Changsha” islands, claiming that Vietnam has been the “master” of the two islands since the 17th century. It seems like they have lifted their remarks straight out of a white paper “Truth of China-Vietnam Relationship over 30 Years”, issued by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry in 1979 when bilateral ties were not normal. Worse, almost all the arguments in that 1979 document were copied from a “white paper” issued by the Saigon-based puppet South Vietnam regime (or the Republic of Vietnam) in February 1974.

Now the Vietnamese leaders, using the so-called historical documents, are trying to claim that Vietnam’s “Huangsha” and “Changsha” islands are actually China’s Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands. The fact is that, the islands recorded in Vietnamese documents refer to some other islands surrounding Vietnam instead of the Xisha and Nansha islands.

To encroach on China’s territory in the 1970s, the South Vietnam regime distorted historical facts, which were adopted by later Vietnamese leaders for political purposes. This has complicated the issue and caused serious damage to Sino-Vietnamese ties.

A look at the evidence presented in China’s diplomatic documents in the late 1970s and early 1980s will reveal the truth. In fact, even some Vietnamese scholars have said that the documents cited by Vietnam to claim sovereignty over the Xisha and Nansha islands are not genuine historical records but edited versions of originals, confirming China’s sovereignty over the islands.

Vietnamese leaders said China forcibly occupied the entire “Huangsha Islands” in 1974, which were then controlled by the Saigon regime. The Saigon regime had kicked up a row over the naval battle that broke out in 1974 in the waters around China’s Xisha Islands and sought military support from its ally, the United States, and requested the UN Security Council’s intervention. But neither the US nor the UN Security Council acceded to the Saigon regime’s request. This means the international community, including the US, has never believed in Vietnam’s complaints or claims.

On Sept 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh announced the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi. In January 1950, the People’s Republic of China became the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Ho Chi Minh-led Vietnam. For China and a vast majority of the other countries, the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (later the Socialist Republic of Vietnam), was (and has been) the only legitimate government of Vietnam, and the government of South Vietnam, a puppet regime installed by French colonialists and American imperialists.

So now, about 39 years after defeating the Americans, why does the Socialist Republic of Vietnam want to use the Saigon regime’s claim to create trouble in the South China Sea? Aren’t the current Vietnamese leaders betraying Ho Chi Minh and other freedom fighters, profaning the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of their compatriots who laid down their lives to resist foreign aggressors, and negating the valued support of their allies in the battle against colonialism by citing the comprador Saigon regime’s claim?

The Vietnamese government must not violate the principle of estoppel in the Xisha and Nansha islands’ sovereignty issue. Vietnamese leaders claim that no country recognizes that the Xisha and Nansha islands belong to China. This is a brazen lie, because the Democratic Republic of Vietnam topped the list of countries that accepted China’s sovereignty over the islands.

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s position was unequivocal in the 1950s and 1960s. The position remained unchanged even after the death of Ho Chi Minh and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Documents with the Chinese Foreign Ministry from the 1970s and 1980s show the position of the Ho Chi Minh-led Vietnamese Communist Party on the Xisha and Nansha islands. The most important of these documents is a note given by former Vietnamese premier Pham Van Dong to Zhou Enlai and the declaration of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1965.

On Sept 4, 1958, the Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China said that the breadth of the territorial sea of the country shall be 12 nautical miles and that this provision should apply to all territories of the PRC, including all the islands in the South China Sea. On Sept 14, 1958, Pham Van Dong solemnly stated in his note to Zhou Enlai that Vietnam recognizes and supports the Declaration of the Government of the PRC on the country’s territorial sea. On Sept 22, 1958, the diplomatic note was publicly published in Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

On May 9, 1965, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam issued a statement on the US’ definition on the “theater of war” in Vietnam. The statement said that by defining the whole of Vietnam and the waters up to 100 nautical miles off its coast as well as part of the territorial sea of China’s Xisha Islands as the operational area of the US armed forces, Lyndon Johnson, then US president, has directly threatened the security of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and its neighbors.

