International scholars debunk China's South China Sea claims

By Thanh Tam   November 19, 2021 | 06:30 pm PT
International scholars debunk China's South China Sea claims
A soldier is on guard on Southwest Cay Island of the Spratly Archipelago in 2012. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen
Historical evidence proves that China’s exercise of so-called "historic rights" in the South China Sea is untenable, international scholars said.

China had sent a series of diplomatic letters and notes to the United Nations in 2019, claiming to have sovereignty over several entities and "historic rights" in the South China Sea, among other maritime claims.

"Vietnam is the first country to claim sovereignty in the South China Sea and the only country that has continuously managed the Paracel and Spratly islands in accordance with international law," Vu Hai Dang, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Law of the National University of Singapore, said at a conference in Hanoi Thursday.

Vietnam calls the South China Sea the East Sea.

He said that since the 15th century, Vietnam's Nguyen Dynasty had sent mandarins to the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, collecting taxes on ships passing through the two islands.

The activities of the Hoang Sa fleet were also recorded in the official documents of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Dang said that since the nation's reunification in 1975, Vietnam has continued to maintain and protect its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.

These days, many modern structures have been built in the Spratlys to serve the lives of the people there, such as schools, medical facilities, and temples, he noted.

"Many Vietnamese children have been born on the Spratly Islands," he said, adding that the Vietnamese government will continue to claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, too. The disputes concerning the two archipelagoes must be resolved based on international law, he stressed.

Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Program at the Chatham Institute in the U.K., said no Chinese government had ever claimed sovereignty or any form of administration in the Paracel Islands before 1909.

He said China had even refused to pay compensation after a ship incident in the Paracels in the late 1890s, saying that the archipelago was not part of its territory.

"Before the early 20th century, no Chinese official had thought of owning or managing the shoals or reefs in the Paracels," Hayton said.

Professor Minique Chemillier-Gendreau of Diderot University in Paris said that the 1951 San Francisco Treaty or the 1952 Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty did not mention the recognition of China's sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.

Meanwhile, Vietnam's claims to the two archipelagos have not been denied until now.

At the 13th South China Sea International Conference in Hanoi, Carl Zha, who claims to be an independent China researcher, presented several pieces of "historical evidence," saying that China had represented and claimed sovereignty over islands in the sea many centuries ago.

Zha said islands in the sea had been once recorded in documents back in the 13th century by the Song dynasty.

They also appeared in voyage journals by Chinese mariner and explorer Zheng He (1371 – 1433), as well as marked in the map built by the Chinese Qing Dynasty in 1810, he said.

He also said that the French colonial government in the years of 1910-1920 had "more or less" recognized the islands in the sea as belonging to China.

Held by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam on Nov. 18 and 19, the conference attracted in-person participation of over 180 delegates and more than 400 others via videoconferencing.

South China Sea developments over the past year have raised the specter of an arms race and other concerns, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Quang Hieu told the event on Thursday.

"The rapid increase in military activities at sea, undersea, in the air, and space are raising concerns about an arms race and the risk of unintended collisions," he said.

Vietnam has repeatedly protested and urged China to desist from provocative, illegal actions that undermine peace and stability in the East Sea.

The country has also asserted many times that it has full legal basis and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands per international law, and all activities on islands must receive Vietnam’s approval.

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