The China-Vietnam Conflict: the Spratly Islands History Timeline

Took this on my flight from Hong Kong to Singapore
Image via Wikipedia

200BC around – China firstly discovered the Spratly Islands
220 – Nansha (Spratly) Island was settled by Chinese monks, building up a monastery on that island.
789 – The Tang Dynasty, China included the Nansha Islands into its administrative map
990 – Spratley Islands became a part of the Northern Song area in Hainan
1121 – Kublai Khan controlled most of the islands during China’s Yuan Dynasty…ry-timeline.htm

China was the first to discover, name, develop,conduct economic activities on and exercise jurisdiction of the Nansha Islands.
The earliest discovery by the Chinese people of the Nansha Islands can be traced back to as early as the Han Dynasty. Yang Fu of the East Han Dynasty (23-220 A.D.) made reference to the Nansha Islands in his book entitled Yiwu Zhi (Records of Rarities) , which reads: “Zhanghai qitou, shui qian er duo cishi”(“There are islets, sand cays, reefs and banks in the South China Sea, the water there is shallow and filled with magnetic rocks or stones”). Chinese people then called the South China Sea Zhanghai and all the islands, reefs, shoals and isles in the South China Sea, including the Nansha and Xisha Islands, Qitou.

In numerous history and geography books published in the Tang and Song Dynasties, the Nansha and Xisha Islands were called Jiuruluo Islands, $hitang (literally meaning atolls surrounding a lagoon), Changsha (literally meaning long ranges of shoals), Qianli $hitang, Qianli Changsha, Wanli $hitang, and Wanli Changsha among others. Reference was made to the Nansha Islands in over one hundred categories of books published in the four dynasties of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing in the name of $hitang or Changsha.…over%20Nans.htm

During World War II, Japan launched the war of aggression against China and occupied most of China’s territory, including the Nansha Islands. It was explicitly provided in the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation and other international documents that all the territories Japan had stolen from China should be restored to China, and naturally, they included the Nansha Islands. In December 1946, the then Chinese government sent senior officials to the Nansha Islands for their recovery. A take-over ceremony was held on the islands and a monument erected in commemoration of it, and the troops were sent over on garrison duty. In 1952 the Japanese Government officially stated that it renounced all its “right, title and claim to Taiwan, Penghu Islands as well as Nansha and Xisha islands”, thus formally returning the Nansha Islands to China. All countries are very clear about this part of historical background. As a matter of fact, the United States recognized China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands in a series of subsequent international conferences and international practice.

For quite a long period of time after WWII, there had been no such a thing as the so-called issue of the South China Sea. No country in the area surrounding the South China Sea had challenged China’s exercise of sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. Prior to 1975, Vietnam had, in explicit terms, recognized China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the Nansha Islands. Before the 1970s, countries like the Philippines and Malaysia had never referred to their territories as including the Nansha Islands in any of their legal instruments or statements made by their leaders. In the Treaty of Peace signed in Paris in 1898 and the Treaty signed in Washington in 1900 between the United States and Spain, the scope of the Philippines’ territory was expressly laid down, which did not include the Nansha Islands. This was further confirmed in the Philippines Constitution of 1935and the Mutual Defense Treaty Between the Philippines and the United States in 1951. As for Malaysia, it was only in December 1978 that it first marked part of the Nansha Islands, reefs and waters into the territory of Malaysia in its published continental shelf maps.

China the First to Exercise Jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands

The Nansha Islands came under the jurisdiction of China from the Yuan Dynasty. Geography Book of the History of the Yuan Dynasty and Map of the Territory of the Yuan Dynasty with Illustration both includes the Nansha Islands within the domain of the Yuan Dynasty. The History of the Yuan Dynasty has accounts of the patrol and inspection activities by the navy on the Nansha Islands in the Yuan Dynasty.