In recent years, however, some Vietnamese government officials and “scholars” have tried to “reinterpret” the two government documents, only to end up making fools of themselves. And after their attempts failed, the Vietnamese government started pretending as if the two documents never existed.

Vietnam has said that it is fully prepared with historical and legal evidence to prove its claim in the South China Sea, and it is waiting for the appropriate time to take China to the international court of justice. If that is so, then Vietnam should not forget to attach Pham Van Dong’s note and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s statement, as well as the maps and textbooks published by Vietnam before 1975, with its complaint.

The author is a researcher with the Research Center of World Issues, affiliated to Xinhua News Agency.

Second is a note titled “The Operation of the HYSY 981 Drilling Rig: Vietnam’s Provocation and China’s Position” China circulated the U.N. general assembly about a month ago. Here is a copy.

The Operation of the HYSY 981 Drilling Rig: Vietnam’s Provocation and China’s Position

I. The operation of the HYSY 981 drilling rigOn 2 May 2014, a Chinese company’s HYSY 981 drilling rig started its drilling operation inside the contiguous zone of China’s Xisha Islands (see Annex 1/5 for the locations of operation) for the purpose of oil and gas exploration. With the first phase of the operation completed, the second phase began on 27 May. The two locations of operation are 17 nautical miles from both the Zhongjian Island of China’s Xisha Islands and the baseline of the territorial waters of Xisha Islands, yet approximately 133 to 156 nautical miles away from the coast of the Vietnamese mainland.The Chinese company has been conducting explorations in the related waters for the past 10 years, including seismic operations and well site surveys. The drilling operation carried out by HYSY 981 this time is a continuation of the routine process of explorations, and falls well within China’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.II. Vietnam’s provocation

Shortly after the Chinese operation started, Vietnam sent a large number of vessels, including armed vessels, to the site, illegally and forcefully disrupting the Chinese operation and ramming the Chinese government vessels on escort and security missions there. In the meantime, Vietnam also sent frogmen and other underwater agents to the area, and dropped large numbers of obstacles, including fishing nets and floating objects, in the waters. As of 5 pm on 7 June, there were as many as 63 Vietnamese vessels in the area at the peak, attempting to break through China’s cordon and ramming the Chinese government ships for a total of 1,416 times.

The above-mentioned actions of the Vietnamese side were serious infringements upon China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, grave threats to the safety of Chinese personnel and the HYSY 981 drilling rig, and gross violations of the relevant international laws, including the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf. Such actions also undermined the freedom and safety of navigation in these waters, and damaged peace and stability in the region.

While illegally and forcefully disrupting the normal operation of the Chinese company on the sea, Vietnam also condoned anti-China demonstrations at home. In mid-May, thousands of lawless elements in Vietnam conducted beating, smashing, looting and arson against companies of China and several other countries. They brutally killed four Chinese nationals and injured over 300 others, and caused heavy property losses.

III. China’s response

The waters between China’s Xisha Islands and the coast of the Vietnamese mainland are yet to be delimited. The two sides have not yet conducted delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf in these waters. Both sides are entitled to claim EEZ and continental shelf in accordance with the UNCLOS. However, these waters will never become Vietnam’s EEZ and continental shelf no matter which principle is applied in the delimitation.

In the face of Vietnam’s provocative actions on the sea, China exercised great restraint and took necessary preventive measures. Chinese government ships were dispatched to the site for the purpose of ensuring the safety of the operation, which effectively safeguarded the order of production and operation on the sea and the safety of navigation. In the meantime, since 2 May, China has conducted over 30 communications with Vietnam at various levels, requesting the Vietnamese side to stop its illegal disruption. Regrettably, however, the illegal disruption of the Vietnamese side is still continuing.

IV. Xisha Islands are part of the Chinese territory

1. Xisha Islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, over which there is no dispute.

China was the first to discover, develop, exploit and exercise jurisdiction over the Xisha Islands. During the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126 AD), the Chinese government already established jurisdiction over the Xisha Islands and sent naval forces to patrol the waters there. In 1909, Commander Li Zhun of the Guangdong naval force of the Qing Dynasty led a military inspection mission to the Xisha Islands and reasserted China’s sovereignty by hoisting the flag and firing a salvo on the Yongxing Island. In 1911, the government of the Republic of China announced its decision to put the Xisha Islands and their adjacent waters under the jurisdiction of Ya County of Hainan Island.

