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(Eastern Sea Geography and Paracel, Spratly Archipelagoes by Vu Huu San)


At present time, five countries in the area are claiming that a number of islands in Vietnam's Spratly Islands belong either wholly or partly to their sovereignty. These countries are: Communist China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The Paracel Islands were absorbed militarily by Communist China in 1974.
In addition to using force and violence to occupy some islands, Communist China has carried more systematic actions. In 1983, Communist China produced a new map that expands the limits of the Eastern Sea, which they renamed South Sea. On that new map, the entire South China Sea falls within the sovereignty of China, extending eastward to the Philippines coastline, westward to the Vietnam seacoast, and southward to Malaysia. In February l 992, the Chinese Communists issued a law stating that military vessels and scientific vessels (meaning oil rigs) going through these waters must request their permission. In May 1992, they agreed to let the American oil company, Crestone, start drilling operations within an area of 25,000 square kilometers lying west of the Paracel Islands. They have on several occasions allowed oil survey vessels to sail deeply into the Gulf of Tonkin, close to Haiphong seaport and within seventy miles of Thai-Binh. To support these assertions of sovereignty they sent a group of mainland scholars to Taiwan to cooperate with local scholars to set up a joint China-Taiwan agency that categorically announced that the entire maritime area mentioned above belongs to China! That joint agency has the responsibility to collect, study and disseminate materials that would demonstrate China's sovereignty over the entire Eastern Sea area. Beside using the intellectual approach, Communist China during the past several years has prepared military measures to protect those "territorial waters". Because both the Hoang-sa and Truong-sa Islands are located very far from China, the Chinese Communists have reinforced and are reinforcing the Blue Water Fleet in their scheme to control the area through three different measures: (l)They bought from Ukraine an aircraft carrier that can accommodate eighteen SU-27 planes, and also converted a gigantic cargo ship into another aircraft carrier. (2)They bought from Iran the technique of midair refueling in order to increase the range of their fighter planes. (3)They built on Hoang-sa Islands a naval base that has an airfield where fixed-winged airplanes can land on and take off, they also built fresh-water reservoirs, and have presently thousands of troops on that base.
The Chinese Communists' naval strength has also been boosted with twenty-four US-27s newly purchased from Russia as the equivalents of the most up-to-date US-made F-15s, while at the same time has been reinforced the submarine force within their fleet. Thus far the Chinese communists have occupied eight islands in the Spratlys, setting up sovereignty markers on each of them. During the past few months, they have built a base in the area of underwater reefs which the Philippines had previously claimed as part of their sovereignty. When the Philippines
protested, the Chinese communists first denied, then confirmed that the area simply serves as living quarters for Chinese fishermen working there. Just a few days ago, the Philippines ordered that base destroyed despite the fact that the day before both sides had just started negotiations in Beijing with a view to resolving the differences.
No one can deny that both the Spratlys and the Paracels belong to Vietnam. No one has the right to take advantage of the current weakness of the Vietnamese Communists due to the wasting of national resources during the past few decades to try to parcel out and occupy the territory or the sea space of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Communists must bear total responsibility for having let the Spratlys and the Paracels fall into the hands of foreign countries, and they must assume the task of recovering those lost islands. The Vietnamese Communists cannot ignore these vital facts. if they invoke the inferiority of their navy and air forces in the defense of territorial waters, they will be even more guilty. Indeed, they have deliberately destroyed the national strength, they have imprisoned or obliterated the powerful South Vietnam's armed forces led by superior cadres of intelligent, experienced and courageous officers. They have used national resources for the aggressive war against Cambodia in order to assist in the hegemony scheme of the Soviet Union. All this has resulted in the exhaustion and bankruptcy of national union, the breakup of that solidarity which is so essential to the national defense.
Rather than to the other countries, the Spratlys and the Paracels belong to Vietnam from the viewpoints of geography, history and legislation as well as sovereignty.
In late July 1994 when a minority of Chinese Communist scholars in cahoots with a minority of Taiwan scholars brazenly claimed sovereignty over those archipelagoes, Vietnamese intellectuals in the United States met in California to issue a statement affirming Vietnam's sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Paracels in the Eastern Sea.
In response to that declaration, Scholar Vu Huu San undertook a research project on the geography of Bien Bong (Eastern Sea) and ore those islands to demonstrate Vietnamese sovereignty over them. The research has been completed, resulting in this book "Dia-ly Bien Dong Voi Hoang-Sa va Truong-Sa" (Eastern Sea Geography and the Paracel, Spratly Archipelagoes).
This study is extremely rigorous and quite revealing. The author has demonstrated solid knowledge in oceanography, geology, biology, botany, and culturology. His study has linked data on those islands with the Vietnamese mainland to prove that the archipelagoes are a natural extension of Vietnam's continental shelf. Moreover, being a former high- ranking officer of the Republic of Vietnam Navy who had led many operations around those islands and observed them closely, the author is able to describe in details those islands, with regard to their forms and shapes, dimensions, flora, geology, resources, etc... including the exact location of each island vis-a-vis other ones, the Vietnamese coastline, and the coastline of each of those countries that have made claims, namely Communist China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The author does not overlook aspects of international maritime law that pertain to the Spratlys and the Paracels. Even the problem of historical implementing Vietnamese sovereignty over those islands has been appropriately addressed.
The data presented in this research work have clearly demonstrated that Vietnam has sovereignty over these waters.
The materials cited in reference are both abundant and pertinent. Scholar Vu Huu San has referred to many important documents written by the most authoritative authors. The book also contained 133 maps, graphs and pictures.
The Committee for the Protection of Vietnam's Territorial Integrity, founded by a group of Vietnamese intellectuals in the USA, is very honored to present this valuable book by scholar Vu Huu San.

