Published online on January 30th, 2011, by the National Committee for Border Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
* The original article in Vietnamese can be found at: www.biengioilanhtho.gov.vn
Translated by Nguyễn Trịnh Đôn
The Paracel (Hoàng Sa) and the Spratly (Trường Sa) Islands are two archipelagos offshore Viet Nam. The closest point of the Paracel Islands is 120 nautical miles east of the City of Đà Nẵng and Ré Island, a coastal island of Viet Nam, while the closest point of the Spratly Islands is 250 nautical miles to the east of Cam Ranh Bay.
In the early days, with only vague information about the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, navigators only knew that there was a large area of submerged cays dangerous for watercrafts in the middle of the South China Sea, referred to as “the East Sea” (Biển Đông) by Vietnamese. Ancient Vietnamese documents indicate this area with various names, including “Bãi Cát Vàng” (English: Golden Sandbank), “Hoàng Sa” (Hán-Nôm: 黃沙; English: Golden Sand) , “Vạn Lý Hoàng Sa” (Hán-Nôm: 萬里黃沙; English: Ten-Thousand-Dặm Golden Sand) , “Đại Trường Sa” (Hán-Nôm: 大長沙; English: Grand Long Sand), or “Vạn Lý Trường Sa” (Hán-Nôm: 萬里長沙; English: Ten-Thousand-Dặm Long Sand).
Most of the nautical maps made by Western navigators from the 16th to the 18th centuries depict the Paracel and the Spratly Islands as a single archipelago and name it “Pracel”, “Parcel”, or “Paracels”. Later progress in science and navigation allowed the differentiation between the two archipelagos. It was not until about two hundred years ago (1787–1788) that the Paracel Islands were located clearly and accurately as they are known today. This work of locating the Paracel Islands by the Kergariou-Locmaria survey mission helped distinguish the archipelago from the Spratly Islands in the south.
All of the aforementioned maps depict Pracel (including both the Paracel and the Spratly Islands) as an area in the middle of the South China Sea to the east of mainland Viet Nam and located further offshore compared to Viet Nam’s coastal islands. The two archipelagos indicated as the “Paracel” and the “Spratly” (or “Spratley”) Islands in current international nautical maps are indeed those that are called as “Hoàng Sa” and “Trường Sa”, respectively, by Vietnamese people.
Historical Sovereignty of Viet Nam over The Paracel and The Spratly Islands
The Vietnamese people have long known the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, and Viet Nam has occupied and exercised its sovereignty over the two archipelagos in a continuous and peaceful manner.
Several ancient geography books and maps in Viet Nam clearly indicate that “Bãi Cát Vàng”, also known under various names such as “Hoàng Sa”, “Vạn Lý Hoàng Sa”, “Đại Trường Sa”, or “Vạn Lý Trường Sa”, has long been included within the territory of Viet Nam.
Toản tập Thiên Nam tứ chí lộ đồ thư (Hán-Nôm: 纂集天南四至路圖書; English: “The Handbook of the South’s Road Map”), compiled in the 17th century by Đỗ Bá Công Đạo, clearly noted in the maps of Quảng Ngãi Prefecture in Quảng Nam that “there was a long sandbank in the middle of the sea that is called Bãi Cát Vàng”, and that “during the last month of every winter, the Nguyễn rulers  send eighteen boats there to collect goods, mainly jewelries, money, guns, and ammunition”.
Figure 2. Scanned image of a page of Toản tập Thiên Nam tứ chí lộ đồ thư (纂集天南四至路图書)
In the 1774 map of Đàng Trong (Southern Viet Nam) called Giáp Ngọ niên bình Nam đồ (Hán-Nôm: 甲午年平南圖; English: The Map for the Pacification of the South in the Giáp Ngọ Year) [5,6], made byĐoan quận công (Hán-Nôm: 端郡公; English: Duke of the Đoan County) Bùi Thế Đạt, Bãi Cát Vàng is also indicated as a part of Viet Nam’s territory.
During his assignment in Southern Viet Nam, the scholar Lê Quý Đôn (Hán-Nôm: 黎貴惇) (1726–1784) compiled the 1776 Phủ biên tạp lục (Hán-Nôm: 撫邊雜錄; English: Miscellany on the Pacification at the Frontier) on the history, geography, and administration of Southern Viet Nam under the Nguyễn lords (1558–1775). In this work, Lê Quý Đôn described that Đại Trường Sa (including the Paracel and theSpratly Islands) was under the jurisdiction of Quảng Ngãi Prefecture.
Figure 3. Scanned images of the pages describing the Paracel and the Spratly Islands in Phủ biên tạp lục (撫邊雜錄)
“An Vĩnh Commune (xã), Bình Sơn District (huyện), Quảng Ngãi Prefecture (phủ) has a mountain outside its seaport. This 30-dặm wide mountain is called Ré Island (cù lao). It takes four watches (canh) to reach the island, on which there is a ward (phường) named Tứ Chính with beans-growing inhabitants. Further offshore are the Đại Trường SaIslands, where there are plenty of sea products and other goods. It takes Hoàng Sa Flotilla, founded to collect those products and goods, three full days to reach the islands, which are near Bắc Hải.”
