Kiwi school removes map misrepresenting Vietnam's sovereignty

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 Vu Van Hiep (R) at the New Zealand Defence Force Command and Staff College / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

A defense educational institute in New Zealand has taken down a map with misleading information about Vietnam's sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago following a Vietnamese student's proposal. .

The map was produced in 2001 by the US National Geographic Society (NGS), which was criticized by Vietnamese government and citizens around the world for the same mistake in 2010, Capt. Vu Van Hiep, a student with the New Zealand Defence Force Command and Staff College, recently told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Hiep said the map was hung at the college's discussion room until he sent emails to the school's leaders about three weeks ago, asking them to take it down because it was not right to put China under the islands' name as its owner.

In the emails, the officer, who also works for Bien Phong (border defense) newspaper of the Vietnam Border Defense Force's High Command, cited scientific and historical evidence of the country's sovereignty over the Hoang Sa.

He also attached pictures of maps produced by international "prestigious" organizations for comparison, including the World Atlas which gives "relatively objective" information about the islands by calling it in English name (Paracel Islands) with a note reading "administered by China claimed by Vietnam."

In one of his emails, Hiep included a link to NGS's announcement of changes to its identification of Hoang Sa, after the Vietnamese citizens and Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs voiced objections in March 2010. The mistake was discovered when NGS launched its online map website.

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The organization then announced that for future printings of its maps, it will use the conventional name of Paracel Islands and omit the possession label on its small-scale maps.

For larger-scale regional, continental, and sectional maps, it will use the conventional name - Paracel Islands and expand the possession qualifier to say: "Occupied by China in 1974, which calls them Xisha Qundao; claimed by Vietnam, which calls them Hoang Sa."

In response to Hiep's emails, the college's leaders took down the map, "as they respect their students' proposals and opinions, and to avoid unnecessary arguments among students from countries related to the islands' sovereignty," the officer said.

He said Vietnamese people need to watch out for maps with misleading information about Vietnam's sovereignty when traveling, working, studying or living overseas. They then need to convince involved persons or organizations to remove erroneous maps.

Many maps with the same mistake as NGS's are still being used at various locations worldwide, he said.

Even for NGS, which already pledged to correct its error, the inaccurate information still can be found in many maps on its website, he added..

"We, therefore, need to continue demanding and convincing them to make corrections with respect for the truth, objectiveness and the scientific spirit."

In the meantime, China now promotes many documents with misinformation about the Hoang Sa, such as maps with its infamous U-shaped nine-dash line that baselessly claims 80 percent of the East Sea, including Hoang Sa and the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago, Hiep said.

"China is making thorough use of this, which is reflected in the fact that maps with the U-shaped line are common on websites, hung at public sites in China and even printed in Chinese passports," he said.

In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracel Islands. A brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then US-backed Republic of Vietnam ensued.

Vietnam's behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since. But a post-1975 united Vietnam has never relinquished its ownership of the Paracel Islands and continues to keep military bases and other facilities on the Spratly Islands. 

 "China considers the case regarding the Paracels with Vietnam 'closed'," Mark Valencia, a Hawaii-based expert on the dispute, told Thanh Nien News.

China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are embroiled in sovereignty disputes over the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea. 

China's claim is the largest, covering most of the sea's 1.7 million square kilometers.

Though this has been emphatically rejected by the other claimants and independent experts, analysts warn that Beijing is unlikely to back down from its expansive claims in the region, stretching from the eastern Himalayas to the East Sea.

The East Sea is thought to hold vast untapped reserves of oil and natural gas that could potentially place China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other claimant nations alongside the likes of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Qatar.

The waters hold around 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in proven and probable reserves, Reuters reported, citing the US Energy Information Administration.

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