Stanford University, March 24,1995
The Committee for the Protection of Vietnam's Territorial Integrity,
Chairman of the Board,
Dr. Nguyen Van Canh, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.



In the Preface, Dr. Nguyen Van Canh has just stressed both the high scientific standard and the timely significance of Dia Ly Bien Dong voi Hoang-Sa va Truong-Sa by Scholar Vu Huu-San.

This postface will confine itself to summarizing the book's main points and to the confusion to be cleared away between the Vietnamese called Bien Dong and the Chinese-called Nan-Hai.

Concerning the book's main points, they may be briefly summarized as follows:

1) From the remotest times, Bien Dong (The Vietnamese Eastern Sea) was the cradle for the sea-oriented culture of the sea-faring Viet people.

2) Bien Dong shows a great deal of marvelous physical phenomena which have never been known in any other sea in the world.

3) Bien Dong is obviously characterized by both its specific fauna and flora.

4) Bien Dong is a gigantic reservoir of natural energies and resources which have been accumulated therein from time immemorial down to our own days. The oil field which has been formed at its bottom by organic substances driven from the Vietnam's rivers to Bien Dong is unmistakably a Vietnamese national heritage.

5) The sea-faring Viet people who were our remote ancestors did have the run of Bien Dong several millennia ago. Hoang-Sa and Truong-Sa Archipelagoes located in that sea have been their centers of activities since the end of the Ice Age.

6) For their geographic location, both Hoang-Sa and Truong-Sa Archipelagoes are quite nearer Vietnam than China's mainland. Both in terms of physical geography, are obviously located on the natural prolongation of Vietnam's mainland.

With regard to the Vietnamese-called Bien Dong and the Chinese-called Nan-Hai, some clarification should be made about them as follows :

Vietnam has more than 2000 kilometers of sea-coast starting from its northern frontier with China to the Gulf of Siam/ Thailand.

The eastern part of that long sea-coast has had, since time immemorial, the appellation of Bien Dong. This appellation has been widely used among the common people in Vietnam as evidenced by its frequent appearance in Vietnamese folk-songs and common sayings.

It has been found translated into foreign languages, particularly into French as l'Ocean Oriental (cf. Methode pour etudier la geographie, 1736, by l'Abbe Nicolas DuFresnoy [1674-1755]).

Following are a few instances of those folk-songs and common sayings related to Bien Dong:


-- "Our debt of gratitude to our father is like a soaring high mountain !

Our debt of gratitude to our mother is like the Bien Dong immense waters !"

-- "If husband and wife get along well together,

They would easily drain of even the Bien Dong's waters !"

-- "Poor Da-trang (a kind of small crab) vainly attempting to carry sand for filling up the Bien Dong !"

-- "In case someone ("ai" implying some damsel addressed to by a young man) has seen enough of Huong-Thuy and Ngu-Binh,

Let her go together with me to Binh-Dinh, if she is pleased with the proposal.

True, Binh- Dinh is not as smart as the Capital of the Kingdom,

But Binh-Dinh has no dry, arid ground.

Furthermore, it has six chains of high mountains.

There are also the Bien Dong with its overflowing waves,

And the high older tower which will be used as a pen-brush to

write down your hero's name on the blue clouds !"