Japan invaded and occupied the Xisha Islands during the Second World War. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, in accordance with a series of international documents, the Chinese government sent senior officials boarding military vessels to the Xisha Islands in November 1946 to hold the ceremony for receiving the islands, and a stone tablet was erected to commemorate the handover and troops were stationed there afterwards. The Xisha Islands, which had once been illegally occupied by a foreign country, were thus returned to the jurisdiction of the Chinese government.

In 1959, the Chinese government established the Administration Office for the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands. In January 1974, the Chinese military and people drove the invading army of the Saigon authority of South Vietnam from the Shanhu Island and Ganquan Island of the Xisha Islands and defended China’s territory and sovereignty. The Chinese government enacted the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zonein 1992 and published the base points and baselines of the territorial waters of the Xisha Islands in 1996, both of which reaffirm China’s sovereignty over the Xisha Islands and the extent of territorial waters of the islands. In 2012, the Chinese government established the various departments of Sansha city on the Yongxing Island of Xisha Islands.

2. Prior to 1974, none of the successive Vietnamese governments had ever challenged China’s sovereignty over the Xisha Islands. Vietnam had officially recognized the Xisha Islands as part of China’s territory since ancient times. This position was reflected in its government statements and notes as well as its newspapers, maps and textbooks.

During a meeting with chargé d’affaires ad interim Li Zhimin of the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam on 15 June 1956, Vice Foreign Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Ung Van Khiem solemnly stated that, “according to Vietnamese data, the Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands are historically part of Chinese territory.” Le Loc, Acting Director of the Asian Department of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, who was present, specifically cited Vietnamese data and pointed out that, “judging from history, these islands were already part of China at the time of the Song Dynasty.”

On 4 September 1958, the Chinese government issued a declaration (see Annex 2/5), stating that the breadth of the territorial waters of the People’s Republic of China shall be 12 nautical miles and making it clear that “this provision applies to all the territories of the People’s Republic of China, including … the Xisha Islands”. On 6 September, NHAN DAN, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of Vietnamese Workers’ Party, published on its front page the full text of the Chinese government’s declaration regarding China’s territorial sea. On 14 September, Premier Pham Van Dong of the government of Vietnam sent a diplomatic note (see Annex 3/5) to Premier Zhou Enlai of the State Council of China, solemnly stating that “the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam recognizes and supports the declaration of the government of the People’s Republic of China on its decision concerning China’s territorial sea made on September 4, 1958” and “the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam respects this decision”.

On 9 May 1965, the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam issued a statement with reference to the designation by the US government of the “combat zone” of the US armed forces in Vietnam. It says, “US President Lyndon Johnson designated the whole of Vietnam, and the adjacent waters which extend roughly 100 miles from the coast of Vietnam and part of the territorial waters of the People’s Republic of China in its Xisha Islands as ‘combat zone’ of the United States armed forces … in direct threat to the security of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and its neighbors …”

The World Atlas printed in May 1972 by the Bureau of Survey and Cartography under the Office of the Premier of Vietnam designated the Xisha Islands by their Chinese names (see Annex 4/5). The geography textbook for ninth graders published by Vietnam’s Educational Press in 1974 carried in it a lesson entitled “The People’s Republic of China” (see Annex 5/5). It reads, “The chain of islands from the Nansha and Xisha Islands to Hainan Island, Taiwan Island, the Penghu Islands and the Zhoushan Islands … are shaped like a bow and constitute a Great Wall defending the China mainland.”

But now the Vietnamese government goes back on its word by making territorial claims over China’s Xisha Islands. That is a gross violation of the principles of international law, including the principle of estoppel, and the basic norms governing international relations.

V. Properly addressing the situation

China is a staunch force for maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and promoting cooperation between and development of countries in the region. China firmly upholds the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the basic norms of international relations and fundamental principles of international law. The least China wants is any turbulence in its neighborhood.