The inscription on the Memorial Tablet of the Tomb to General Qian Shicai of the Hainan Garrison Command of the Ming Dynasty reads: “Guangdong is adjacent to the grand South China Sea, and the territories beyond the Sea all internally belong to the Ming State.” “General Qian led more than ten thousand soldiers and 50 huge ships to patrol tens of thousands of li on the South China Sea.” All these descriptions clearly testify to the ownership by China of the Nansha Islands in the Ming Dynasty. The Hainan Garrison Command of the Ming Dynasty was responsible for inspecting and patrolling as well as exercising jurisdiction over the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands.

In the Qing Dynasty, the Chinese Government marked the Nansha Islands on the authoritative maps and exercised administrative jurisdiction over these islands. The Nansha Islands were marked as Chinese territory in many maps drawn in the Qing Dynasty such as A Map of Administrative Divisions of the Whole China of the 1724 Map of Provinces of the Qing Dynasty, A Map of Administrative Divisions of the Whole China of the 1755 Map of Provinces of the Imperial Qing Dynasty, the 1767 Map of Unified China of the Great Qing for Ten Thousand Years, the 1810 Topographical Map of Unified China of the Great Qing for Ten Thousand Years and the 1817 Map of Unified China of the Great Qing for Ten Thousand Years.

International Recognition Of China’s Sovereignty over the Nansha Islands

1. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Northern Island

a) China Sea Pilot compiled and printed by the Hydrography Department of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom in 1912 has accounts of the activities of the Chinese people on the Nansha Islands in a number of places.

b) The Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong) carried an article on Dec. 31 of 1973 which quotes the British High Commissioner to Singapore as having said in 1970: “Spratly Island (Nanwei Island in Chinese) was a Chinese dependency, part of Kwangtung Province… and was returned to China after the war. We can not find any indication of its having been acquired by any other country and so can only conclude it is still held by communist China.”

2. France

a) Le Monde Colonial Illustre mentioned the Nansha Islands in its September 1933 issue. According to that issue, when a French gunboat named Malicieuse surveyed the Nanwei Island of the Nansha Islands in 1930, they saw three Chinese on the island and when France invaded nine of the Nansha Islands by force in April 1933, they found all the people on the islands were Chinese, with 7 Chinese on the Nanzi Reef, 5 on the Zhongye Island, 4 on the Nanwei Island, thatched houses, water wells and holy statues left by Chinese on the Nanyue Island and a signboard with Chinese characters marking a grain storage on the Taiping Island.

b) Atlas International Larousse published in 1965 in France marks the Xisha, Nansha and Dongsha Islands by their Chinese names and gives clear indication of their ownership as China in brackets.

3) Japan

a) Yearbook of New China published in Japan in 1966 describes the coastline of China as 11 thousand kilometers long from Liaodong Peninsula in the north to the Nansha Islands in the south, or 20 thousand kilometers if including the coastlines of all the islands along its coast;

b) Yearbook of the World published in Japan in 1972 says that Chinese territory includes not only the mainland, but also Hainan Island, Taiwan, Penghu Islands as well as the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands on the South China Sea.

4. The United States

a) Columbia Lippincott World Toponymic Dictionary published in the United States in 1961 states that the Nansha Islands on the South China Sea are part of Guangdong Province and belong to China.

b) The Worldmark Encyclopaedia of the Nations published in the United States in 1963 says that the islands of the People’s Republic extend southward to include those isles and coral reefs on the South China Sea at the north latitude 4°.

c) World Administrative Divisions Encyclopaedia published in 1971 says that the People’s Republic has a number of archipelagoes, including Hainan Island near the South China Sea, which is the largest, and a few others on the South China Sea extending to as far as the north latitude 4°, such as the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands.