-- 'This morning as I (King Dinh Tien-Hoang) got to the Bien Dong for a bath,

I have subdued an emerging nine-twisted dragon, Heigh-ho !

Where are you going to, riding on that kind of snake ?

I am going to stroke the Tiger's beard ! (= to face up to my formidable enemy ! Heigh-ho !"

(cf. So-thao dia-danh Viet-Nam qua Ca-dao, Phong-dao va Tuc-ngu by Ha Mai-Phuong & Chu Thu-Hang).

As can just be seen, the Bien Dong appellation has so deeply entered the popular consciousness that it has been commonly used by the Vietnamese to denominated the Eastern Sea of Vietnam. However an awkward question may arise: Why has that Vietnamese-called Bien Dong also been called Nan-Hai by the Chinese and Mer de Chine (meridionale) and South China Sea by the Westerners ?

To properly solve the question, let us try looking up the above mentioned appellations in the most authoritative dictionaries !

According to the Chinese dictionary Ts'u Hai, "Nan-Hai is the name of a sea located to the South of Kwangtung and Fuchien, to the West of the Taiwan Straits, to the East of Vietnam, a French colony. In the South there are the Malay Peninsula, Borneo lsland, a British colony, the Philippines, an American colony. For these reasons, the sovereignty over the Sea is common to such countries as China, England, France, USA and Japan (cf. Ts'u Hai, reprinted in 1948, p. 218).

Another Chinese dictionary, Ts'u Yuan gives a similar definition of Nan-Hai and also locates it to the south of Kwangtung and Fuchien, however we find here a novel detail: the demarcation between the Hai-Nan Straits and the Gulf of Tonkin (Ts'u Yuan, 1949 re-edition, p. 234).

Always in Ts'u Yuan but in its Hong Kong 1951 revised edition, reprinted in 1984, Nan-Hai is presented as follows: "Nan-Hai is the name of a sea which was formerly called Chang-Hai (Sino-Vietnamese: Chuong-Hai). It is called by the foreigners South China Sea, located to the South of Fuchien and Kwangtung, to the West of Taiwan and the Philippines, to the East of Indochina Peninsula and the Malay Peninsula, to the North of Borneo Island and Sumatra lsland. For sometime in the past Nan Hai did cover even the Indian Ocean; therefore, we should not confine its limits to the areas as just mentioned above." (cf. Ts'u Yuan, Kai Pien Pan, Hong Kong 1984, p. 94.)

In the preceding definitions of Nan-Hai as just quoted, there are the following note worthy details:

1) Chang Hai, the former name of Nan Hai is located in the south 50 miles from Hai Phong (Kwangtung) district. Thus, Nan Hai is located to the South of Fuchien and Kwangtung as also mentioned in the preceding documents.

2) Let us note a new detail in Ts'u Yuan, Kai Pien Pan namely: Nan Hai is called South China Sea by the foreigners (that's the Westerners).

3) We don't know on what historical basis, Ts'u Yuan Kai Pien Pan has claimed that "for sometime in the past Nan Hai did cover even the Indian Ocean" !

A comparative reexamination of the three preceding documents on Nan Hai has led us to the following remarks:

a) All the three have located Nan Hai to the South of Fuchien and Kwangtung.

b) The first document, that is Ts'u Hai (1948) stated that Nan Hai is stretching far to the south to reach the Malay Peninsula and advocated that China shared sovereignty over Nan Hai together with England, France, the US and Japan.

c) The second document, that is Ts'u Yuan (1949) was the only one to give a demarcation between the Hai Nan Straits and the Gulf of Tonkin then a French colony.

d) The last document, that is Ts'u Yuan, Kai Pien Pan (1951, 1984) took advantage of the ambiguous appellations Mer de Chine (m+ridionale), South China Sea to suggest that Nan Hai might have stretched away very far to the South, for sometime as far as to and beyond the Indian Ocean !

In our humble opinion, formerly Nan Hai of China might have stretched to around the Hai Nan Straits whose name precisely means "an island off South-China".

Our above opinion is based on the following definition of Nan Hai found in a Chinese-English dictionary whose authors are all highly respectable Chinese Scholars: " Nan Hai: (1) name of a county in Kwangtung Province. (2) the Southern Sea, stretching from the Taiwan Straits to Kwangtung. (3) in old China, a term far faraway places in the South ." (cf. A New Practical Chinese - English Dictionary - Editor in Chief: Liang Shih-Chiu; Editors: Chu Liang-Chen, David Shao, Jeffrey C. Tung, Chung Lu Shen - The Far East Book Co. LTD, Hong-Kong 1971, page 121, column 2).