“Bình Sơn District of Quảng Ngãi Prefecture includes the coastal commune of An Vĩnh. Offshore to the northeast of An Vĩnh 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-dặm long, flat and wide golden sand bank, on which the water is so transparent that one can see through. The islands are rich in swift nests, and there are 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 (ốc vân) are the Indian volutes (ốc tai voi). An Indian volute here can be as big as a mat; on their ventral side are opaque beads, different from pearls, that are as big as fingertips; their shell can be carved to make identification badges (tấm bài) or calcinated to provide lime for house construction. There are also conches (ốc xà cừ) that can be used for furniture inlay, and Babylon shells (ốc hương). All snails here can be salted for food. The sea turtles are oversized. There is a sea soft-shell turtle called “hải ba” or “trắng bông”, 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 “đột đột”, normally seen when swimming about the shore; they can be used as food after lime treatment, gut removal and drying. Before serving đột đột, one should process it with freshwater crab extract and scrape all the dirt off. It will be better if cooked with shrimps and pork.
Foreign boats often take refuge in these islands to avoid storms. The Nguyễn rulers have established Hoàng Sa Flotilla with seventy sailors selected from An Vĩnh Commune on a rotation 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 boats for three 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 Phú Xuân 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 Thuyên Đức Hầu, which recorded the amount of collected goods: 30 scoops of silver in the year of Nhâm Ngọ (Hán-Nôm: 壬午; i.e. 1762), 5,100 catties (cân)  of tin in the year of Giáp Thân (甲申; i.e. 1764), 126 scoops of silver in the year of Ất Dậu (乙酉; i.e. 1765), a few sea turtle shells each year from the year of Kỷ Sửu(己丑; i.e. 1769) to the year of Quý Tỵ (癸巳; i.e. 1773). There were also years when only cubic tin, porcelain bowls, and two copper guns were collected.
The Nguyễn rulers also established Bắc Hải Flotilla without a fixed number of sailors, selected from Tứ Chính Village in Bình Thuận or from Cảnh Dương 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 Bắc Hải, Côn Lôn Island, and other islands in Hà Tiên area, collecting goods from ships, and sea products such as turtles, abalones, and sea cucumbers. Bắc Hải Flotilla is under the command of Hoàng 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 (Thượng tướng công):
“Hereby command Hội Đức Hầu, captain of Hoàng Sa Flotilla, to lead four fishing boats to sail directly towards Hoàng Sa and other islands on the sea, to collect jewelries, copper items, cannons of all size, sea turtles, and valuable fishes, and to return to the Capital to submit all of these items in accordance with the current regulation”.
Bishop J.L. Taberd, in his 1837 “Note on the Geography of Cochinchina” , also describes “Pracel or Paracels” as a part of Cochinchina’s territory and indicates that Cochinchinese people refer to Paracels as “Cát Vàng”. In An Nam đại quốc họa đồ (Hán-Nôm: 安南大國畫圖; English: The Map of the An Nam Empire)  published in 1838, Bishop Taberd depicted part of Paracels and noted “Paracel seu Cát Vàng” (English: Paracel or Cát Vàng) for the islands farther than those near the shore of Central Viet Nam, corresponding to the area of the Paracel Islands nowadays.
Figure 4. Scanned image of An Nam đại quốc họa đồ (安南大國畫圖/Tabula geographica imperii Anamitici)
The map of Viet Nam under the Nguyễn Dynasty (c. 1838), Đại Nam nhất thống toàn đồ (Hán-Nôm: 大南ー統全圖; English: The Complete Map of the Unified Đại Nam) , indicated that “Hoàng Sa”(number 1) and “Vạn Lý Trường Sa” (number 2) are Vietnamese territories. These islands were depicted to be further offshore compared to those near the Central coast.
Figure 5. Scanned image of a portion of Đại Nam nhất thống toàn đồ (大南ー統全圖)
Đại Nam nhất thống chí (Hán-Nôm: 大南ー統志; English: The Geography of the Unified Đại Nam), the geography book completed in 1882  by Quốc sử quán (Hán-Nôm: 國史館; English: The National History Institute) of the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1845), indicates that the Paracel Islands are part of Viet Nam’s territory and was under the administration of the Province of Quảng Ngãi.
Figure 6. Scanned image of a page in Đại Nam nhất thống chí (大南ー統志)
In the paragraphs describing the topography of Quảng Ngãi Province, Đại Nam nhất thống chí reads:
“In the east of Quảng Ngãi Province is Hoàng 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 the Province of Bình Định, separated by the Bến Đá mountain pass. The north borders the Province of Quảng Nam, marked by the Sa Thổ Creek (ghềnh) …”
“The previous custom of maintaining Hoàng Sa Flotilla was continued in the early days of the Gia LongEra but later abandoned. At the beginning of the Minh Mạng 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 trượng . In the middle of Hoàng 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 “Vạn Lý Ba Bình” (Hán-Nôm: 萬里波平; English: calm sea for a thousand dặm). This island had previously been called “Phật Tự Sơn” (Hán-Nôm: 佛寺山; English: The Mountain of Buddha’sTemple). In the east and the west of the island is an atoll named Bàn Than Thạch (Hán-Nôm: 珊瑚石;English: coral reef). It emerges over the water level as an isle with a circumference of 340 trượng and a height of 1.2 trượng (same elevation as that of Hoàng Sa Island). In the 16th year of the Minh MạngEra, 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 labourers 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 Hoàng Sa (Pracel or Paracel) belongs to Viet Nam.
