First posted on UNCLOSforum.wordpress.com on April 24, 2015
BTO – Viet Nam has more than 3,000 coastal islands and two offshore archipelagoes, namely Hoang Sa archipelago and Truong Sa archipelago. The closest point of Hoang Sa archipelago is 120 nautical miles from the east of Quang Ngai. Meanwhile, the closest point of Truong Sa archipelago is about 250 nautical miles to the east of Cam Ranh Bay, Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa province.
These two archipelagoes are the inseparable part of Viet Nam’s territory. The State of Viet Nam has already exercised the sovereignty over the two archipelagoes for hundred of years. The sovereignty of Viet Nam over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes is in full accordance with international law and supported by numerous legal and historical evidences.
With a view to helping the readers have a better understanding of the process of establishing and exercising Viet Nam’s sovereignty over these two archipelagoes, the National Political Publishing House publishes “Viet Nam’s Sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagoes.”
1. Viet Nam’s historical sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes
In the old days, with vague information about Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, navigators only knew about a large area in the middle of the sea with submerged cays, which was very dangerous for watercrafts, referred to as “Bien Dong” (East Sea) by the Vietnamese. Vietnamese ancient documents indicate this area with various names, including “Bai Cat Vang” (Golden Sandbank), “Hoang Sa” (Golden Sand), “Van Ly Hoang Sa” (Ten-thousand-Li1 Golden Sand), “Dai Truong Sa” (Grand Long Sand), or “Van Ly Truong Sa” (Ten-Thousand-Li Long Sand).
Most of the nautical maps made by western navigators from the 16th to the 18th centuries depict Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes as a single archipelago and name it “Pracel”, “Parcel”, or “Paracels”2. Later progress in science and navigation allowed the differentiation between the two archipelagoes. It was not until 1787-1788 that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes were located clearly and accurately as they are known today by the Kergariou – Locmaria survey mission to help distinguish Hoang Sa archipelago from Truong Sa archipelago in the South. All of the abovementioned maps define Pracel (including both Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes) as an area in the middle of the East Sea, to the east of mainland Viet Nam and located further offshore compared to Viet Nam’s coastal islands.
The two archipelagoes indicated as the “Paracels” and the “Spratley” or “Spratly” islands in current international nautical maps are indeed those that are Viet Nam’s Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes.
The Vietnamese people have long discovered Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, and Viet Nam has exercised its sovereignty over the two archipelagoes in a continuous and peaceful manner.
- Many ancient geography books and maps of Viet Nam clearly indicate that “Bai Cat Vang”, “Hoang Sa”, “Van Ly Hoang Sa”, “Dai Truong Sa” or “Van Ly Truong Sa” (Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes) have long been included within the territory of Viet Nam.
Toan Tap Thien Nam Tu Chi Lo Do Thu (Route Maps from the Capital to the Four Directions), compiled in the 17th century by a man named Do Ba, clearly noted in the maps of Quang Ngai prefecture in Quang Nam area that “In the middle of the sea is a long sandbank, called Bai Cat Vang, with a length of 400 li and a width of 20 li, spanning in the middle of the sea from Dai Chiem to Sa Vinh Seaports3. Foreign ships would be drifted and stranded on the bank if they traveled on the inner side (west) of the sandbank under the southwest wind or on the outer side under the northeast wind (east). Their sailors would starve to death and leave all their goods there”.
In the book entitled Giap Ngo Binh Nam Do (The Map for the Pacification of the South in the Giap Ngo year) made by duke Bui The Dat in 1774, Bai Cat Vang is also indicated as a part of Viet Nam’s territory4.
During his assignment in South Viet Nam, scholar Le Quy Don (1726-1784) in 1776 compiled the book named Phu Bien Tap Luc (Miscellaneous Records on the Pacification at the Frontier) on the history, geography, and administration of South Viet Nam under the Nguyen lords (1558-1775), In this book, Le Quy Don described that Dai Truong Sa, including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, was under the jurisdiction of Quang Ngai prefecture.
“An Vinh commune, Binh Son district, Quang Ngai prefecture has a mountain5 outside its seaport called Re island, which is 30-li wide. It takes four watches to reach the island, on which there is a ward named Tu Chinh with bean-growing inhabitants. Further offshore is the Dai Truong Son island, where there are plenty of sea products and other goods. It takes Hoang Sa Flotilla, founded to collect those products and goods, three full days to reach the island, which is near Bac Hai.”