We have found in the Ts'u Yuan, Kai Pien Pan the new appellation Nan Chung Kuo Hai for Nan Hai, appellation which must have been influenced by such appellations as South China Sea, Mer de Chine (meridionale) given by the Westerners. (cf. supra Ts'u Yuan, Kai Pien Pan: "Ngoai nhan xung Nam Trung-Quoc Hai").

All these three appellations are very vague terms that may be interpreted variously, they have been obviously interpreted by the Ts'u Yuan, Kai Pien Pan as meaning the Chinese Sea to the South whereas, in fact, they only mean the sea off South-China as evidenced by the definition No 2 in the Chinese - English dictionary by Liang Shih Chi et alii.

The real meaning of Nan Hai as being: the Sea off South-China has been clearly confirmed by the definitions respectively given by the Dai Kanwa Jiten by T. Morohashi, vol. 2 (Tokyo 1957, page 566, column 2) and the Longman Dictionary of English. Language and Culture (London 1992, p. 209, col. 2) as follows: "Nan Hai = Minami - Shina Kai" (= Sea of South-China). China Sea = the part of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of China."


After the Chinese mainland fell to the Communists' control and especially since 1954, for political reasons, the Chinese Maoists have rewritten the histories and reconstructed the maps of both China and the Southeast Asia to carry out Mao Zedong's expansionists designs. One of their urgent tasks is to redefine the name Nan-Hai so as to achieve their hegemonist policy.

At present, Communist China has declared its sovereignty over 80 per cent of the so-called Nan-Hai, leaving only a small portion of the adjacent international waters to Vietnam and other disputing coastal countries. Due to historical, economical and political reasons, it has no regards for protests from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. It considers Nan-Hai as its "inner waters", in the same way as the Roman Empire had dubbed the Mediterranean Sea Mare Nostrum, claiming Roman sovereignty over it !

Communist China did not recognize the 1954 Geneva Convention on the Law of the Sea (CLOS) with its regulations regarding the territorial, contiguous waters and continental shelf of the coastal countries. However, in fact, it had no protest against the 1968 Republic of Vietnam's claim to the Vietnamese continental shelf. After defeating South Vietnam, Hanoi also reclaimed its sovereignty over the territorial and continental shelf waters. Again, there was no protest from Communist China.

The most recent wrong doing by Communist China was to build up several military installations on the Mischief Reefs and other underwater reefs in the extreme-east of the Spratly Archipelago which the Philippines have been claiming as part of their territory. Communist China bas beefed up its islands' occupational forces and naval power in its so called "Inner waters", showing thereby its will to control the Eastern Sea Archipelagoes with their ample petroleum and gas potential resources, much as if "a breast-feeder forcing her big breast onto the baby's mouth to stop him from crying" ! Communist China is used to quiet down the weaker countries by pressuring them into bilateral negotiations in view to finally getting the upper hands over them.

In accordance with the Vietnamese common belief in the respect for the whole truth and the international justice, the Committee for the Protection of Vietnam's Territorial Integrity solemnly requests that all matters of disagreements must be taken to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Dia-ly Bien Dong voi Hoang-Sa va Truong-Sa by Scholar Vu Huu-San is a strictly scientific essay, leaving out for the time being the most decisive historical and legal considerations.

We totally agree with him that the Vietnamese have always a genuine love for the Truth and a scrupulous respect for the Law, that they are always the devout and earnest believers in the splendid future resulting from a fair international cooperation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is just capable of bringing back the now disturbed harmony between the rival countries by realizing a stable agreement on an international regime for the Sea.

If the mankind and civilization have made so far such an advance as today, It is obviously due to a universal consciousness of the established international order.

With the current international Public Law, there is no reason at all for a bellicose country to attack and occupy by force another weaker country's territory !


Dia-ly Bien Dong voi Hoang-Sa va Truong-Sa aims primarily at telling out all the truth about the Eastern Sea.

Once the common people and the finest Chinese independent scholars of China have become quite aware of the real situation, they will certainly be ready to thoroughly sympathize with the Vietnamese

and from the Eastern Sea will hopefully disappear for ever the "men killing men" horrible misdeeds! There is no reason why so many different human races living together around the Eastern Sea cannot make good their long overdue dream of everlasting peace and mutual cooperation !

Nguyen Du-Phu -- Ha Mai-Phuong  

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