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Sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly Archipelagoes

International law and the sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes (Part 3)

Part 3: What Chinese historical documents say?

First, China has made its sovereigty claims over these archipelagoes on the basis of the rights to discovery detection and management. China’s arguments include:

1. The Chinese were the first to discover and name the islands;
2. Chinese fishermen have exploited these islands for thousands of years. This proves to China’s sovereignty;
3. The inclusion of these islands into China was consolidated by archaeological finds;
4. China has implementated acts of administration there since a long time ago. We will review China’s arguments in two following sub-stages: the establishment of the initial title and the strengthening of such title.

“From the era of Emperor Wu of Han in the 2nd century B.C., the Chinese people began traveling across the South Sea. Through the long maritime realities, the Chinese people had discovered, the Xisha archipelago (Paracels) and then the Nansha archipelago (Spratlys) ” – The White Paper of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 01, 1980 reads: “China’s indisputable national sovereignty over the Xisha and Nansha Islands” has confirmed this. To prove its historical name, China has relied on the following books:

– Nan Zhou Yi Wu Chi (Exotic things of the Southern regions) written by Wan Zhen and Funan Zhuan (Account of Funan) written by Kang Tai, both written in the Three Kingdoms’ period (220-265); “Wu Jing Zong Yao” (General program of military affairs) written by Zeng Gongliang (998-1078) and Ding Du (990-1053) in the Song Dynasty; Mong Liang Lu (Notes of a dreamer) written in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1127); Daoyi Zhilue (Overview of barbarous island countries) written by Wang Dayuan in the Yuan Dynasty (1206 – 1368); Dong Xi yang kao (Study on the ocean of the East and the West) written by Zhang Xie in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644); “Zheng He Maritime Map” in the book “Wu Beizhi” written by Mao Yuali in early 17th century; Dushi fangyu jiyao – a book on historical geography and military geography written by Gu Zuyu in the early Qing Dynasty; Haiguo Wenjian Lu (Things heard and seen in overseas countries) written by Chen Lunjiong zhuan in 1730; Yang fang ji yao (Summary record of ocean defense) written by Yang Ruyu and carved for print by Zhang peng fei in 1828; Qiongzhoufuzhi (Gazeteer of Qiongzhou prefecture) compiled in the middle of the 19th century; Guangdong map theory (1862-1875); and Geng lu bu (Manuals of sea routes), stories told by fishermen of different generations.

According to the map, published by the Qing Dynasty in 1894, by the end of the 19th century, Chinese territory ended at Hainan Island – In the photo: Map of the unified Great Qing, the small island below is Hainan, next to the left is Giao Chỉ (Vietnam), the larger island to the right is Taiwan – Photo: biengioilanhtho.gov.vn

The above-mentioned books are not history written by official agencies of the State. Most of them are notes from voyages, monographs and maritime books showing knowledge of the ancients, relating to not only Chinese territory, but also territories of other countries.

For example, “Haiguo Wenjian Lu”, right as the book is titled, mentions extensively to regions called by the Chinese as “barbarian” rather than China. The part written about foreign countries in the historical book compiled during the Song Dynasty concerning Chiêm Thành (Champa) reads: “In the second year of the reign of Tian-xi (1016), Champa’s King Thi Mặc Bài Ma Diệp sent envoy La Bi Đế Gia to transport the tributes… La Bi Đế Gia said that if the boat of my people drifts to Thạch Đường (Shitang) on the way to Guangzhou, they cannot arrive even after a whole year.” Through it, it can be đeuced that from Champa to Guangzhou lies an area called Shitang, but that does not mean Shitang under Guangzhou, because the book writes about the regions called by the Chinese as “barbarian”, then such regions cannot be seen as belonging to China.

Geography book, volume 4 on borders, wrote: “At the periphery of Quiongzhou is a large sea adjacent to châu Ô, châu Lý, Tô Cách Lương, to Chiêm Thành to the south, to Chân Lạp and Giao Chỉ to the west, to Qiangli Changsha (Thiên Lý Trường Sa), Wanli Shitang (Vạn Lý Thạch Đường) to the east…The locals traveling by boats are not aware where their locations really are.” In all the above-mentioned books, a heap of mixed names was listed such as  Jiurulozhou (Cửu  Nhũ  Loa  Châu),  Shitang (Thạch Đường), Qianli Shitang (Thiên Lý Vạn Đường), Changsha (Trường Sa), Qiangli Changsha (Thiên Lý Trường  Sa)  and Wanli Changsha (Vạn  Lý  Trường  Sa)  without the names of Xisha (Hoàng Sa) and Nansha (Trường Sa). Even the Chinese could not locate their positions. This, without doubt, has led to endless debate among translators and scholars on unifying the aforesaid names. Although Hungdan Chiu and Choon Ho Park hold that Wanli Shiht’ang (Vạn Lý Thạch Sành) means Spratlys, M.S. Samuels maintains that the name refers to the submerged cays which are called Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank).

Funan Zhuan reads: “In Changhai (Trướng Hải)  there are coral reefs; under the reefs there are rocks on which corals grow.”
Nan Zhou Yi Wu Chi  records: “Over Changhai, the water is shallow and the magnetic rocks are found many, large iron-hooped vessels sailing beyond the frontiers must rely on the compasses to reach this place.” Starting from these notes, the Chinese hold that Changhai is the South China Sea, including all the islands in the South China Sea. However, we can make a few comments:

– The above extracted paragraphs do not show the exact location of Changhai. Neither do they clearly define the aforesaid names of Shiht’ang (Thạch Sành) are Xisha and Nansha. The above books, as it is entitled, describe the territories as “barbarian”, foreign, not as Chinese territories.
– Nan Zhou Yi Wu Chi  was compiled under the Three Kingdoms’ period (220-265) and referred to the use of compass in navigation, but this navigation device apparently appeared in the 10th century only.

– The phrase “beyond the borders” means that these islands are not part of Chinese territory. This assumption is also confirmed by other official documents of China, describing and demarcating territory of  the “Chinese Court” at the southernmost end of Hainan Island such as Qiongzhoufuzhi (1731), Hoang Chao Yitong Yudi Zongtu (1894), Da Qing Di Quo (Map of the Qing Dynasty) (1905) … or other Chinese old books and maps, all defined the southernmost point of China’s territory is at Ya Zhou, Qiongzhou prefecture, Guangdong province at latitude 18013′ North. This was also confirmed by Chinese Textbook of Geography, Zhongguo Sihixue Jiao Keshu, Shanghai (China) published in 1906: “In the South at 18°13 latitude North, the terminus being the coast of Yazhou, Island of Hainan.” We do not see in these writtings any note on any island that lies beyond that southernmost point./.

By Dr. Nguyễn Hồng Thao

Source: Thanh Nien News



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