News / Asia

Vietnam and China at Odds Over Territorial Note

Anti-Vietnam protesters hold posters with slogans and a picture showing a map of the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands, during a rally in Hong Kong defending China's territorial claims, May 19, 2014.
Anti-Vietnam protesters hold posters with slogans and a picture showing a map of the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands, during a rally in Hong Kong defending China's territorial claims, May 19, 2014.
As the showdown over a controversial oil rig continues in the South China Sea, an old letter has emerged as a focal point in the war of words between Vietnam and China over the Paracel Islands.

Earlier this week, China used the controversial letter that the late Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong sent to his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai, as evidence of Hanoi’s official acknowledgement of China’s sovereignty over the disputed archipelago.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang accused Vietnam of bending history, denying facts and going back on its word.  

He spoke after the deputy director of Vietnam's National Boundary Commission told reporters in Hanoi that Dong’s note "did not mention the territorial and sovereign issue."

“The content of the official letter only noted and recognized the 12 nautical mile expansion of China’s territorial water, and urged Vietnamese agencies to respect the announcement," Tran Duy Hai said.

"It did not mention [the Spratlys] or [the Paracels], reflecting the reality of that time when the two island chains were under the administration of South Vietnam, in accordance with a 1954 Geneva treaty to which China was a party,” he said.

In an email sent to VOA’s Vietnamese Service, Le Hai Binh, Vietnam’s diplomatic spokesperson, wrote, Vietnam has “sufficient historical evidence and legal basis to assert its indisputable sovereignty over the [Paracel] islands.”

China seized the Paracels from South Vietnam after engaging in a deadly sea battle in January 1974, killing 74 sailors from the then-U.S.-backed South Vietnamese navy.

Ta Van Tai, a lawyer and former lecturer at Harvard University, told VOA’s Vietnamese Service that Dong’s letter has no "legal validity."

“It is a unilateral declaration, and it did not amount to the territorial concession treaty under the constitution at that time," Tai said.

"He could not act on behalf of President Ho Chi Minh, who had the right to sign the treaty. It is the national assembly that had the final say in this case,” he said.

Tai added that ‘there were two separate nations [in the North and the South of Vietnam]’, and the late prime minister did not represent the South, which administered Hoang Sa at that time.

Dissidents have long used Dong’s note to criticize the Vietnamese government for conceding its territory to China - a charge Hanoi strongly denies.

Relations between the two Communist neighbors have plunged to the lowest point in years, following Beijing's decision to locate an oil rig in disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.

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by: Jeff from: San Jose
May 29, 2014 2:29 PM
An authentic letter from China? Isn't China good at faking everything?

by: Young thing from: nowhere
May 29, 2014 10:07 AM
I heard that Vietnamese tourists were forced to signed on maps to agree Spratly and Paracel belonging to China to pass the border gate. Does China want to use those Vietnamese signatures and Dong’s telegram as proofs to prove their so-call China’s Sea? I feel sorry for a big country like China! Their government used all kid’s trickery to prove their fabricated sovereign in the East sea. Chinese! Your government is blackening your China’s face

by: xxx from: tn
May 29, 2014 8:16 AM
Let China 300 billion fight with Vietnam 90 million.China will be the same 1000 years ago...