5. Viet Nam

a) Vice Foreign Minister Dung Van Khiem of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam received Mr. Li Zhimin, charge d’affaires ad interim of the Chinese Embassy in Viet Nam and told him that “according to Vietnamese data, the Xisha and Nansha Islands are historically part of Chinese territory.” Mr. Le Doc, Acting Director of the Asian Department of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, who was present then, added that “judging from history, these islands were already part of China at the time of the Song Dynasty.”

b) Nhan Dan of Viet Nam reported in great detail on September 6, 1958 the Chinese Government’s Declaration of September 4, 1958 that the breadth of the territorial sea of the People’s Republic of China should be 12 nautical miles and that this provision should apply to all territories of the People’s Republic of China, including all islands on the South China Sea. On September 14 the same year, Premier Pham Van Dong of the Vietnamese Government solemnly stated in his note to Premier Zhou Enlai that Viet Nam “recognizes and supports the Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s territorial sea.”

c) It is stated in the lesson The People’s Republic of China of a standard Vietnamese school textbook on geography published in 1974 that the islands from the Nansha and Xisha Islands to Hainan Island and Taiwan constitute a great wall for the defense of the mainland of China.

History of Nanhai (South China Sea) Islands

The South China Sea islands were well-documented in Chinese records since Qin Dynasty (around AD 200). They were collectively named as Tough Heads of the Surging Sea(漲海崎頭 Zhànghǎi Qítóu) and Coral Cays (珊瑚洲 Shanhu Zhou) since their discovery by the Chinese in the Qin Dynasty. But seafaring did not occur until the next dynasty, the Han Dynasty. After the Song Dynasty, the Islands had been called The Thousand-Mile Long Sands (千里長沙) and Myriad-Mile Stony Embankment (萬里石塘).

There are houses dated back to the Tang or Song Dynasty on Ganquan Island (甘泉島), which is part of the Xisha Islands. In 1045, during the reign of Emperor Renzong of Song China, imperial troops (王師) were sent to the Paracel Islands. The fishermen of Hainan composed various “Notebooks on Paths and Timing” (更路簿) that recorded over 200 routes, the time needed for sailing among the different isles, and the names of over 100 islands commonly used by the fishermen.

Before the 1970s, though, no country questioned China’s legitimacy and sovereignty over these islands and the waters of the South China Sea. For the Chinese, the South China Sea and its islands have historically been Chinese territory.

According to Chinese documents, the Chinese discovered the Nansha islands in the Han Dynasty some 2,000 years ago. From the Song Dynasty (960-1276 AD), the islands were under China’s jurisdiction, while in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD) the Nansha islands were a part of Hainan (today’s Hainan province) and managed by the central government.

In the following Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), China’s ships sailed by the islands of the South China Sea, symbolically implying China’s sovereignty over the waters. Then in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD), important official and royal Chinese political maps issued or drawn in 1724, 1755, 1767, 1810 and 1817 clearly marked the Nansha islands as Chinese territory.

In 1947, based on the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, China’s central government appointed Mai Yunyu as official commissioner to take sovereignty over the Nansha islands from Japanese forces. In 1947, the Internal Ministry of the Republic of China finished marking the South China Sea boundary, and the Nansha islands were undoubtedly included as a part of China’s sovereignty

TREATY OF PEACE – The Republic of China and Japan

Article 2

It is recognised that under Article 2 of the Treaty of Peace which Japan signed at the city of San Francisco on 8 September 1951 (hereinafter referred to as the San Francisco Treaty), Japan has renounced all right, title, and claim to Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (the Pescadores) as well as the Spratley Islands and the Paracel Islands…ol/c02sb02.html

Discussion of the TREATY, particularly in regards to Taiwan (Formosa), the Pescadores, the Paracel Islands and other Chinese territories and others with China. BOTH Russia and Japan’s position. GRASP the context and how it led to the articles that specifically state Spratly and Paracel as well as Formosa and Penghu.

