Statement by Mr. Tran Duy Hai, Deputy Chairman of the National Boundary Committee, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam at the International press conference on developments in the East Sea on June 16th, 2014
18/06/2014 12:14 (GMT+7)

1. China’s activities in violation of international law raise tensions in the East Sea

On 02 May 2014, China placed Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig at 15-29.58N/111-12.06E to conduct an exploitation drilling. On 27 May 2014, Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig was moved to the location at 15-33.38N/111-34.62E. All these locations lie deep inside Viet Nam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, about 130-150 nautical miles from Viet Nam’s coast. China’s activities break agreements of the two countries’ high-level leaders on not aggravating the situation in the East Sea, infringe Viet Nam’s national sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction as enshrined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982.

Viet Nam has consistently protested against China’s activities that infringe Viet Nam’s territorial sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zones and continental shelf. In the area near where the oil rig is operating, China has, on several occasions, intruded and conducted 2D and 3D seismic surveys since 2005. In all these intrusions, Viet Nam always sent law enforcement ships to convince and drive Chinese vessels out of Viet Namese waters. Viet Nam also made diplomatic communications and sent diplomatic notes to resolutely protest China’s infringements. Since 2005, Viet Nam’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs met with Chinese Ambassador to Viet Nam in Hanoi at least three times and the spokesperson of Viet Nam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on 05 August 2010, had to publicly protest against China and solemnly requested China to immediately stop and avoid the recurrence of activities that violates Viet Nam’s sovereignty, sovereign rights in the East Sea of Viet Nam.

Speaking to the media in recent days, China launched false accusations that Viet Nam’s vessels deliberately rammed into Chinese vessels protecting the oil rig. China even accused the sunken Viet Nam fishing boat for deliberately colliding with Chinese vessels. The truth is evident, especially among the many international reporters who eye witnessed China’s aggressive behavior at the scene. Chinese activities not only violated international law concerning the prohibition of the threat or use of force, but were also inhuman towards Viet Namese fishermen.

2. Viet Nam’s position on China’s sovereignty claim over the Hoang Sa

Viet Nam refutes the China’s sovereign claim over the Hoang Sa, which China calls “the Xisha island”, because this claim is legally and historically ill-founded.

Historical facts do not prove China’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa

China quoted several historical documents but these historical documents faced notable problems of authenticity, accuracy and were arbitrarily interpreted. The documents were compiled by individuals, not officially published by the Chinese feudal state. In those documents, the Hoang Sa were inconsistently named and described. In accordance to the international law concerning territorial acquisitions, a country can only establish title to a territory through activities on behalf of the state. The available documents do not provide sufficient evidence in accordance with international law to prove that Chinese feudal state had established a title to the Hoang Sa.

In 1989, after the Bellona and Huneji Maru sank at the Hoang Sa and were looted by Chinese fisherman, the local Chinese authorities (the Governor of Liang Guang) considered that the Hoang Sa were abandoned islands which did not belong to China. They were not administratively attached to any district of Hainan and that no special authority was responsible for policing them. China then refused to take responsibility.

On the contrary, Viet Nam has publicly provided authentic evidences proving that the feudal state of Viet Nam has established sovereignty over the Hoang Sa when the islands were still terra nullius. From at least the 17th century, the Nguyen dynasties have organised activities to exploit the islands’ resources, undertook maritime measurement and recorded navigation routes, provided protections for other countries’ vessels navigating through the Hoang Sa’s area. These events were well reflected in official documents published by the feudal Viet Namese governments, including the Orders of the King still archived in Viet Nam.

After France signed the Protectorate Treaty of 15 March 1874 and the Petenotre Treaty of 06 June 1884 with the feudal state of Viet Nam, France has, on behalf of Viet Nam, continuously exercised Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and protested China’s infringements. France conducted many activities to exercise sovereignty over the Hoang Sa, including the building and operation of lighthouses, meteorology stations, establishing administration units and granting birth certification for Viet Namese citizens born in the Hoang Sa. In 1909, the military inspection mission conducted by Commander Li Zhun of the Guandong was a violation of the sovereignty well established by Viet Nam over the Hoang Sa through the activities of the Viet Namese feudal state, and continuously and effectively exercised by France. France, on behalf of Viet Nam, protested all of China’s infringements and reaffirmed that the sovereignty over the Hoang Sa were well established by Annam (former name of Viet Nam) since 1816.  

In 1946, the Chiang Kai Shek administration, making use of the context of the Second World War, illegally intruded the Woody Island of Hoang Sa. In 1947, France protested this illegal occupation, requested that the two parties enter into negotiations and find settlement through third party adjudication. The Republic of China later withdrew from the island.

International conferences did not handover the Hoang Sa to China

After the Second World War, Japan had to renounce and returned all territories, including the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, occupied by force during the war. The Cairo Declaration of 1943, Potsdam Declarations of 1945 and San Francisco Treaty of 1951 have listed all the territories that Japan had to return to China but excluded the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. It was noteworthy that the Chiang Kai Shek administration participating in the drafting process of the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations made no reservations concerning the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. At the Conference, the proposal to revise the Treaty text to include the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in those territories to be given to China was decisively ruled out by a 46 to 51 majority vote of the participants. Meanwhile, the statement of Tran Van Huu, the Prime Minister of the State of Viet Nam and the Head of the Viet Namese delegation reaffirming Viet Namese sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, had aroused no objection from any of the participants attending this Conference.