“… Binh Son district of Quang Ngai prefecture includes the coastal commune of An Vinh. Offshore to the northeast of An Vinh are many islands and approximately 130 mountains separated by waters which can take from few watches to few days to travel across. Streams of fresh water can be found on these mountains. Within the islands is a 30-li long, flat and wide golden sand bank, on which the water is so transparent that one can see through. The islands have many swift nests and hundreds or thousands of other kinds of birds; they alight around instead of avoiding humans. There are many curios on the sandbank. Among the volutes are the Indian volutes. An Indian volute here can be as big as a mat; on their ventral side are opaque beads, different from pearls, and as big as fingertips; their shells can be carved to make identification badges or calcinated to provide lime for house construction. There are also conches that can be used for furniture inlay, and Babylon shells. All snails here can be salted for food. The sea turtles are oversized. There is a softy-shell sea turtle called “hai ba” or “trang bong”, similar to but smaller than the normal hawksbill sea turtles; their thin shell can be used for furniture inlay, and their thumb-sized eggs can be salted for food. There is a kind of sea cucumbers called “dot dot”, normally seen when swimming about the shore; they can be used as food after lime treatment, gut removal and drying. Before serving “dot dot”, one should process it with crab-extracted water and scrape all the dirt off. It will be better if cooked with shrimps and pork.
Foreign boats often take refuse at these islands to avoid storms. The Nguyen rules have established Hoang Sa Flotilla with 70 sailors selected from An Vinh commune on a rotational basis. Selected sailors receive their order in the third month of every year, bring with them sufficient food for six months, and sail on five small fishing boasts for full days to reach the islands. Once settled down on the islands, they are free to catch as many birds and fish as they like. They collect goods from boats passing by, such as sabers, jewelries, money, porcelain rings, and fur; they also collect plenty of sea turtle shells, sea cucumbers, and volute shells. The sailors return to mainland in the eighth month through EO seaport. On their return trip, they first sail to Phu Xuan Citadel, where the goods that they have collected shall be submitted to be measured and classified; they can then take their parts of volutes, sea turtles, and sea cucumbers for their own trading businesses, and receive licenses before going home. The amount of collected materials varies; sometimes the sailors could not collect anything at all. I have personally checked the notebook of the former flotilla captain Thuyen Duc Hau, which recorded the amount of collected goods: 30 scoops of silver in the year of Nham Ngo (1762), 5,100 catties of tin in the year of Giap Than (1764), 126 scoops of silver in the year of At Dan (1765), a few sea turtle shells each year from the year of Ky Suu (1769) to the year of Quy Ty (1773). There were also years when only cubic tin, porcelain bowls, and two copper guns were collected.
The Nguyen rulers also established Bac Hai Flotilla without a fixed number of sailors, selected from Tu Chinh village in Binh Thuan or from Canh Duong commune. Sailors are selected on a voluntary basis. Those who volunteer to join the flotilla will be exempted from poll tax, patrol and transportation fees. These sailors travel in small fishing boats to Bac Hai, Con Lon island, and other islands in Ha Tien area, collecting goods from ships, and sea products such as turtles, abalones, and sea cucumbers. Bac Hai Flotilla is under command of Hoang Sa Flotilla. The collected items are mostly sea products and rarely include jewelries.”
Among those documents that have been preserved until today is the following order dated 1786 made by Lord Superior:
“Hereby command Hoi Duc Hau, captain of Hoang Sa Flotilla, to lead four fishing boats to sail directly towards Hoang Sa and other islands on the sea, to collect jewelries, copper items, cannons of all sizes, sea turtles, and valuable fishes, and to return to the capital to submit all of these items in accordance with the current regulation”.
Dai Nam6 Nhat Thong Toan Do (The Complete Map of the unified Dai Nam – the map of Viet Nam under the Nguyen Dynasty in 1883) indicated that “Hoang Sa” and “Van Ly Truong Sa” are Vietnamese territories. These archipelagoes were depicted to be further offshore compared to those near the central coast.
Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (The Geography of the Unified dai Nam), the geography book completed in 1882 by the National History Institute of The Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1845), indicates that Hoang Sa archipelago is part of Viet Nam’s territory and was under the administration of Quang Ngai province.
In the paragraphs describing the topography of Quang Ngai province, the book wrote:
“In the east of Quang Ngai province is Hoang Sa island, in which sands and waters are alternate, forming trenches. In the west is the area of mountainous people with the steady and long rampart. The south borders Binh Dinh province, separated by the Ben Da mountain pass.
