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Vietnam’s Diaspora Challenges China’s Claim to Archipelagos

New America Media, News analysis, Thi Lam Posted: Jun 11, 2009

On May 11, 2009, nine days before he died in San Jose, Calif., the last prime minister of South Vietnam, Nguyen Ba Can, fought to save his homeland from China’s expansion. On behalf of the Vietnamese diaspora, he submitted to the United Nations a dossier establishing the outer edges of Vietnam’s continental shelf in compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Can’s dossier, prepared with the help of experts on international laws from the Vietnamese communities overseas, cites geographical and historical evidence to establish Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratlys archipelagos.

While the Vietnamese diaspora is struggling to claim ownership of these two island groups, the Hanoi regime, which came to power using the language of independence and patriotism, is giving away its territory. Those islands would give China a claim to much of the territorial waters in the Easter Sea, and therefore fishing rights and access to minerals and potential oil pockets.

History has a curious way of repeating itself. In ancient times, Vietnamese kings periodically sent ambassadors to the Peking Imperial Court to pay tributes to their powerful masters to the north in exchange for their protection. It is the same today with two major differences: The old kings and emperors have been replaced by communist rulers, and precious stones, gold and ivory have been replaced by precious territorial concessions, along with fishing rights and potential oil reserves.

Can’s dossier established the legitimacy of the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam); it stresses that the acts of aggression by North Vietnam and its occupation of the territory of the RVN after 1975 “have not abrogated the three international treaties: the Geneva Accords of 1954, the Paris Accords of 1973, as well the Final Act of March 2, 1973, nor can they obliterate the ‘de jure’ existence and legitimacy under international law of the Government of the RVN.”

Can also refutes Hanoi’s concomitant submission to the UN, in which the Vietnamese communist government recognizes China’s de facto sovereignty over the Paracel Archipelagos, east of Hue, and reports only a pending dispute with Malaysia over islands in the Spratlys, south of the Paracel Islands.

China captured the Paracel Islands after a bloody naval battle on January 19, 1974, with the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. The Spratlys, rich in petroleum resources, is claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and China. China is the only country that has used military forces to invade the Spratlys and occupy five islands of this archipelago following a navy battle against Vietnam on March 14, 1988.

Geographically, the report emphasizes that the Paracels island closest to Vietnam is 135 nautical miles away; the distance of the northernmost island to China’s shore is 235 nautical miles. Spratly Island, meanwhile, is 250 nautical miles from the Vietnamese port of Cam Ranh, compared to 310 nautical miles that separate the same island from China’s Hainan island. Based on these data, the report concludes that, “both groups of Paracels and Spratlys islands...must belong to Vietnam.”

The dossier presents historical evidence to support the territorial sovereignty of the RVN over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos. The oldest is the Hong Duc map drawn between 1460 and 1497 during the dynasty of King Le Thanh Ton of the Empire of An Nam. But the most important document is the Treaty of Tientsin signed by China and France in 1885, which recognized the French Protectorate over the Empire of Vietnam, whose territory at that time already included the above archipelagos.

At the end of World War II, the victors met in Potsdam in 1945 to sign the treaties that settled territorial litigations affecting the nations previously conquered by Germany and Japan. These international treaties did not change the sovereignty of the Paracels and Spratlys.

The UN is not expected to rule on Continental Shelf - related issues anytime soon, but Can’s submission has added a new dimension to the struggle against China’s expansionism. It signals the emergence of an increasingly active diaspora that is determined to wage a two-front war: to oppose foreign aggression and to fight for democratic reform in Vietnam.

Thi Lam was a lieutenant general in the South Vietnamese army and the author of, The Twenty-Five Year Century: A South Vietnamese General Remembers the Indochina War to the Fall of Saigon.

Vietnamese version: Người Việt Lưu vong thách đố Trung quốc về chủ quyền của hai quần đảo Hoàng Sa-Trường Sa

Related Articles:

Mining Exploration in Vietnam: China's New Strategy of Expansionism

Setting the Record Straight on South Vietnam

New Year, Old Unresolved Passion: Vietnam and its Diaspora

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