Statement of the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, A.A. Gromyko, at the Conference in San Francisco (1951)

… The peace treaty with Japan should, naturally, resolve a number of territorial questions connected with the peace settlement with Japan. It is known that in this respect as well the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union undertook specific obligations. These obligations are outlined in the Cairo Declaration, in the Potsdam Declaration, and in the Yalta Agreement.

These agreements recognize the absolutely indisputable rights of China, now the Chinese People’s Republic, to territories severed from it. It is an indisputable fact that original Chinese territories which were severed from it, such as Taiwan (Formosa), the Pescadores, the Paracel Islands and other Chinese territories, should be returned to the Chinese People’s Republic.

The rights of the Soviet Union to the southern part of the Sakhalin Island and all the islands adjacent to it, as well as to the Kurile Islands, which are at present under the sovereignty of the Soviet Union, are equally indisputable.

Thus, while resolving the territorial questions in connection with the preparation of a peace treaty with Japan, there should not be any lack of clarity if we are to proceed from the indisputable rights of states to territories which Japan got hold of by the force of arms.

… As regards the American-British draft peace treaty with Japan in the part pertaining to territorial questions, the Delegation of the USSR considers it necessary to state that this draft grossly violates the indisputable rights of China to the return of integral parts of Chinese territory: Taiwan, the Pescadores, the Paracel and other islands severed from it by the Japanese militarists. The draft contains only a reference to the renunciation by Japan of its rights to these territories but intentionally omits any mention of the further fate of these territories. In reality, however, Taiwan and the said islands have been captured by the United States of America and the United States wants to legalize these aggressive actions in the draft peace treaty under discussion. Meanwhile the fate of these territories should be absolutely clear — they must be returned to the Chinese people, the master of their land.

Similarly, by attempting to violate grossly the sovereign rights of the Soviet Union regarding Southern Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it, as well as the Kurile Islands already under the sovereignty of the Soviet Union, the draft also confines itself to a mere mention of the renunciation by Japan of rights, title and claims to these territories and makes no mention of the historic appurtenance of these territories and the indisputable obligation on the part of Japan to recognize the sovereignty of the Soviet Union over these parts of the territory of the USSR.

We do not speak of the fact that by introducing such proposals on territorial questions the United States and Great Britain, who at an appropriate time, signed the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations, as well as the Yalta Agreement, have taken the path of flagrant violation of obligations undertaken by them under these international agreements.

… To sum up, the following conclusions regarding the American-British draft peace treaty can be drawn:

1. The draft does not contain any guarantees against the reestablishment of Japanese militarism, the transformation of Japan into an aggressive state. The draft does not contain any guarantees ensuring the security of countries which have suffered from aggression on the part of militarist Japan. The draft creates conditions for the reestablishment of Japanese militarism, creates a danger of a new Japanese aggression.

2. The draft treaty actually does not provide for the withdrawal of foreign occupation forces. On the contrary, it ensures the presence of foreign armed forces on the territory of Japan and the maintenance of foreign military bases in Japan even after the signing of a peace treaty. Under the pretext of self-defense of Japan, the draft provides for the participation of Japan in an aggressive military alliance with the United States.

3. The draft treaty not only fails to provide for obligations that Japan should not join any coalitions directed against any of the states which participated in the war against militarist Japan, but on the contrary, is clearing the path for Japan’s participation in aggressive blocs in the Far East created under the aegis of the United States.

4. The draft treaty does not contain any provisions on the democratization of Japan, on the ensurance of democratic rights to the Japanese people, which creates a direct threat to a rebirth in Japan of the prewar Fascist order.

5. The draft treaty flagrantly violates the legitimate rights of the Chinese people to an integral part of China – Taiwan, the Pescadores and Paracel Islands and other territories severed from China as a result of Japanese aggression.

6. The draft treaty is in contradiction to the obligations undertaken by the United States and Great Britain under the Yalta Agreement regarding the return of Sakhalin and the transfer of the Kurile Islands to the Soviet Union.