The north borders Quang Nam province, marked by the Sa THo Creek…”
“… The previous custom of maintaining Hoang Sa Flotilla was continued in the early days of the Gia Long Era but later abandoned. At the beginning of the Minh Mang Era, working boats were sent to the area for sea route survey. They found an area with verdant plants over white sands and a circumference of 1,070 truong7. In the middle of Hoang Sa island is a well. In the southwest lies an ancient temple with no clear indication of the construction time. Inside the temple is a stele engraved with four characters “Van Ly Ba Binh”8. This island had previously been called “Phat Tu Son”9. In the east and the west of the island is an atoll named Ban Than Thach (coral reef). It emerges over the water level as an isle with a circumference of 340 truong and a height of 1.2 truong. In the 16th year of the Minh Mang Era, working boats were ordered to transport bricks and stones to the area to build temple. In the left side of the temple, a stone stele was erected as a remark, and trees are planted all over three sides, namely the left, the right, and the back, of the temple. While building the temple’s foundation, the military laborers found as much as 2,000 catties of copper leaves and cast iron.”
Many Western navigators and Christian missionaries in the past centuries attested that Hoang Sa (Pracel or Paracels) belongs to Viet Nam’s territory.
A Western clergyman wrote in a letter during his 1701 trip on the ship Amphitrite from France to China that: “Paracel is an archipelago of the Kingdom of An Nam”10.
Bishop J.L. Taberd, in his 1837 “Note on the Geography of Cochinchina”11, also describes “Pracel or Paracels” as a part of Cochinchina’s territory and indicates that Cochinchinese people refer to Paracles as “Cat Vang”. In An Nam Dai Quoc Do (Tabula geographica imperii Anamitici – The Map of the An Nam Empire)12 published in 1883, Bishop Taberd depicted part of Paracels and noted “paracel seu Cat Vang” (Paracel or Cat Vang) for the archipelago farther than those near the shore of central Viet Nam, corresponding to the area of Hoang Sa archipelago nowadays.
J.B Chaineau, one of the counselors to Emperor Gia Long, wrote in the 1820 complementary note to his “Mémoire sur Cochinchine” (Memoir on Cochinchina)13 that: “The Country of Cochinchina, whose emperor has just ascended to the throne, includes the Regions of Cochinchina and Tonkin14 … some inhabited islands not too far from the shore, and the Paracel archipelago composed of uninhabited small islands, creeks, and cays.”
In the article “Geography of the Cochinchinese Empire”15, written by Gutzlaff and published in 1849, some parts clearly indicate that Hoang Sa is part of Viet Nam’s territory and even noted the archipelago with the Vietnamese name “Cat Vang”.
- As sovereignty of the country, successive feudal dynasties in Viet Nam had for many times conducted survey on the terrains and resources of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes over centuries. The results of these surveys have been recorded in Vietnamese geography and history book since the 17th century.
Toan Tap Thien Nam Tu Chu Lo Do of the 17th century reads: “During the last month of very winter, the Nguyen rulers16 send 18 boats there to collect goods, mainly jewelries, money, guns and ammunition.”
Dai Nam Thuc Luc Tien Bien (Truthful Accounts about Dai Nam Former Dynasties), the historical document collection about the Nguyen lords completed by the National History Institute in 1844, reads: “Offshore of An Vinh commune, Binh Son district, Quang Ngai prefecture, are more than 130 sandbanks whose distances from each other can take anywhere from a few watches to a few days to travel. They span an area of thousands of li and are thus called “Van Ly Hoang Sa”. There are freshwater wells on the sandbanks, and sea products of the area include sea cucumber, sea turtles, volutes, and so on and so forth.”
“Not long after the founding of the dynasty, Hoang Sa Flotilla was established with 70 sailors selected from An Vinh commune. In the third month of every year, they sail for about three days to the islands. They collect goods there and return in the eighth month. There is also another flotilla named Bac Hai, whose sailors are chosen from Tu Chinh village in Binh Thuan or Canh Duong commune, ordered to sail Bac Hai and Con Lon areas to collect goods. This flotilla is under the command of Hoang Sa Flottila.”
Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien (Truthful Accounts about Dai Nam Present Dynasties), the historical document collection about the Nguyen emperors was completed in 1848. It records the events of Emperor Gia Long’s possession of Hoang Sa archipelago in 1816, and the temple construction, stele erection, measurement and mapping of the islands following Emperor Minh Mang’s order.
Volume 52 of Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien reads: “In the Binh Ty year, the 15th year of the Gia Long Era (1816)… His Majesty the Emperor commanded the naval forces and Hoang Sa Flotilla to sail to Hoang Sa archipelago for sea route survey.”
