Viet­nam fool­ing no one Hanoi should stop fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence and try­ing to re­nege on its recog­ni­tion that Xisha Is­lands are part of China’s sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Con­tin­u­ous ac­tions taken by Viet­nam since ear­lyMay dis­turb­ing the nor­mal drilling of a Chi­nese oil rig in the wa­ters off Zhongjian Is­land, which be­longs to China’s Xisha Is­lands, have com­pro­mised China’s sovereignty, sov­er­eign rights, right of ju­ris­dic­tion and the safety of the op­er­at­ing plat­form.

Given that its rash­ness has en­listed the sup­port of theUnited States, Ja­pan and the Philip­pines and has also caught the eye of some other coun­tries, Hanoi has thus tried to play up the so-called Xisha Is­lands dis­pute by hold­ing press con­fer­ences and list­ing heaps of spe­cious his­tor­i­cal and le­gal bases to boost its ground­less claims.

How­big an ap­petite on Earth does Viet­nam have for the is­lands, reefs and nat­u­ral re­sources in the South China Sea? How self-con­tra­dic­tory is Viet­nam’s fab­ri­cated “his­tor­i­cal and le­gal ev­i­dence” which is full of flaws?

Viet­nam has pre­sented to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity an im­age of be­ing weak while its ves­sels have in­ten­tion­ally crashed into China’s ves­sels near the site of the Chi­nese oil rig. ThoseHanoi sym­pa­thiz­ers may have been blinded to the fact that Viet­nam has claimed sovereignty over al­most all the is­lands and reefs in the South China Sea. The 215 oil and gas blocks claimed by the Viet­namese govern­ment in the South China Sea are suf­fi­cient to ex­poseHanoi’s am­bi­tions for exclusive oc­cu­pa­tion of South China Sea re­sources and its im­pulse to turn the wa­ters into the “sea of Viet­nam”.

TheXisha Is­lands were al­ready in­cluded into the scope of China’s sov­er­eign ju­ris­dic­tion at least by the 10th century. Even dur­ing the 1930s, a time when China’s na­tional strength had fallen to an un­prece­dented weak po­si­tion and dur­ing which China suf­fered from Ja­pan’s large-scale in­va­sion, the Chi­nese govern­ment still filed protests against the il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of some of its South China Sea is­lands by the French colo­nial au­thor­i­ties. From 1934 to 1935, a com­mit­tee was co-es­tab­lished by China’s min­istry of for­eign af­fairs, min­istry of in­ter­nal af­fairs and naval head­quar­ters. The com­mit­tee made a spe­cial ex­am­i­na­tion on var­i­ous is­lands in the South China Sea, re­named the is­lands and reefs, and pub­lished an of­fi­cial map on which the Dong­sha, Xisha, Zhong­sha andNan­sha is­lands were ex­plic­itly marked as China’s ter­ri­tory.

Ja­pan usurped from China the Xisha Is­lands in 1939, but af­ter Tokyo’s sur­ren­der in 1945, in ac­cor­dance with the Cairo Dec­la­ra­tion and other bind­ing in­ter­na­tional documents, the Chi­nese govern­ment re­cov­ered its sovereignty over a se­ries of China’s ter­ri­to­ries in­clud­ing the Xisha andNan­sha is­lands “stolen” by Ja­pan. The Chi­nese govern­ment sent a flotilla of war­ships to the Xisha Is­lands in­Novem­ber 1946 and theNan­sha Is­lands in De­cem­ber 1946 to take over the sovereignty of the is­lands and erect­ing some mon­u­ments on them. Some Chi­nese soldiers were also left on these is­lands for de­fense.

On Septem­ber 4, 1958, the govern­ment of the People’s Repub­lic of China is­sued a state­ment, declar­ing 12 nau­ti­cal miles as its ter­ri­to­rial sea, and made it ex­plicit that “this pro­vi­sion ap­plies to all of its ter­ri­to­ries, in­clud­ing its Dong­sha, Xisha, Zhong­sha andNan­sha is­lands as well as other is­lands whose sovereignty be­longs to China”. Fol­low­ing the state­ment, the Viet­namese prime min­is­ter Pham Van Dong sent a ver­bal note to Chi­nese pre­mier Zhou En­lai, solemnly ex­press­ing that the govern­ment of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Viet­nam “rec­og­nizes and en­dorses” the Chi­nese govern­ment’s state­ment and “re­spects” such a de­ci­sion by the Chi­nese govern­ment.

