PM Dung: Vietnam will stake claim to East Sea islands peacefully

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 Mai Phung Luu, a fisherman in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Ngai who said he has been to every nook and cranny of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago, asserts that he will continue heading to the Hoang Sa seas without fearing anything.

International experts have encouraged Vietnam to take further actions to reaffirm it sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago following a speech on the issue by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Speaking at the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, on November 25, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam will assert its sovereignty over the Paracels Archipelago peacefully.

"We have asserted sovereignty via the peaceful and continuous display of state authority over the islands," he said.

According to Dung, the country has owned the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratlys) archipelagos since at least the 17th century, when no other country had influence over the islands.

However, in 1956, China illegally occupied several islets in the Paracels. Later, in 1974, China violently took control of the entire archipelago, which was then under the management of the US-backed Republic of Vietnam (1955-1975).

Mark Valencia, a marine analyst at the National Bureau of Asian Research in the US, said Vietnam has every right to make Dung's claims.

"It may eventually have to provide evidence that proves its claim is better than China's - that is better evidence in terms of substance and continuity that it and/or France on its behalf has exercised continuous effective occupation, administration and control of the features without objections from other claimants," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

In his speech, Dung said US-backed Republic of Vietnam which managed the Paracels when China occupied the archipelago in 1974 had asked for help from the United Nations.

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The Provisional Revolutionary Government of Republic of South Vietnam (1969-1976), which represented the revolutionary forces in southern Vietnam during the Vietnam War, also protested the Chinese occupation of the islands at that time, he said.

Dung also said that Vietnam currently owns most of the Spratly Archipelago, and is the only country that has citizen residents living there.

The Paracels and Spratlys are located in the resource-rich East Sea, also known as South China Sea, which straddles major marine transportation routes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

Conflicts over the valuable waters have worsened since May, when Chinese ships were accused of hassling Vietnamese seismic survey ships operating well inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) - the 200-mile marine border extending out from Vietnam's coastline.

Valencia said if after "all the homework is done" and Vietnam believes it has the better case, the case should be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

"This is a costly and long drawn out process and the exact question that is put to the court is important - that is - do you want an all or nothing decision or a compromise. Sometimes there is no other way but to take it to the court. This may be one of those cases, at least for Vietnam," he said.

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia regional specialist from the University of New South Wales in Australia, said Dung's reference to "continuous display of state authority" was a reference to a long-standing legal principle.

He said Vietnam would have to provide details of how the Vietnamese state maintained continuous authority and evidence that the Vietnamese state protested Chinese occupation of the Eastern and then Western Paracels when it occurred.

"If Prime Minister Dung intends to pursue this matter through diplomatic means, China must agree to discuss this matter. If China did so, it would undercut its claim to sovereignty," Thayer said.

"For a number of years, Vietnam has asserted sovereignty through peaceful measures by making diplomatic protests and public statements protesting China's assertion of authority over the Paracels," Thayer said. "This forms a legal paper trail that could be used to support Vietnam's case if the matter were brought to the International Court of Justice."

In a recent interview with Thanh Nien, Vietnamese researcher Nguyen Dinh Dau introduced a collection of hundreds of maps issued by Vietnam and other countries showing Vietnam's sovereignty over Paracels and Spratlys.

"Old documents from Vietnam, western countries and even China recorded that Paracels and Spratlys belonged to Vietnam. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that China wanted to claim sovereignty over the two archipelagos," Dau said.

While local media have reported frequently on paper evidence, "live" evidence people who survived China's violent takeover Hoang Sa in 1974 is all too often ignored.

Local media have also reported several cases in which international organizations and magazines wrongly depicted Vietnam's Paracels and Spratlys as belonging to China.

Duong Danh Huy, an overseas Vietnamese scholar in the UK, said it is important for the media and Vietnamese community members around the world to voice against China's unreasonable East Sea claims.

He said the government should set up a specific agency to monitor and fix errors in maps around the world.

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