7. The numerous economic clauses are designed to ensure for foreign, in the first place American, monopolies the privileges which they have obtained during the period of occupation. The Japanese economy is being placed in a slave-like dependence on these foreign monopolies.

8. The draft actually ignores the legitimate claims of states that have suffered from Japanese occupation regarding compensation by Japan for the damage that they have suffered. At the same time, providing for the compensation of losses directly by the labor of the Japanese population it imposes on Japan a slave-like form of reparations.

9. The American-British draft is not a treaty of peace but a treaty for the preparation of a new war in the Far East.

Japanese Response

3. Statement of the Prime Minister of Japan, S. Yoshida, at the Conference in San Francisco (1951)

The peace treaty before the Conference contains no punitive or retaliatory clauses; nor does it impose upon Japan any permanent restrictions or disabilities. It will restore the Japanese people to full sovereignty, equality, and freedom, and reinstate us as a free and equal member in the community of nations. It is not a treaty of vengeance, but an instrument of reconciliation. The Japanese Delegation gladly accepts this fair and generous treaty.

On the other hand, during these past few days in this very conference hall, criticisms and complaints have been voiced by some delegations against this treaty. It is impossible that anyone can be completely satisfied with a multilateral peace settlement of this kind. Even we Japanese, who are happy to accept the treaty, find in it certain points which cause us pain and anxiety. I speak of this with diffidence, bearing in mind the treaty’s fairness and magnanimity unparalleled in history and the position of Japan. But I would be remiss in my obligation to my own people if I failed to call your attention to these points.

In the first place, there is the matter of territorial disposition.

… With respect to the Kuriles and South Sakhalin, I cannot yield to the claim of the Soviet Delegate that Japan had grabbed them by aggression.

At the time of the opening of Japan, her ownership of two islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri of the South Kuriles was not questioned at all by the Czarist government. But the North Kuriles north of Urruppu and the southern half of Sakhalin were areas open to both Japanese and Russian settlers. On May 7, 1875 the Japanese and Russian Governments effected through peaceful negotiations an arrangement under which South Sakhalin was made Russian territory, and the North Kuriles were in exchange made Japanese territory. But really, under the name of “exchange” Japan simply ceded South Sakhalin to Russia in order to settle the territorial dispute. It was under the Treaty of Portsmouth of September 5, 1905 concluded through the intermediary of President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States that South Sakhalin became also Japanese territory.

Both the Kuriles and South Sakhalin were taken unilaterally by the Soviet Union as of September 20, 1945, shortly after Japan’s surrender.

Even the islands of Habomai and Shikotan, constituting part of Hokkaido, one of Japan’s four main islands, are still being occupied by Soviet forces simply because they happened to be garrisoned by Japanese troops at the time when the war ended.


Article 2

(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.
© 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 5, 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 2, 1947, extending the trusteeship system to the Pacific Islands formerly under mandate to 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.
Article 25

For the purposes of the present Treaty the Allied Powers shall be the States at war with Japan, or any State which previously formed a part of the territory of a State named in Article 23, provided that in each case the State concerned has signed and ratified the Treaty. Subject to the provisions of Article 21, the present Treaty shall not confer any rights, titles or benefits on any State which is not an Allied Power as herein defined; nor shall any right, title or interest of Japan be deemed to be diminished or prejudiced by any provision of the Treaty in favor of a State which is not an Allied Power as so defined.

China has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands. The leaders then had no idea what kind of dilemma United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will put China in over its South China Sea islands sovereignty. The US is way too smart to sign it.
In Territorial Disputes, sovereignty is a fiat currency solely backed by the economic and military might. Otherwise it’s simply bluff. Even the US has exercised this principle countless times.
So yes Beijing made one grievous stupid mistake by signing UNCLOS, but it doesn’t matter. UNCLOS can’t comprise the US so how should it comprise China.
Here is “China’s Sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands A Historical Perspective” from oxford Journal:

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