A Western clergyman wrote in a letter during his 1701 trip on the ship Amphitrite from France to Chinathat: “Paracel is an archipelago of the Kingdom of An Nam” .
J.B. Chaigneau, one of the counsellors to Emperor Gia Long, wrote in the 1820 complementary note to his “Mémoire sur la Cochinchine” (English: Memoir on Cochinchina)  that: “The Country of Cochinchina, whose emperor has just ascended to the throne, includes the Regions of Cochinchina and Tonkin  … some inhabited islands not too far from the shore, and the Paracel Islands composed of uninhabited small islands, creeks, and cays.”
In the article “Geography of the Cochinchinese Empire” , written by Gutzlaff and published in 1849, some parts clearly indicate that Paracel is part of Viet Nam’s territory and even noted the islands with the Vietnamese name “Cát Vàng”.
As sovereigns of the country, successive feudal dynasties in Viet Nam had for many times conducted survey on the terrains and resources of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands over centuries. The results of these surveys have been recorded in Vietnamese geography and historical books since the 17thcentury.
Toản tập Thiên Nam tứ chí lộ đồ thư (Hán-Nôm: 纂集天南四至路图書; English: “The Collection of the South’s Road Map”) of the 17th century reads:
“In the middle of the sea is a long sandbank, called Bãi Cát Vàng, with a length of 400 dặm and a width of 20 dặm, spanning in the middle of the sea from Đại Chiêmto Sa VinhSeaports . 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 .”
Đại Nam thực lục tiền biên (Hán-Nôm: 大南實錄前編; English: The First Part of The Chronicles of ĐạiNam), the historical document collection about the Nguyễn lords completed by Quốc sử quán in 1844, reads:
“Offshore of An Vĩnh Commune, Bình Sơn District, Quảng Ngãi 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 dặm, and are thus called “Vạn Lý Hoàng 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, Hoàng Sa Flotilla was established with 70 sailors selected from An Vĩnh 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 Bắc Hải, whose sailors are chosen from Tứ Chính Village in Bình Thuận or Cảnh Dương Commune, ordered to sail to Bắc Hải and Côn Lôn areas to collect goods. This flotilla is under the command of Hoàng Sa Flotilla.”
The parts covering the eras of Emperors Gia Long, Minh Mạng, and Thiệu Trị completed in 1848 in Đại Nam thực lục chính biên (Hán-Nôm: 大南實錄正編; English: The Main Part of The Chronicles of Đại Nam), the historical document collection about the Nguyễn emperors, record the events of: Emperor Gia Long’s possession of the Paracel Islands in 1816, and the temple construction, stele erection, tree planting, measurement and mapping of the islands following Emperor Minh Mạng’s order .
Volume 52 of Đại Nam thực lục chính biên reads:
“In the Bính Tý (Hán-Nôm: 丙子) year, the 15th year of the Gia Long Era (1816) … His Majesty the Emperor commanded the naval forces and Hoàng Sa Flotilla to sail to Hoàng Sa Islands for sea route survey.”
Volume 104 reads:
“In the Eighth Month, during the autumn, of the Quý Tỵ (in Hán-Nôm: 癸巳) year, the 14th year of the Ming Mạng Era (1833) … His Majesty the Emperor told the Ministry of Public Works that: In the territorial waters of the Province of Quảng Ngãi, there is the Hoàng 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 Ất Mùi (Hán-Nôm: 乙未) year, the 16th year of the Minh Mạng Era (1835) … a temple was built on Hoàng Sa Island, under the administration of Quảng Ngãi Province. Hoàng Sa, in the territorial waters of Quảng Ngãi, 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 “Vạn Lý Ba Bình” (Hán-Nôm: 萬里波平; English: calm sea for a thousand dặm). Bạch Sa Island has a circumference of 1,070 trượng; previously referred to as Phật Tự Sơn, the island is surrounded by a gently-sloping atoll in the east, west, and south. In the north is an atoll named Bàn Than Thạch, emerging over the water level with a circumference of 340 trượng, an elevation of 1.3 trượng, as high as the sand island. Last year, His Majesty the Emperor had already considered ordering the construction of a temple and a 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 Phạm Văn Nguyên and his soldiers, the Capital’s patrol commander (giám thành), and labourers from the Provinces of Quảng Ngãi and Bình Định came and carried building materials with them to build the new temple (seven trượng away from the ancient temple). A stone stele 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 Bính Thân (Hán-Nôm: 丙申) year, the 17th year of the Ming MạngEra (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, Hoàng 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 (vệ giám thành) to form a unit on a vessel. This unit shall travel to Quảng Ngãi within the first ten days of the Second Month, requesting the Provinces of Quảng Ngãi and Bình Định to employ four civilian boats to travel together to Hoàng 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 records. 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 Phạm Hữu Nhật to command a battleship and bring ten wooden steles to be used as markers in the area. Each wooden stele is five thước long, five tấc wide, one tấc thick , and is engraved with characters meaning: The 17th year of the Minh Mạng Era, the Bính Thân year, Detachment Commander Phạm Hữu Nhật of the Navy, complying with the order to go to Hoàng Sa for management and survey purposes, arrived here and therefore placed this sign.”