China wants good relations with Vietnam, but there are principles that China cannot abandon. The channel of communication between China and Vietnam is open. China urges Vietnam to bear in mind the overall interests of the bilateral relations and peace and stability in the South China Sea, respect China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, immediately stop all forms of disruptions of the Chinese operation and withdraw all vessels and personnel from the site, so as to ease the tension and restore tranquility at sea as early as possible. China will continue its effort to communicate with Vietnam with a view to properly addressing the current situation.

VI. Annexes

Annex 1/5: Map of the operation locations of the Chinese company

[annex 1 archived on hiddenharmonies.org]

Annex 2/5: Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s Territorial Sea published on 4 September 1958

[annex 2 archived on hiddenharmonies.org]

Annex 3/5: The note sent on 14 September 1958 by Premier of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Pham Van Dong to Premier Zhou Enlai of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China

[annex 3 archived on hiddenharmonies.org]

Annex 4/5: Cover of the World Atlas printed in May 1972 by the Bureau of Survey and Cartography under the Office of the Premier of Vietnam, and the page on the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

[annex 4 archived on hiddenharmonies.org]

Annex 5/5: The lesson entitled “The People’s Republic of China” in the geography textbook for ninth-grade students published by Vietnam’s Educational Press in 1974

[annex 5 archived on hiddenharmonies.org]

  1. raffiaflower
    July 13th, 2014 at 12:57 | #1

    An opinion piece by a Vietnamese compadre in the New York Tass, er, Times. The article underscores the schism, imo, between a pro-China camp that subscribes to a negotiated settlement with China and the pro-Washington faction (as represented this author) that wants to fire up tensions in the South China Seas.

    A Hanoi-Washington alliance could be a hard sell to the American public that still remembers the bloody nose (and thousands dead) from an unpopular Asian war.

    HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — OURS is a small country. We Vietnamese cannot and must not entrust our future to anyone, but we urgently need strategic allies at a moment in history when our priority is to defeat our present-day enemy: China.

    China’s move in May, to place an offshore oil rig on the Vietnamese continental shelf, and its arrogant statements in June, at an Asian security summit meeting known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, exposed China’s sea piracy to the world. These developments should alarm anyone in Vietnam who still clings to the myth of brotherly love between our nation and China.

    We cannot fight Chinese encroachment alone. Political isolation in a globalized world is tantamount to committing political suicide for Vietnam. And the key ally for Vietnam today is the United States — an alliance that the Vietnamese liberation hero Ho Chi Minh ironically always wanted.

    The Vietnamese people have fought for thousands of years to maintain our culture and independence, in the shadow of a giant neighbor. But continuing blindness and stupidity have poisoned generations of Vietnamese leaders, even when their Chinese “comrades” blatantly started a border war in 1979 and invaded and occupied the Paracel Islands in 1974 and the Spratly Islands in 1988 — which for centuries both belonged to Vietnam. After the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, Vietnamese leaders tried to protect Communism from an embarrassing demise in Southeast Asia. At a now-infamous meeting in Chengdu, China, in 1990, Vietnamese leaders signed agreements that made our country even more dependent on China — a betrayal of our interests and a national shame.

    For personal gain, some Vietnamese have even become traitors, blindly toeing the Chinese line. They are reminiscent of the reviled 18th-century king Le Chieu Thong, the last ruler of the Le Dynasty, who died in exile in China. But the cowardice of Vietnamese leaders has never been so blatant as in the past 25 years. Vietnam’s government has put a so-called communist-socialist bond with China above national interests and the well-being of its citizens. Our leaders have regarded invaders as friends.

    Because of China’s recent territorial grabs at sea and its complete disregard for international law, we are now back to square one. Without a major strategic realignment, Vietnam’s island territories will simply be gobbled up by China. Our country must dispose of the myth of friendship with China and return to what Ho Chi Minh passionately advocated after World War II: an American-Vietnamese alliance in Asia.

    Ho’s sympathies with the United States and its platform of self-determination for all peoples went as far back as the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. Beginning in World War II, the Americans were the only foreign army to fight by Ho’s side against fascism in Indochina; the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency) helped to train and set up the first Vietnamese-American guerrilla unit at the end of 1944.

