Could the Paracels Islands be "lost" to China?

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45 years ago, from January 17 to January 19, 1974, China dispatched its naval forces joined by militia on warships and armed vessels to attack islands located on the western side of the Paracel Archipelago of Vietnam, including Robert, Money, Duncan and Drummond islands. With its force superior to that of Vietnam and taking advantage of regional context when the United States had abandoned the government of the Republic of Vietnam, China occupied the above islands and the entire Paracels.

Vietnam has since continuously provided legal and historical evidences to affirm its territorial sovereignty to its people and the international community, persistently struggled with China to protect Vietnam’s legitimate rights and interests, demanding that China returns the archipelago to Vietnam. Despite China's ambition to permanently occupy the Paracels to turn the entire South China Sea into its "own pond", many Vietnamese, with great love for their country, have been meditating on this problem and continue to find effective solutions to fight for Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty while avoiding a war. It is the only right way, but could not be done overnight. Therefore, some pessimists became discouraged and argued that Vietnam has "lost" the Paracel Islands, wondering if it can be regained at all. This is probably a bit hasty and short-sighted.


Ảnh: Internet

Let's put it this way. The issue of national sovereignty, national territory and national self-determination is always sacred and very thorny for all nations, not just Vietnam. The history of nation building of all countries shows that there are countries that have developed new land by "digging rivers and encroaching sea" and expanded their territories to wild land to form their national sovereignty from scratch. But there are also nations relying on their crowded populations to expand their territory by constant wars on neighboring countries, snatching others’ land into their own, even assimilating the former owners of those lands and calling it national sovereignty. A typical example for that type of expansion is China. Thousands of years of the Chinese history prove this fact and China thinks that by that way, they could widen their nation's territory and sovereignty to the north of the Mongolian border, across the Himalayas of India to the West and reach the nearby area of Singapore to the South.

However, their mindset could only work in the pre-historic period or in the ancient and medieval times. In modern day, it is not accepted by mankind. A strong evidence is that the international community represented by the United Nations has adopted laws that fully regulate territorial sovereignty and national borders between countries around the world including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in 1994, stipulating that coastal states can only possess sovereignty over islands acquired naturally, but not by using force. Coastal states exercise sovereignty over their territorial sea which they have the right to establish with its breadth up to a limit not to exceed 12 nautical miles from the baseline. They also have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and exercise jurisdiction over marine science research and environmental protection; and the outer limit of the continental shelf that shall not exceed 350 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

Therefore, China's use of force to seize Vietnam’s Paracel Islands cannot legitimize its so-called sovereignty. China cannot prove to the international community that they got the Paracel Archipelago by natural acquisition, despite their exhaustive search around the world for documents and evidence to support their argument. China even tried to plant “insider” among the judges in the United Nations courts and tribunals to prepare for a scenario that they are sued by other countries at these courts. Ironically, when the Philippines sued China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration for using force to occupy the Philippines' Scarborough Shoal, no one stood on the Chinese side. That was a big shame to China and clearly proved that China’s nature is bullying the weaker. Couldn't Chinese learn anything from that case? Given the argument, how could the Paracel Islands be "lost" to the Chinese?

Moreover, the true owners of countries do not let their national sovereignty be taken away easily. Is there any nation which will give up its sovereignty when it obviously belongs to them?

Looking at Vietnam’s history, the country and people had in ancient times suffered a thousand years of Northern domination, meaning a thousand years of temporary loss of sovereignty and independence. But finally, the Vietnamese people remained Vietnamese. The successive Dinh, Ly, Tran, Le to Nguyen dynasties ... were always resilient to confront the forces of the Han, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties ... to fight for self-determination to finally step out of the "long night of slavery". Those who desired to take over Vietnam's sovereignty and independence were all defeated. In the modern times, when the newly born Democratic Republic of Vietnam was less than a year old, half of the country was occupied by the French and then the Americans, but that half of country was not "lost". After nearly 30 years of persistent, tough and extremely arduous fighting, half of the temporarily occupied country was eventually returned to the nation after the historic Ho Chi Minh campaign. Those who want to deprive Vietnam of its sovereignty must withdraw. Therefore, Vietnam will never "lose" the Paracel Islands.

With determination of the true and legitimate owner of the country, Vietnam will never lose the Paracel Islands. Unless the world and nature ever change that the islands sink and disappear under the ocean and not rise again, the islands would be considered lost. At that time, Vietnam would have nothing to claim, China would have nothing to return back. Then it could be said the islands were lost. For now, it must be said exactly that China only has temporary occupation of the Paracel Islands.

The rule of life and of history and even the Bible show that all belongings will come back to the true owner sooner or later or "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." It is believed that if all Vietnamese people are persistent, united, brave, and smart in their struggle to defend their sovereignty, someday the temporarily occupied Paracels and islands in the Spratly Archipelago will come back to Vietnam. As Vietnam’s leaders once said: "Our generation is reclaiming, if we cannot get it back, our descendants must insist, the Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam." That is the right mindset.