Đại Nam thực lục chính biên also recorded that, in 1847, the Ministry of Public Works submitted a petition to Emperor Thiệu Trị, saying: “Hoàng 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 schedule of this year, we implore Your Majesty’s permission to postpone the survey trip until next year”. Emperor Thiệu Trị wrote “đình” (Hán-Nôm: 停; English: suspended) in the petition to approve it.
Figure 7. Scanned image of a page in Đại Nam thực lục chính biên (大南實錄正編)
The1882 Đại Nam nhất thống chí (Hán-Nôm: 大南ー統志; English: The Geography of the Unified Đại Nam) reads:
“Hoàng Sa Islands lies in the east of Ré Island, under Bình Sơn District. From Sa Kỳ Seaport, it can take three or four days to sail to the islands under favourable 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 tens of thousands of dặm and thus called Vạn Lý Trường 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 to the bank.”
Other books completed under the Nguyễn Dynasty such as the 1821 Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí(Hán-Nôm: 歴朝憲章類誌; English: Classified Rules of Dynasties), the 1833 Hoàng Việt dư địa chí(Hán-Nôm: 皇越輿地誌; English: Geography of the Viet Empire), the 1876 Việt sử thông giám cương mục khảo lược (Hán-Nôm: 越史通鑑綱目考略; English: Outline of the Viet History Chronicles) all have similar description for the Paracel Islands.
Figure 8. Scanned image of the petition that the Ministry of Public Works submitted to Emperor Thiệu Trị in 1847 with the Emperor’s approving note highlighted in the red circle.
Due to the aforementioned richness of sea products and goods from wrecked ships in the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, the Vietnamese feudal dynasties had long exploited sovereignty over the islands. Many ancient history and geography books of Viet Nam provide evidence of the organization and operation of the Hoàng Sa flotillas, which performed these exploitation duties.
Succeeding the Nguyễn lords in governing the country, the Tây Sơn Dynasty always paid fair attention to maintaining and deploying Hoàng Sa flotillas although it had to continuously deal with the invasions of the China’s Qing Dynasty and Siam. Under the Tây Sơn Dynasty, the Imperial Court continued organizing various forms of exploitation of the Paracel Islands with the awareness that it was exercising the sovereignty over the islands.
From the foundation of the Nguyễn Dynasty in 1802 until the 1884 Treaty of Huế with France, the Nguyễn emperors had made every effort to consolidate Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.
Hoàng Sa Flotilla, later reinforced by Bắc Hải Flotilla, was maintained and continuously active under the Nguyễn lords (1558–1783) to the Tây Sơn Dynasty (1786–1802) and the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945).
In conclusion, ancient history and geography books of Viet Nam as well as evidence 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 the Paracel and the Spratly Islands for centuries. The Vietnamese states-founded Hoàng Sa flotillas’ regular presence from five to six months annually to perform certain duties in these islands is itself incisive evidence demonstrating the exercise of Vietnamese sovereignty. The acquisition and exploitation by Vietnamese sovereign states of these islands were never opposed by any other countries, further proving that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands have long been part of Viet Nam’s territory.
Sovereignty Exercise over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands Continued by France on Behalf of Viet Nam
Since the conclusion of the Treaty of Huế on June 6th, 1884, France had represented Viet Nam in all of its external relations and protected Viet Nam’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Within the framework of those commitments, the Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands was exercised by France. That sovereignty exercise is clearly illustrated with numerous examples of which some are listed below.
The French battleships often patrolled in the South China Sea, referred to as “Biển Đông” (English: The East Sea) by Vietnamese, including the areas of the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.
In 1899, Paul Doumer, the then Governor-General of Indochina, sent a proposal to Paris for building a lighthouse on Pattle Island (đảo Hoàng Sa) within the Paracel Islands to guide ships in the area. The plan, however, was abandoned due to budget issue.
Since 1920, Indochinese ships of customs had intensified their patrol in the area of the Paracel Islandsto prevent smuggling.
In 1925, the Institute of Oceanography in Nha Trang sent the ship De Lanessan for an oceanography survey in the Paracel Islands. In addition to A. Krempf, the then Institute’s Director, and 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 (Hán-Nôm: 兵部尚書) Thân Trọng Huề of the Imperial Court reaffirmed that the Paracel Islands are within Viet Nam’s territory.
In 1927, the ship De Lanessan went to the Paracel Islands for a scientific survey.
In 1929, the Pierre de Rouville delegation proposed that four lighthouses to be set up at four corners of the Paracel Islands, namely Triton (Tri Tôn) and Lincoln (Linh Côn) Islands, and the North (Đá Bắc) and Bombay Reefs (bãi Bông Bay).
In 1930, the gunboat La Malicieuse went to the Paracel Islands.
In March 1931, the ship Inconstant went to the Paracel Islands.
In June 1931, the ship De Lanessan went to the Paracel Islands.
In May 1932, the battleship Alerte went to the Paracel Islands.