    It wasn’t a coincidence that Ho’s inaugural address, when he declared the creation of an independent Vietnam in September 1945, referred to America’s Declaration of Independence. He saw the noble values of democracy, freedom, equality and justice as the most important guiding principles for Vietnam.

    In a series of eight letters and telegrams to President Harry S. Truman, and three to Secretary of State James F. Byrnes in 1945-46, Ho denounced French colonialism and clearly stated “our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the United States” and expressed the Vietnamese people’s admiration for “the American people whose fine stand for the noble ideals of international Justice and Humanity, and whose modern technical achievements have so strongly appealed to them.”

    Regrettably, most of his letters were ignored. History is littered with many such missed opportunities. In this case, there were disastrous consequences.

    When young Americans aimed their weapons at Vietnamese in a little country on the other side of the Pacific, they did it in the belief that it was their duty to stop the “red wave.” On the Vietnamese side, young men and women sacrificed their lives fearlessly on the Ho Chi Minh Trail with guns and tanks provided by the Soviet Union and China — our so-called dear socialist brothers. But tragedies usually begin with misguided ideology and illusions of friendship. A peace treaty with the Soviet Union, signed in 1978, did little to help Vietnam during its border war in 1979 with China.

    The fundamental issue facing Vietnam today is to choose the right strategic partners. Japan, and to a lesser extent South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and other smaller Asian nations offer good case studies. American atomic bombs devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but postwar Japan still chose the United States as its key ally and economic partner and adopted core American values as its guiding principles.

    In terms of economic and social development, the choice between the model of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore and that of North Korea, Cuba and Laos is abundantly clear.

    The Chinese government’s hypocrisy and double-dealing are well known and well documented. As our prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, recently put it bluntly: “Vietnam has always wanted peace and friendship with China. However, we cannot trade our sacred independence and sovereignty for some elusive peace or any type of dependence.” His strong words heralded a new way of dealing with China. But much more is needed.

    Vietnamese leaders need to move decisively by taking claims against China before international courts and once and for all relegating the idea of an ideological bond with China to the dustbin of history. Vietnam must fully implement and follow the true spirit of Ho’s Declaration of Independence in 1945. And that means finally establishing the sort of close economic and military relations with the United States that Ho had wanted after World War II.

    That is the only way to defeat the new Chinese expansionism propelled by its president, Xi Jinping, and for Vietnam to join the rest of the civilized world, with its ideals of democracy, freedom and justice for all.

    Tuong Lai is a sociologist, also known as Nguyen Phuoc Tuong, and a former adviser to two Vietnamese prime ministers.

  2. July 13th, 2014 at 18:19 | #2

    Vietnam’s claim of “Huangsha” and “Changsha” islands as the Paracel can clearly by dismissed by the following evidence. The map drawn clearly showed they are located in a different position off Vietnam’s coast.


  3. Zack
    July 13th, 2014 at 22:41 | #3

    the problem insofar as i see it is that Vietnamese nationalism has been built around an anti-China mythology; never mind the fact that Vietnamese culture benefited so much and owes so much to Chinese culture; never mind that Cantonese and Vietnamese sound similar or that Vietnam used to use Chinese characters before one of their leaders decided to fabricate an entirely new language for the sake of Sinophobia.

    Until Vietnamese are willing to address the inherent racism of an Sinophobic culture, i don’t see peace as being particularly viable for the near future.

  4. July 15th, 2014 at 00:35 | #4


    Thanks for this, appreciate it a lot!

    @raffiaflower ,

    Interesting. Thanks for bring it here.

  5. July 16th, 2014 at 08:51 | #5

    Yes, the Vietnamese govn’t has used that as a pretext for national unification. It has been done easily for close to two thousand years now. Although the fear of China’s domination is very real for the Vietnamese, both still have very close relationship, be it in trade and cultural exchange.

    And when the French started their colonial invasion of Vietnam, it is China that they seek help from. Even today, like it or not, other than Russia, Vietnam closest foreign relationship is still China.

    No problem at all.

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