Volume 104 reads: “In the eight month, during the autumn, of the Quy Ty year, the 14th year of the Minh Mang Era (1833) … His Majesty the Emperor told the Ministry of Public Works that: In the territorial waters of the province of Quang Ngai, there is Hoang Sa range. The water and the sky in that range cannot be distinguished from afar. Trading boats have recently become victims of its shoal. We shall prepare sampans, waiting until next year to go to the area for constructing temple, erecting stele, and planting many trees. Those trees will grow luxuriant in the future, thus serving as recognition remarks for people to avoid getting stranded in shoal. That shall benefit everyone forever.”
Volume 154 reads: “In the sixth month, during the summer, of the At Mui year, the 16th year of the Minh Mang Era (1835)… a temple was built on Hoang Sa island, under the administration of Quang Ngai province. Hoang Sa, in the territorial waters of Quang Ngai, has a white sand island covered by luxuriant plants with a well in the middle. In the southwest of the island is an ancient temple in which there is a stele engraved with four characters “Van Ly Ba Binh”. Bach Sa island has a circumference of 1,070 truong; previously referred to as Phat Tu Son, the island is surrounded by a gently-sloping atoll in the east, west, and south. In the north is an atoll named Ban Than Thach, emerging over the water level with a circumference of 340 truong, an elevation of 1.3 truong, as high as the sand island. Last year, His Majesty the Emperor had already considered ordering the construction of a temple and stele on it, but the plan could not be executed due to harsh weather conditions. The construction had to be postponed until this year when the naval captain Pham Van Nguyen and his soldiers, the capital’s patrol commander, and laborers from the provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh came and carried building materials with them to build the new temple (seven and a screen were erected on the left hand side and in the front of the temple, respectively. They finished all the works in ten days and returned to mainland.”
Volume 165 reads: “On the first of the first month, during the spring, in the Binh Than year, the 17th year of the Minh Mang Era (1836)… the Ministry of Public Works submitted a petition to His Majesty the Emperor, saying that: In the frontier of our country’s territorial waters, Hoang Sa is a critical and hardly-accessible area. We have had the map of the area made; however, due to its wide and long topography, the map only covers part of it, and this coverage is not sufficiently detailed. We shall deploy people to the area for detailed sea route survey. From now on, in the last ten days of the first month of every year, we shall implore Your Majesty’s permission to select naval soldiers and the capital’s patrolmen to form a unit on a vessel. This unit shall travel to Quang Ngai within the first ten days of the second month, requesting the provinces of Quang Ngai and Quang Binh to employ four civilian boats to travel together to Hoang Sa. For every island, cay, or sandbank that they encounter, they shall measure its length, width, elevation, area, circumference, and the surrounding water’s depth; they shall record the presence of submerged cays and banks, and the topography. Maps shall be drawn from these measurements and recorded. Also, they shall record the departure date, departure seaports, directions, and estimated distance estimated on the traveling routes. These people shall also look for the shore to determine the provinces, their directions and distances to the surveyed positions. One and all must be recorded clearly and presented once they return.”
“His Majesty the Emperor approved the petition, ordered the naval detachment commander Phan Huu Nhat to command a battleship and bring ten wooden steles to be used as markers in the area. Each wooden stles is five meter long, five decimeter wide, one meter thich, and is engraved with characeters meaning: The 17th year of the Minh Mang Era, the Binh Tha year, Detachment Commander Pham Huu Nhat of the Navy, complying with the order to go to Hoang Sa for management and survey proposes, arrived here and therefore placed this sign.”
Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien also recorded that, in 1847, the Ministry of Public Works submitted a oetition to Emperor Thieu Tri, saying: “Hoang Sa is within the territory of our country. It is a regular practice that we deploy boats to the area for sea route surveys every year. However, due to the busy work scheduled of this year, we implore Your Majesty’s permission to postpone the survey trip until next year”. Emperor Thieu Tri wrote “dinh” (suspended) in the petition to approve it.
The 1882 Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi reads: “Hoang Sa island lies in the eats of Re island, under Binh Son district. From Sa Ky Seaport, it can take three or four days to sail to the island under favorable wind. There are more than 130 small islands, separated by waters which can take a few watches or a few days to travel across. Within the islands is the golden sandbank spanning ten of thousands of li and thus called Van Ly Truong Sa. There are freshwater wells, and numerous birds gather on the bank. Sea products there include sea cucumbers, sea turtles and volutes. Goods from ships wrecked by storms drift onto the bank.”
Other books completed under the Nguyen Dynasty, such as the 1821 Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi (Classified Rules of Dynasties), the 1833 Hoang Viet Du Dia Chi (Geography of the Viet Empire), the 1876 Viet Su Thong Giam Cuong Muc Khao Luoc (Outline of the Viet History Chronicles) all have similar description for Hoang Sa archipelago.