From April 13th, 1930 to April 12th, 1933, the Government of France deployed the naval units to garrison in major islands of the Spratly Islands, namely Spratly (Trường Sa Lớn), Amboyna Cay (An Bang), Itu Aba (Ba Bình), Group des Deux Iles (Song Tử) , Loaita (Loai Ta), and Thitu (Thị Tứ).
On December 21st, 1933, the then Governor of Cochinchina (Thống đốc Nam Kỳ) M.J. Krautheimer signed the decree of annexing the islands of Spratly, Amboyna Cay, Itu Aba, Song Tử group, Loaita, and Thitu to the Province of Bà Rịa .
In 1937, the French authorities sent a civil engineer named Gauthier to the Paracel Islands 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 the Paracel Islands.
Figure 9. Scanned image of Decree no. 4702–CP of December 21st, 1933 issued by the Governor of Cochinchina.
On March 29th, 1938, Emperor Bảo Đại signed the Imperial Edict to split the Paracel Islands from theProvince of Nam Nghĩa and annex them to the Province of Thừa Thiên . The Edict reads:
“Consider that the Hoàng Sa Islands (Archipel des îles Paracels) have been for long under the sovereignty of Nước Nam , and directly under the Province of Nam Nghĩa during the previous dynasties’ time, and that this administration had not been changed until the reign of Thế tổ Cao hoàng đế  as all the communications with these islands were carried out via the seaports in the Province of Nam Nghĩa;
Consider that by nautical progress, the communications have changed, and that the Imperial Court’s representative who went on an inspection tour and the Protectorate’s representative petitioned to annex those islands to the Province of Thừa Thiên for the sake of convenience;
Single item –– To annex the Hoàng Sa Islands (Archipel des îles Paracels) to the Province of Thừa Thiên. In terms of administration, these islands are under the command of the Governor of the Province.”
Figure 10. Scanned image of the Imperial Edict signed by Emperor Bảo Đại on March 29th, 1938.
On June 15th, 1938, the then Governor-General of Indochina Jules Brévié signed the decree on establishing an administrative unit in the Paracel Islands under Thừa Thiên Province.
In 1938, France erected a sovereignty stele, completed the constructions of a lighthouse, a meteorological station, a the radio station on Pattle Island (Vietnamese: đảo Hoàng Sa; French: Île Pattle), and a meteorological station and a radio station on Itu Aba Island within the Paracel Islands. The inscription on the stele reads: “The French Republic, The Kingdom of An Nam, The Paracel Islands, 1816 – Pattle Island – 1938” (1816 and 1938 are the years of Viet Nam’s sovereignty exercise over the Paracel Islands by Emperor Gia Long, and of the French erection of the stele, respectively).
Figure 11. The sovereignty stele erected by France in 1938.
On May 5th, 1939, the Governor-General of Indochina Jules Brévié signed a decree on amendment of the decree of June 15th, 1938. The new decree established two administrative delegations, namely the Delegations of Croissant And Its Dependents, and Amphirite And Its Dependents.
For the whole time of representing Viet Nam for its external relations, France consistently affirmed the sovereignty of Viet Nam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, and protested those actions that seriously violated this sovereignty. For instance, on December 4th, 1931 and April 24th, 1932, Franceopposed the Government of China on the intention of the Guangdong (Hán-Nôm: 廣東) provincial authorities to invite bids for exploiting guano on the Paracel Islands. Other examples include theFrance’s announcement on July 24th, 1933 to Japan that its armed forces would encamp on major islands within the Spratly Islands; and the France’s objection on April 4th, 1939 to the Japan’s inclusion of some islands within the Spratly Islands under its jurisdiction.
Figure 12. Scanned image of the Decree of May 5th, 1939 issued by the Governor-General Jules Brévié.
Protection And Exercise of Viet Nam’s Sovereignty over The Paracel and the Spratly Islands Since The End of World War II
After returning to Indochina after World War II, in early 1947, France requested the Republic of China to withdraw their troops from some islands within the Paracel and the Spratly Islands that had been illegitimately occupied in late 1946. The French armed forces then arrived at the islands to replace those of China and to rebuild their meteorological and radio stations.
Figure 13. Scanned images of the World Meteorological Organization documents containing information aboutthe Viet Nam’s meteorological stations in the Sprartly Islands (on Itu Aba) (left) and the Paracel Islands (right) in 1949 and 1973, respectively.
On September 7th, 1951, Trần Văn Hữu, the head of the State of Viet Nam’s delegation at the San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of Peace with Japan, declared that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands have long been the territories of Viet Nam, and that “to take full advantage of every chance to prevent any seed of dispute in the future, we affirm our long-standing sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands”. This statement did not meet any objections and/or reserves of opinion.
In 1953, the French ship Ingénieur en chef Girod went on its survey trip on oceanography, geology, geography, and ecology in the Paracel Islands.
Later governments in South Viet Nam, including both the Sài Gòn Administration (the Republic of Viet Nam), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet Nam (abbr. RSVN Government), exercised Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands as clearly showed by the following examples.