China violated the non-use of force principle of international law therefore could not establish sovereignty over the Hoang Sa

China illegally invaded the Hoang Sa twice. Taking advantage of the withdrawal of France from Indochina, in 1956 China invaded and occupied the Eastern group of islands of the Hoang Sa. This was the first ever standing occupation of China on the Hoang Sa. This act was met with strong protests from the Republic of Viet Nam. In 1959, a landing attempt on the Western part of the archipelago made by Chinese soldiers disguised as fishermen was put to failure by the Republic of Viet Nam. Eighty-two Chinese "fishermen" were captured. Both these invasions occurred after the statement reaffirming Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa faced no objections in the San Francisco Conference. In 1974, making use of the war situation in Viet Nam, China attacked and grabbed entirely these islands from South Viet Nam from the Republic of Viet Nam. It was the first time ever that China obtained full control of the Hoang Sa.

The use of force to annex territories of other countries is a gross violation of jus cogen and peremptory norms of international law, and thereby could not have awarded China’s sovereignty over these islands.

Viet Nam has never recognized China’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa

China has deliberately distorted and misinterpreted history by pointing to the letter made by the late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong in 1958 and other communications and publications from the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV) as proofs of the recognition of China’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa by Viet Nam. Viet Nam sternly rejects these distortions.

First, the letter of Prime Minister Pham Van Dong made no reference to the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. It was merely a document informing that the DRV government agencies would respect the 12 nautical miles breadth of China’s territorial sea. It is obvious that the letter did not deal with sovereignty issue.

In the historical context of 1958, this act from the DRV was undertaken to support China extend its security parameters from 3 miles to 12 miles. China’s argument today is the use of historical fact yesterday out of its historical context and twisted the facts conveniently to back up its wrongful territorial claim today.

 Second, as a signatory country of the Geneva Accords in 1954, China must have been well aware of the fact that under the signed Accords, the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa were under the administration of the Republic of Viet Nam by the division of Viet Nam at the 17th parallel and not by the DRV. The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, a unified State since 1976, has immediately inherited and consistently reaffirmed sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa which were well established by different representatives of Viet Nam throughout the history of the country.

In 1974, China used force to fully occupy the Hoang Sa. The Republic of Viet Nam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the South of Viet Nam both expressed their position and protested against China’s invasion. The Republic of Viet Nam requested the United Nation Security Council to convene an emergency meeting on the use of force by China. According to the international law concerning territorial acquisition, sovereignty cannot be established by the use of force against another country’s territorial integrity.

In 1958, the Chinese Leader Dang Xiao Ping was then Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party who was deeply understood the historical context of the documents China quoted. In Beijing in September 1975, Dang Xiao Ping, as Vice Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and Vice Premier of the State Council of China, at the meeting with Viet Namese leader, Secretary General of the Viet Nam Labour Party Le Duan, admitted that there were differences between Viet Nam and China concerning the sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos and that the two sides would negotiate to settle the issue at a later stage. Dang Xiaoping’s statement was well noted in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Note dated 12 May 1988. Viet Nam requests that China respects this historical truth and seriously enters into negotiations with Viet Nam on the sovereignty over the Hoang Sa.

3. Viet Nam’s efforts and goodwill to reduce the current tensions in the East Sea caused by China’s illegal deployment of the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig in Viet Namese waters through dialogue and other peaceful means but China failed to respond constructively

For more than a month, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and other agreements between the two countries, Viet Nam has made every effort to communicate and conduct dialogue with China under various forms and at various levels to demand China to immediately stop the acts that infringed upon Viet Nam’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction, respect Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago, create favorable conditions for immediate commencement of discussions between the two sides on measures to stabilize the situation and manage maritime issues between the two countries. Viet Nam has made more than 30 communications with the relevant Chinese authorities but China still refuses to enter into substantial negotiations about this issue.

China not only failed to respond to Viet Nam’s goodwill, but also launched false accusations against Viet Nam, using fabricated facts, accused Viet Nam of ramming Chinese Government ships for a total of more than 1500 times. China has yet to provide any convincing evidence to back up these groundless accusations. Meanwhile, Viet Nam has publicly shown plenty of videos and photos as evidences of China’s violent and aggressive actions such as ramming, water-cannoning Viet Namese vessels, sinking Viet Namese fishing boat, and injuring dozens Viet Namese. Viet Nam has invited international reporters to the scene and they have subjectively reported.

The direct cause of the current tension is China’s illegal deployment of the oil rig deep into Viet Nam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf while China insists that the oil rig was located in Chinese waters. Viet Nam expressed many times its goodwill and requested China to withdraw the oil rig in order to create favourable conditions for the two sides to settle disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law. However, China consistently refused to withdraw the oil rig and refused to enter into negotiations. Therefore, China’s statement that the door for negotiation is open does not reflect the reality.

Once again, Viet Nam seriously requests China to respect international law, immediately stop all activities that violate Viet Nam’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, withdraw the oil rig, ships and all other related vehicles and equipment from Viet Nam’s waters and desist from similar actions in the future. Viet Nam also solemnly requests China to resolve all maritime disputes, including territorial and maritime disputes, through peaceful means in conformity with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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