Chủ Nhật, 15 tháng 6, 2014

Tư liệu: Who owns the Paracel Islands (The Hypermodern 23/7/2009)

Bài viết từ năm 2009, lưu làm tư liệu.


Who Owns the Paracel Islands?

Simmering Tensions in the South China Sea.

In the South China Sea there are a group of tiny, uninhabited islands known to the western world as the Paracel Islands (Quan Dao Hoang Sa in Vietnamese and Xisha Qundao in Chinese). The archipelago lies roughly 200 miles from the nearest mainland shore, equidistant from Vietnamese and Chinese coastlines, and is delineated into two groups: the Amphitrite group in the northeast and the Crescent group in the southwest. In total the geographic region consists of over thirty islets, sandbanks, and reefs.

The archipelago has no native population and as a result ownership has been frequently disputed throughout history. Chinese cultural relics dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasty have been found off the Xisha Islands. In the 15th century Emperor Lê Thánh Tông established Vietnamese commercial activities which included fishing and salvage operations on what they dubbed as the Hoang Sa (Golden Sandbank) Islands. It is widely believed that before historical records existed Vietnamese fishermen harvested these waterways for centuries.

On January 19, 1974 The Battle of the Paracel Islands was fought between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). French colonials ruled over the islands beginning in 1887 but subsequently bequeathed administrative control to South Vietnam with the Geneva Accord of 1954. As the Vietnam War raged throughout the mainland ARVN military presence on the Paracel Islands waned to a single platoon. To strengthen their tenuous position South Vietnam announced plans to construct an airbase on the archipelago to support C-7 Caribou transport planes. Afraid that their claim to the islands would be lost indefinitely if construction succeeded, China responded in force when South Vietnamese naval vessels were dispatched to protect the airbase surveying project.
Prior to the battle Chinese militia set up a flag and stelae establishing their sovereignty on Robert Island. Frigate Lý Thường Kiệt, one of four Vietnamese warships to later engage in battle, signaled the Chinese squadron to withdraw. The two forces shadowed each other throughout the night but did not engage. The next morning thirty Vietnamese commandos waded ashore Robert Island and removed the Chinese flag unopposed. Reinforcements arrived on both sides, another frigate joined the Lý Thường Kiệt and two PLAN corvettes joined the Chinese.

Vietnamese warship Trần Khánh Dư

On the morning of January 19th Vietnamese troops landed on Duncan Island and were met with gunfire from Chinese troops. At 10:24am four Vietnamese ships opened fire on four Chinese warships. The sea battle lasted forty minutes, with numerous vessels on both sides taking heavy damage. The Vietnamese were forced to disengage. One warship, the Nhật Tảo, was disabled in the battle and the crew ordered to evacuate. Her captain, Major Ngụy Văn Thà, remained under fire and went down with his ship. All four Chinese ships were seriously injured.

The following day Chinese jet fighters and ground attack aircrafts departing from Hainan bombed three Paracel Islands. The Chinese followed the attacks with an amphibious assault. South Vietnamese marines on the islands were captured and naval ships were forced to retreat. South Vietnamese also received warnings from U.S. surveillance that Chinese guided missile frigates and MIG jet fighters were en route from Hainan.

Vietnamese naval commandos at Hoang Sa
In the aftermath of the conflict South Vietnam protested vehemently to the United Nations but was unable to achieve any action or consideration. China’s veto power on the UN Security Council blocked efforts to review the matter. Gonzalo Facio Segreda, president of the Council in 1974, publicly advised South Vietnam to give up because they simply “could not muster the votes.”

Though the islands hold minor military value, geological surveys of the area indicated significant potential for petroleum deposits in the surrounding waters. The reunification of Vietnam in 1976 spurred the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to renew their claim on the islands.

Disputes originating over boundary demarcations and authority over the Paracel Islands continue to this day. Specifically, China’s policy towards Vietnamese fishermen in the area has shed a harsh light on modern day China’s imperialist designs.

On June 16th 37 fishermen from Quang Ngai province were detained by a Chinese fishing patrol while they were fishing off Phu Lam Island, one of the Paracel Islands claimed by both Vietnam and China. Chinese authorities subsequently released 25 of the prisoners but maintained that the other 12 would stay in detention on Phu Lam until fines of VND 540 million (USD$30,700) were paid. If the fines are not paid they will be extradited to Hainan Island and handed over to the Chinese police.