The said note is not the only ev­i­dence of the Viet­namese govern­ment’s recog­ni­tion of the Xisha Is­lands be­ing part of China’s ter­ri­tory through diplo­matic or other of­fi­cial chan­nels. Dur­ing a meet­ing with the charge d’af­faires of the Chi­nese em­bassy in Viet­nam on June 15, 1956, the Viet­namese deputy for­eign min­is­ter ex­plic­itly ex­pressed that “from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive and based on the documents from the Viet­namese side, the Xisha Is­lands should be­long to China’s ter­ri­tory”.

Fol­low­ing the draw­ing of a “the­ater of war” by theUS govern­ment, the Viet­namese govern­ment is­sued a state­ment onMay 9, 1965, say­ing that US pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son’s in­clu­sion of “the en­tire Viet­nam, 100 nau­ti­cal miles off its coasts as well as some wa­ters of the ter­ri­to­rial sea of China’sXisha Is­lands” as the “the­ater of war” for theUS armed forces, con­sti­tutes a di­rect threat to the se­cu­rity of Viet­nam and its neigh­bor­ing coun­try. The above of­fi­cial stance of the Viet­namese govern­ment to­ward China’s sovereignty over theXisha Is­lands was also re­flected in its of­fi­cial maps, news­pa­pers, jour­nals and text­books. As a mat­ter of fact, the Viet­namese govern­ment never changed this stance un­til its southnorth re­uni­fi­ca­tion in 1975.

Ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ple of eq­ui­table estop­pel of in­ter­na­tional law, the Viet­namese govern­ment can­not over­turn its pre­vi­ous of­fi­cial stance on the sovereignty of theXisha Is­lands. The at­tempt by the Viet­namese govern­ment to rein­ter­pret Pham Van Dong’s ver­bal note will be fu­tile. On the one hand, the note is not the only of­fi­cial ev­i­dence of Viet­nam’s recog­ni­tion ofXisha Is­lands as a part of China’s ter­ri­tory. On the other hand, ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ple of “the land dom­i­nates the sea”, the right of sovereignty over the ter­ri­to­rial sea of a coastal state orig­i­nates from its sovereignty over its land or is­lands. Thus, Pham Van Dong’s recog­ni­tion and re­spect to China’s 12-nau­ti­cal miles ter­ri­to­rial sea in­evitablely in­di­cates its recog­ni­tion and re­spect of China’s sovereignty over theXisha Is­lands.

The so-called dis­pute over the Xisha Is­lands has been com­pletely con­cocted by Viet­nam in the other­wise peace­ful South China Sea. In re­cent years, the Viet­namese govern­ment has re­peat­edly claimed that “China oc­cu­pied the Xisha Is­lands by force in 1974, which was an act of ag­gres­sion and a vi­o­la­tion of theUN Char­ter and the ba­sic norms of in­ter­na­tional law”. But China’s self­de­fense against South Viet­nam on the Xisha Is­lands in 1974 is not a re­mote episode whose truth should be known by ev­ery­one. Mod­ern in­ter­na­tional law­pro­hibits the un­law­ful use of force in re­solv­ing in­ter­na­tional dis­putes, but ac­cord­ing to Ar­ti­cle 51 of theUNChar­ter, a sov­er­eign state has the right of self­de­fense to main­tain its ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. China’s self-de­fense against South Viet­nam in 1974 came af­ter its il­le­gal at­tempt at oc­cu­pa­tion of China’s Xisha Is­lands. The truth of this fact al­lows no dis­tor­tion.

The Viet­namese govern­ment should not go back on its com­mit­ments on such big is­sues as ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty. Other­wise, how can it build its na­tional rep­u­ta­tion in the in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety?

It is now also time for Viet­nam to ac­count to China and the in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety for its suc­ces­sive armed oc­cu­pa­tion of 29 is­lands and reefs af­fil­i­ated to China’sNan­sha Is­lands since the 1970s, which is an ob­vi­ous rene­gade of its own recog­ni­tion of theNan­sha Is­lands as a part of China’s ter­ri­tory. The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional Law at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity.

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