As a result of the aforementioned richness of sea products and goods from wrecked ships in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes, the Vietnamese feudal dynasties had long exploited sovereignty over the archipelagoes. Many ancient history and geography books of Viet Nam provide evidence of the organization and operation of Hoang Sa flotillas, which performed these exploitation duties.
Succeeding the Nguyen lords in governing the country, the Tay Son Dynasty always paid fair attention to maintaining and deploying Hoang Sa flotillas although it had to continuously deal with the invasions of the China’s Qing Dynasty and Siam. Under the Tay Son Dynasty, the Imperial Court continued organizing various forms of exploitation of Hoang Sa archipelago with the awareness that it was exercising the sovereignty over the archipelago.
From the foundation of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802, until the 1884 Treaty of Hue with France, the Nguyen emperors had made every effort to consolidate Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes.
Hoang Sa Flotilla, later reinforced by Bac Hai Flotilla, was maintained and continuously active under the Nguyen lords (1558-1783) to the Tay Son Dynasty (1786-1802) and the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).
In conclusion, ancient history and geography books of Viet Nam as well as evidences found in documents written by several Western navigators and clergymen, all point to the fact that successive dynasties in Viet Nam have been the sovereigns of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes for centuries. The Vietnamese states-founded Hoang Sa flotilla’s regular presence from five to six months annually to perform certain duties in these archipelagoes is itself incisive evidence, demonstrating the exercise of Vietnamese sovereignty. The acquisition and exploitation by Viet Nam of these archipelagoes were never opposed by any other countries, further providing that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes have long been parts of Viet Nam’s territory.
- Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes under French colony period
Since the conclusion of the Treaty of Hue on June 6th, 1884, France had represented Viet Nam in all of external relations and protected‘s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Relating to land border between Viet Nam and China, in 1887, France signed the convention with Qing Dynasty, in 1895, France signed the supplementary convention with Qing Dynasty. Within the framework of those commitments, Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes was exercised by France. That sovereignty exercise is clearly illustrated with numerous examples of which some are listed below.
Theo French battleships often patrolled in the East Sea, including the areas of Hoang Sa và Truong Sa archipelagoes.
In 1899, Paul Doumer, the then Governor – General of Indochina, sent a proposal to Paris for building a lighthouse on Hoang Sa island within Hoang Sa archipelago to guide in the area. The plan, however, was not implemented due to budget issue.
Since 1920, Indochinese ships of customs had intensified their patrol in the area of Hoang Sa archipelago to prevent smuggling.
In 1925, the Institute of Oceanography in Nha Trang sent the ship De Lanessan for an oceanography survey in Hoang Sa archipelago. In addition to A. Krempf, the then Institute’s Director, other researchers including Delacour and Jabouille also joined the trip for their geological and biological research and other studies. Also in 1925, the Minister of Military Affairs Than Trong Hue of the Imperial Court reaffirmed that Hoang Sa archipelago is within Viet Nam’s territory.
In 1927, the ship De Lanessan went to Hoang Sa archipelago for a scientific survey.
In 1929, the Pierre de Rouville delegation proposed that four lighthouses to be set up at four corners of Hoang Sa archipelago, namely Tri Ton (Triton) and Linh Con (Lincoln) islands, and Da Bac (the North) and Bong Bay reefs (Bombay).
In 1930, the gunboat La Malicieuse went to Hoang Sa archipelago.
In March 1931, the ship Inconstant went to Hoang Sa archipelago.
In June 1931, the ship De Lanessan went to Hoang Sa archipelago.
In May 1932, the battleship Alerte went to Hoang Sa archipelago.
From April 13th, 1930 to April 12 th, 1933, the Government of France deployed the naval units to garrison in major islands of Hoang Sa archipelago, namely Truong Sa Lon (Spratly), An Bang (Amboyna Cay), Ba Binh (Itu Aba), Song Tu (Group des Deux Iles), Loai Ta (Loaita), and Thi Tu (Thitu).
On December 21th, 1933, the then Governor of annexing the islands of Truong Sa Lon, An Bang, Ba Binh, Song Tu, Loai Ta, and Thi Tu to Ba Ria province.
In 1937, the French authorities sent a civil engineer named Gauthier to Hoang Sa archipelago to examine the positions for building lighthouses and a seaplane terminal.
In February 1937, the patrol ship Lamotte Piquet commanded by Rear-Admiral Istava came to Hoang Sa archipelago.