Nguyen Tam, a crew member aboard Captain Nguyen Chi Thanh’s boat recalls the incident:

“They took our ship to the island (Phu Lam). All of us (13 sailors) stayed in one room. After that, they called captain Nguyen Chi Thanh to meet and forced him to sign reports requiring that each ship has to pay fine of 70,000 Chinese yuan. We had to sign because we were afraid of being beaten and starved. After four days of arrest, when Storm No. 2 (Linfa) subsided, the Chinese released boat QNg-6597 TS at 11pm, June 22. The two remaining ships detained by China broke down.”
China alleges that the men were in violation of a fishing ban they had imposed in May to prevent depletion of seafood resources. The fishermen are from the village of An Hai located on Ly Son Island. Many families have borrowed capital from banks and relatives in order to build their ships. The sum of money requested by the Chinese is so huge that the fishermen and their families cannot pay the fines. An Hai village authorities have asked provincial and central governments to intervene on behalf of the fishermen.
Pham Thi Be, the wife of detained boat Captain Nguyen Chi Thanh tearfully recalls:

“My husband and I worked hard for many years to save some money to build a ship. Now my husband is arrested, our ship is held offshore, and we still haven’t paid off our debt for it. Where can I find money to redeem my husband and our boat?”

“Ship owners and fishermen are all very worried when they go for offshore fishing. If they are arrested and have to pay fines to the Chinese, they will surely lose everything.” Duong Van Tho, one of the 25 released fishermen, with the Chinese decision to impose fines.
On Thursday, July 9th a press conference held by the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi demanded the “immediate and unconditional” release of the 12 fishermen. Le Dung, a spokesman for the government stated that Vietnamese authorities will refuse to pay the fines and claims that the men were detained while fishing in waters under Vietnamese sovereignty. He also requested that China “compensate losses in health and property of the detained fishermen.”
In refusing to cave to China’s demands, Vietnamese officials hope to prevent setting a dangerous precedent. Nguyen Xuan Huoc, chairman of Ly Son district, stated the following:

“Our district is asking the Vietnamese Embassy in China and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to intervene so China soon releases the fishermen and their boats. Our fishermen caught fish in Vietnam’s waters, so why has China arrested them and forced them to pay such high fines? Ly Son district is determined not to let its fishermen pay such groundless fines.”
This incident is only the most recent in what has been a string of questionable Chinese expansionist policies in the South China Sea. On January 8th, 2005 navy ships from the Republic of China opened fire and killed nine Vietnamese fishermen, injured seven, and kidnapped eight others in the Gulf of Tonkin. China claimed the massacre in Vietnamese waters was an act of self defense against ‘armed pirates’. There was no evidence that any of the small wooden fishing boats were engaged in aggressive behavior towards the Chinese navy. According to Reuters, China detained 80 Vietnamese fishermen in December 2004. The Vietnamese coast guard reported a total of 1,107 illegal incursions by Chinese boats into Vietnam’s waters that same year.

Thi Lam, author of the memoir The 25-Year Century: A South Vietnamese General Remembers the Vietnam War, believes “the fishing rights issue may be only a cover, and the Jan. 8 massacre may be part of a scheme to terrorize Vietnamese fishermen and to discourage them from venturing into Chinese gas exploration areas.”

In February 2009, China arrested three fishing boats from An Vinh village, also in Ly Son, while fishing off the Hoang Sa Islands. China detained dozens of fishermen on those ships for seven days and levied fines totaling 190,000 Yuan (VND 487million – USD$28,500). Three other boats from Ly Son were also seized and fined by Chinese fishing patrols in the first half of 2009. Ly Son District’s People’s Committee claims that about 40 local fishing boats have been arrested by foreign authorities since 2002.

Both sides have equally compelling claims to the Paracel Islands and neither government can be held harmless in the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea. But it is wholly unjust for local fishermen to be detained and fined excessive fees for simply attempting to make a living in their territorial waters. I sincerely hope China releases the detained fishermen but long term territorial integrity may only be established through the international community’s awareness of China’s nascent imperialism as well as a prosperous Vietnam and support from free and democratic nations.

A fisherman sleeps on his boat in a fishing port in the central coastal city of Da Nang

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