Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) are two big archipelagos with key strategic locations among Vietnam’s islands, and the country’s sovereignty over them is clearly reflected through historical documents.
Fishing boats on the waters off the coast of Cat Ba township of Hai Phong city
The East Sea borders Vietnam in the east and thesouth. Vietnamese people have long called this body of water the “East Sea”because it is east of the country. Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos are atthe centre of this sea, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
Vietnamese history records repeatedly mentionedthese chains of islands as indispensable parts of the country’s territory andterritorial sea such as “Phu bien tap luc” (Miscellaneous chronicles ofthe pacified frontier) by Le Quy Don in 1776, “Thien Nam tu chi lo do thu”(Collection of the South’s Road Map) by Do Ba in the mid-17th century, and“Lich trieu hien chuong loai chi” (A classified treatise of the institutions ofsuccessive dynasties) by Phan Huy Chu in the early 19th century.
This fact can also been seen in official historyand geography records of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945), including “Dai Namthuc luc” (Chronicle of Dai Nam – an old name of Vietnam), “Dai Nam nhat thongchi” (Unification records of Dai Nam), and “Dai Nam dia du chi” (Geographicalrecord of Dai Nam).
Notably, there are many documents recording theNguyen Dynasty’s territorial expansion and establishment and exercising ofsovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. They include the dynasty’s woodblocksand imperial archives which have been recognised as world documentary heritageby UNESCO.
A plate of the Nguyen Dynasty's woodblocks affirming Vietnam's sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago (Photo: VNA)
Of the woodblocks, there are plates recordinghistorical events of the Nguyen Lords from 1558 to 1777.
Plate No. 24 inscribed with part of the 10th volume of “DaiNam thuc luc tien bien” (Early Chronicle of Dai Nam) says: “In the sea off thecoast of Vinh An commune of Binh Son district, Quang Ngai province, there aremore than 130 sand banks … stretching for several thousands of miles called Vanly Hoang Sa – the eternal yellow sand bank. On these sand banks, there arefresh water and seafood like sea cucumber and hawksbill turtle… In the earlyperiod of the dynasty, a Hoang Sa flotilla was set up with 70 members from AnVinh commune. Every year, they begin sailing in March and reach the bank inabout three days to seek natural produce and then return to hand over theproduce in August.”
Director of the National Archives of Vietnam Dang Thanh Tung said the Hoang Sa flotilla, formed in the era of the NguyenLords, is a unique way to establish and exercise the country’s sovereignty overHoang Sa archipelago. This flotilla’s trips to Van ly Hoang Sa were annualactivities.
Notably, in 1816, King Gia Long ordered theerection of markers and flags affirming sovereignty in Hoang Sa.
The dynasty’s imperial archives also show theNguyen kings always paid attention to the establishment and exercising of sovereignty in the East Sea, especially Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos and on shore islands like Con Dao and Phu Quoc.
According to these archives, the kings sentpeople to make surveys, plant markers and draw maps, and save Vietnamese andforeign boats in distress in waters surrounding Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
Apart from domestic historical records, many maps published by other countries also prove Vietnam’s sovereignty over these two archipelagos. They include “An Nam dai quoc hoa do” (Map of the Great An Nam– another old name of Vietnam), an appendix of Dictionarium latino-anamiticum (Latin-An Nam dictionary) published by Oriental Lith. Press in Calcutta, India,in 1838. This map features a group of islands at the centre of the East Sea with the Latin note “Paracel seu Cat Vang”, which means “Paracel or Cat Vang”.
According to the article “Note on the Geographyof Cochinchina” on The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, published inCalcutta in 1837, Bishop Jean Louis Taberd, also the author of Dictionariumlatino-anamiticum,wrote that for the last 34 years, Paracel, called Cat Vang – Hoang Sa byVietnamese people, had been occupied by Vietnamese people in Dang Trong (theregion that comprised the central and southern regions of Vietnam nowadays). Headded that in 1816, King Gia Long sent people to plant a flag and declare thesovereignty over these banks.
A map drawn by Jodocus Hondius in 1613 alsoshows Hoang Sa archipelago and all islands of Vietnam from the south of theGulf of Tonkin to the end of the country’s southern waters, except for PuloCondor (Con Dao) and Pulo Cici (Phu Quoc) drawn separately.
The Journal of an Embassy from theGovernor-General of India to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China, compiled byJohn Crawfurd and published in London (the UK) in 1830, also wrote: “The Kingof Cochin China, in 1816, took possession of the uninhabited and dangerousarchipelago of rocks, islets, and sand banks, called the Paracels, which heclaims as part of his dominions, and over which his authority is not likely tobe disputed.”
From September 4 to 8, 1951, a conference washeld in San Francisco, the US, to discuss the signing of a peace treaty withJapan, gathering representatives of 51 countries. A delegation of the State ofVietnam (1949 – 1955), a member of the French Union at that time, led by PrimeMinister and Foreign Minister Tran Van Huu of former King Bao Dai’s governmentattended the event.
At that conference, Huu reaffirmed the country’slong-standing sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos in front of51 diplomatic delegations. This declaration did not meetany protests from participating countries. -VNA