In 1956, the naval forces of the Sài Gòn Administration took over the Paracel and the Spratly Islandswhen France withdrew its troops. In the same year, with the assistance of the Sài Gòn Administration’s naval forces, the Department of Mining, Technology, & Small Industries (Sở hầm mỏ, công nghệ & tiểu công nghiệp) organized a survey on four islands within the Paracel Islands, namely Pattle (Hoàng Sa), Money (Quang Ảnh), Robert (Hữu Nhật), and Drumond (Duy Mộng).
Figure 14. Scanned image of the statement of Trần Văn Hữu, head of the State of Viet Nam’s delegation at the 1951 San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of Peace with Japan.
On October 22nd, 1956, the Sài Gòn Administration placed the Spratly Islands under the Province of Phước Tuy.
On July 13th, 1961, the Sài Gòn Administration transferred the jurisdiction of the Paracel Islands from the Province of Thừa Thiên to the Province of Quảng Nam. The administrative commune of Định Hải, headed by an administrative envoy directly under the District of Hòa Vang, was established in the islands.
Figure 15. Scanned image of Decree 174-NV of the President of the Republic of Viet Nam on transferring the jurisdiction of the Paracel Islands from Thừa Thiên to Quảng Nam Provinces.
From 1961 to 1963, the Sài Gòn Administration built sovereignty steles on major islands within theSpratly Islands such as Spratly, Itu Aba, and the Southwest Cay.
Figure 16. The sovereignty stele erected by the Republic of Viet Nam on Spratly Island in 1961.
On October 21st, 1969, the Sài Gòn Administration annexed Định Hải Commune into Hòa Long Commune, also under Hòa Vang District of Quảng Nam Province.
In July 1973, the Institute of Agricultural Research (Viện khảo cứu nông nghiệp) under the Ministry of Agricultural Development & Land (Bộ phát triển nông nghiệp & điền địa) conducted its investigation onNamyit Island (Nam Ai or Nam Yết) within the Spratly Islands.
In August 1973, the Sài Gòn Administration’s Ministry of National Planning & Development (Bộ kế hoạch & phát triển quốc gia), in collaboration with Marubeni Corporation of Japan, conducted an investigation on phosphates in the Paracel Islands.
On September 6th, 1973, the Sài Gòn Administration annexed the islands of Spratly, Itu Aba, Loaita, Thitu, Namyit, Sin Cowe (Sinh Tồn), the Northeast and Southwest Cays, and other adjacent islands into Phước Hải Commune, Đất Đỏ District, Phước Tuy Province .
Figure 17. Scanned image of Decree 420-BNV/HCĐP/26 of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Viet Nam on annexing the Spratly Islands into the Province of Phước Tuy.
Fully aware of the long-standing sovereignty of Viet Nam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands, the governments in South Viet Nam all showed efforts to protect the sovereignty against any violations and/or disputes over the two archipelagos.
On June 16th, 1956, the Sài Gòn Administration’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to re-affirm Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Spratly Islands. In the same year, the Sài Gòn Administration strongly objected to the occupation of the eastern islands within the Paracel Islands by the People’s Republic of China.
On February 22nd, 1959, the Sài Gòn Administration detained for some time 82 people who claimed to be “fishermen” from the People’s Republic of China and had landed on the islands of Robert, Drummond, and Duncan (Quang Hoà) within the Paracel Islands.
On April 20th, 1971, the Sài Gòn Administration once again re-affirmed that the Spratly Islands are Viet Nam’s territories. This affirmation of Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Islands was repeated by the Sài Gòn Administration’s Foreign Minister in the July 13th, 1971 press conference.
On January 19th, 1974, the military forces of the People’s Republic of China occupied the southwestern islands of the Paracel Islands; this violation of Viet Nam’s territorial integrity was condemned in the same day by the Sài Gòn Administration. The RSVN Government declared its three-point position on the solution for territorial disputes on January 26th, 1974, and re-affirmed Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands on February 14th, 1974.
On June 28th, 1974, the RSVN Government claimed its sovereignty over the Paracel and the SpratlyIslands at the Third Law of Sea Conference in Caracas, Venezuela. On May 5th and 6th, 1975, the RSVN Government announced its liberation of the Spratly Islands, which had been under the control of the Sài Gòn Administration.
In September 1975, the delegation of the RSVN Government at the Colombo Meteorological Conference stated that the Paracel Islands are Viet Nam’s territories, and requested that the Viet Nam’s meteorological station in the Islands to be registered in the WMO’s list of meteorological stations (this station had previously been entered in the WMO’s list under the registration number 48.860).
After the country’s re-unification, the State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam has been promulgating many critical legal documents on sea and the Paracel and the Spratly Islands. These include: the 1977 Statement by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on Viet Nam’s Territorial Waters, Contiguous Zones, Exclusive Economic Zones, and Continental Shelf; the 1982 Statement by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on the Basic Line Used in the Calculation of the Area of Viet Nam’s Territorial Waters; the 1992 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam; the 1994 Resolution of the Fifth Session of the Ninth National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam on Ratification the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); and the 2003 Law of the National Borders.
In terms of administration, the Government of Viet Nam made the Spratly and the Paracel Islandsdistricts (huyện) under Đồng Nai and Quảng Nam–Đà Nẵng Provinces, respectively. After some administrative revisions, the Paracel Islands are currently under the City of Đà Nẵng, while the SpratlyIslands belong to Khánh Hòa Province.
The Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam has repeatedly affirmed Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands in diplomatic notes sent to the involved parties, in the statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in international meetings including the WMO meeting in Geneva (June 1980) and in the International Geological Congress in Paris (July 1980).
Viet Nam has for several times issued its white papers (in 1979, 1981, and 1988) on the sovereignty of Viet Nam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands to affirm that these two archipelagos are inseparable territories of Viet Nam, and that Viet Nam has full sovereignty over them in accordance with international laws and practice.
On March 14th, 1988, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam issued a statement condemning the China’s act that caused military conflict and its seizure of some submerged cays from Viet Nam in the Spratly Islands.
In April 2007, the Government of Viet Nam established Trường Sa Township (thị xã), Song Tử Tây and Sinh Tồn Communes (xã) under Trường Sa District (huyện) in the Spratly Islands.
In summary, there are three major points one can clearly conclude with references to the aforementioned historical documents as well as international law and practice.
First, successive sovereign states in Viet Nam have actually possessed the Paracel and the SpratlyIslands for long since the time when there was no sovereignty claim over those archipelagos.
Second, for hundreds of years since the 17th century, Viet Nam has indeed exercised its sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands in a continuous and peaceful manner.
And third, Viet Nam has always been proactive in protecting its rights and titles against any intentions and actions that violate Viet Nam’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and rights in the Paracel and theSpratly Islands.
Some International Documents And Treaties Related to Viet Nam’s Sovereignty over The Paracel And The Spratly Islands
1. The Cairo Communiqué on November 27th, 1943
When World War II entered its fiercest stage, a conference of the three powers of the Allies, namely the United Kingdom of Great Britain & North Ireland, the United States of America, and the Republic of China (represented by Chiang Kai-shek), was organized in Cairo, Egypt. The Cairo Communiqué , the outcome of the conference, states that: “The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped off all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.”
In accordance to this statement, the three Great Allies expressed their purpose to force Japan to return to the Republic of China those territories that were seized from the Chinese, including Manchuria,Formosa (Taiwan), and the Pescadores (Penghu), without any mention of the Paracel and the SpratlyIslands.
2. Potsdam Declaration on July 26th, 1945
Heads of state and government of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain & North Ireland, and the Republic of China declared that the terms given in the 1943 Cairo Communiqué should be executed . After declaring war with Japan in the Far East, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics also joined this Declaration.
The Potsdam Agreement assigned China the responsibility to disarm the Japanese forces in the north of the 16o Latitude in Viet Nam. Accordingly, from late 1946, Chiang Kai-shek’s troops entered thenorthern provinces and the Paracel Islands of Viet Nam. Their disarming activities in these areas do not mean, in any sense, affirmation and/or restoration of Chinese sovereignty over the Paracel and theSpratly Islands.
3. Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951
The San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of Peace with Japan was held from September 4th to 8th, 1951 with the attendance of 51 countries. Article 2 in Chapter II of the draft treaty states that Japan shall renounce all rights, titles, and claims to specific territories that are listed. These territories include: Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), the Pescadores (Penghu), the Kuril Islands, the southern portion of Sakhalin Island, the Pacific islands, Antarctic areas, the Spratly Islands, and the Paracel Islands.
At the plenary session on September 5th, 1951, the Conference agreed with the decision of the Conference’s President to reject another proposal requesting “that Japan shall recognize the complete sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China over Manchuria, Formosa and its adjacent islands, Penlinletao (the Pescadores), the Tunshatsuntao Islands (Pratas), the Sishatsuntao and Chunshatsuntao (the Paracel Islands, the Amphirites, and the Maxfield submerged cays), and the Nanshatsundao (including the Spratly Islands), and that Japan shall renounce all rights, titles, and claims to these territories”. This rejection decision was approved by the Conference with 46 ayes, three noes, and one abstain. Countries that voted to reject this proposal include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Viet Nam, and Japan.
In the ratified Treaty of Peace with Japan, Article 2 of Chapter II  remains unchanged as it had initially been drafted, which states:
“(a) Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet.
(b) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.
(c) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a consequence of the Treaty of Portsmouth of September 5th, 1905.
(d) Japan renounces all right, title and claim in connection with the League of Nations Mandate System, and accepts the action of the United Nations Security Council of April 2nd, 1947, extending the trusteeship system to the Pacific islands formerly under mandate of Japan.
(e) Japan renounces all claim to any right or title to or interest in connection with any part of the Antarctic area, whether deriving from the activities of Japanese nationals or otherwise.
(f) Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Spratly Islands and to the Paracel Islands.”
Apparently, the territories proclaimed by the 1943 Cairo Communiqué and the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan to be under China’s sovereignty only include Taiwan and Penghu. The fact that the Treaty of Peace with Japan places Taiwan and Penghu together in one item (Item b), and the Paracel and the Spratly Islands together in a separate item (Item f) implies that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands are not recognized as parts of China.
Also at the 1951 San Francisco Conference, on September 7th, 1951, Trần Văn Hữu, the head of the State of Viet Nam’s delegation, declared that the Paracel and the Spratly Islands have long been the territories of Viet Nam, and that “to take full advantage of every chance to prevent any seed of dispute in the future, we affirm our long-standing sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands”. None of the representatives of 51 countries attending the Conference objected to and/or expressed their wish to reserve opinions about this statement.
All of these aforementioned documents and evidence clearly demonstrate that international legal documents, from the Cairo Communiqué of November 27th, 1943 (re-affirmed by the Potsdam Declaration of July 26th, 1945) to the San Francisco Treaty of Peace with Japan of September 8th, 1951, do not recognize the sovereignty of any other countries over the Viet Nam’s Paracel and Spratly Islands. Also, the fact that none of the countries attending the 1951 San Francisco Conference objected to or wished to reserve their opinion on the statement of the Viet Nam’s delegation on Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands shows that the international community implicitly recognized the sovereignty of Viet Nam over the Paracel and the Spratly Islands.
 Hán-Nôm (漢and 喃) is the use and modification of Chinese characters in Vietnamese language with Vietnamese pronunciation since the 10th century.
 “Dặm” is an old length measurement unit, equivalent to 0.5 km.
 These nautical maps were made by Portuguese, Dutch, and French navigators including Lazaro Luis, Fernão vaz Dourado, João Teixeira, Johannes Janssonius, Willem Janszoon Blaeu, Jacob Aertsz Colom, Theunis Jacobsz, Hendrick Doncker, Frederick de Wit, Pierre du Val, and Henricus van Langren.
 “The Nguyễn rulers” refer tothe Nguyễn lords (chúa Nguyễn), the feudal rulers of Southern Viet Nam (Đàng Trong) from 1558 to 1775 while Northern Viet Nam (Đàng Ngoài) was ruled by the Trịnh lords (chúa Trịnh). Both of these feudal houses nominally swore their allegiance to the Lê Imperial Dynasty.
 In Hồng Đức bản đồ (Hán-Nôm: 洪德版圖; English: The Hồng Đức Map).
 Old Vietnamese documents used the cyclic Oriental calendar to name years. The corresponding year in the Gregorian calendar is thus given for each Oriental year in this essay.
 For Vietnamese and Chinese people, “mountain” (Hán-Nôm: 山; Vietnamese: sơn/núi; Pinyin: shan) is also used to indicate an island in the sea. For examples, Chinese people refer to most of the islands in Hangzhou Bay (Hán-Nôm: 杭州灣; Pinyin: Hángzhōu Wān) in the south of Shanghai as “shan”; these include Bái Shan (Hán-Nôm: 白山) and Dàyú Shan (Hán-Nôm: 大魚山). The Chinese people also used “shan” to call some Vietnamese islands such as “Cửu Đầu Sơn” (Hán-Nôm: 九頭山; Pinyin: Jiŭtóu Shan) for Cô Tô Island, “Bất Lao Sơn” (Hán-Nôm: 不勞山; Pinyin: Bùláo Shan) for Chàm Island, and “Ngoại La Sơn” (Hán-Nôm: 外羅山; Pinyin: Wàiluó Shan) for Ré Island.
 Canh is an old time measurement unit, equivalent to about two hours.
 Cân is an old weight measurement unit, equivalent to about 600 grams.
 “Note on the Geography of Cochinchina” by Bishop Jean-Louis Taberd was published in the 1837 Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 6, page 745.
 “Tabula geographica imperii Anamitici” is attached in the 1938 Latin–Annamese Dictionary (Dictionarium Latino–Anamiticum).
 “Đại Nam” (English: The Great South) and “Nước Nam” (English: The Southern Country) are among various names used to refer to Viet Nam by the Vietnamese people.
 The part covering the Central provinces was revised and carved for woodblock printing in 1909.
 Trượng (Hán-Nôm: 丈) is an old length measurement unit, equivalent to about ten feet.
 J.Y.C. cited from “Mystere des atolls – Journal de voyage aux Paracels” (English: Mystery of the atolls – Journal of the voyage to the Paracel Islands), published in the issues 3, 10, and 17 of the weekly magazine Indochine in July 1941. The name “Cochinchina” in these articles refers to Viet Namas a whole country.
 A. Salles cited from “Le mémoire sur la Cochinchine de J.B. Chaigneau” (The memoir of Cochinchina by J.B. Chaigneau), published in the 1923 Bulletin des amis du vieux Huê (Bulletin of the Friends of Old Huế), Volume 2, page 257.
 “Cochinchine” (French) or “Cochinchina” (English) indicates either Southern Viet Nam (Đàng Trong) or Viet Nam as a whole, which also included Northern Viet Nam (Đàng Ngoài).
 “Geography of the Cochinchinese Empire” was published in the 1849 Journal of the Royal Geography Society of London, Volume 19, page 93.
 Đại Chiêm and Sa Vinh Seaports are now called Đại and Sa Huỳnh Seaports under the Provinces of Quảng Nam and Quảng Ngãi, respectively.
 Bãi Cát Vàng has for long been known as an area with many dangerous submerged cays in theSouth China Sea.
 The Second Period, Volume 122.
 Thước (Hán-Nôm: 尺) and tấc (Hán-Nôm:
Source: The Southeast Asian Sea Research Foundation