by: Bhalanee from: USA
May 29, 2014 3:59 AM
Vietnam ruled by VC has little or no credibility. The oil rig is well inside China's territorial water , 150 miles off Vietnam coast but only 17 miles south of its big islands with hundreds of chinese living there for centuries. Besides, in 1974, China defeated South Vietnam navy which tried to conquer it when China's navy was only 1/3 of SV's US destroyers; US did not intervene at China's request. Both VC and S V both recognized this region as China's ancient territory for many decades. Only 20 years ago, VC changed its former position and spreaded propaganda to its people claiming that the territory is Vietnam's. .
But in international diplomacy, the diplomacy is continuity must be maintained. It cannot be simply changed.
Sending many ships disgusted as fishermen to ram China's ships and ended in capsiding itself is not a decent right-minded nation would do. But, instead of admitting its mistake, it lied that China sank its boat. Voice of America even published 4 boats sunk by China. So VoA is nothing but a bigger liar.
Last week's riot has already cost Vietnam $2 billion which it promised to compensate to the investors. The more actions it take the more his ugly face is shown because the lies by Reuters and Bloomberg and AP could not come up with any photo to prove it. But, video from China's news media did show Vietnam boat speeding toward China's ship and rim its side.
These VC boats are already lucky that China did not arrest for such barbaric action. Yet, the shameless VC has a cheek to accuse China of sinking it. Where is the proof?
In Response

by: Thuy Nguyen from: The US
May 30, 2014 8:17 PM
If you Chinese believe your government is right, then why don't take this issue to the International court? Why using Navy ships to bully your neighbor?
You have your mouth. Other people have their mouth. Let the third parties be the referee. Let solve the problem by legal rules and laws. Don't you agree?
In Response

by: TTT
May 30, 2014 4:49 AM
Bhalanee, you are a mindless follower of your communist government. You were born and raised like everyone else there, with no original thought of your own. You are stupid enough to believe the lies and history that your government rewrites to serve its needs. Why do you think they censor your Internet and decide what you can read, hear, and see. The statements from the Chinese government are ridiculous and childish on these issues with their neighbors. They should get the hell out of Vietnam, the Philippines, and all the other places that they don’t belong and stop spreading like locusts.
In Response

by: Tom Pam from: Seattle WA
May 29, 2014 9:43 PM
Are you a Chinese or a person working for the bully china?
In Response

by: Jim H from: USA
May 29, 2014 1:41 PM
Born to be ignorant. Did not know that you are so smart!
In Response

by: pham from: U.S.A
May 29, 2014 1:06 PM
Bhalanee,I can tell you are not only stupid Chinese,but you are also a greedy like your goverment!
In Response

by: Deutsch from: USA
May 29, 2014 12:23 PM
Bhalanee - A CCP troll. Report this to proper authority.
In Response

by: LeLam from: peking
May 29, 2014 11:08 AM
@Bhalanee hey buddy do not post any more comment when you don't really know the basic law of the sea and history. EEZ International law is 200 nautical miles from the main land shore of a country not from an Islet. The more you comment the more you show our Chinese are a bun of idiots, greedy, intimidated and unreasonable people. So you better stop to comment in the future.
In Response

by: Mike Jackson from: NY
May 29, 2014 7:48 AM
Bhalanee WOW a Chinaman has any proof of Chinese occupancy at those island or your commie gov't told you that there is. if there are chinese on those islands, I guess they already be stone to death by now. Read your map correctly before you claim territory. How the F...ck you claim 90% of South China Sea. I would fight for freedom until I rest in peace. good luck Chinaman.
In Response

by: remie from: canada
May 29, 2014 7:06 AM
@ Bhalanee, I just saw the exact comment except a few last sentence from Delmonte ,USA. Are you the same person? Ahhh , A Chinaman spreading propaganda. Anyways I responded to your fabrication story. See you on the next site.
In Response

by: Yazu
May 29, 2014 7:05 AM
Funny the treaty was started at 1954 while the UNCLOS which China signed was at the year 1994. Therefore Vietnam didn't bend any treaty instead it was voided since China signed the UNCLOS. Therefore the fault is China not Vietnam. If China want to take back what they signed then Vietnam could also take the treaty.
In Response

by: Readytofightchinathieves from: Washington Dc
May 29, 2014 6:43 AM
The oil rig is well inside China's territorial water you are talking about that everyone on this earth has know that china did used violent and deadly force invade it from Vietnam in 1974 and 1988. Therefore, China must return all invaded territory back to Vietnam or face a criminal punishment for its criminal acts.
In Response

by: readytofightchinathieves from: washingtondc
May 29, 2014 6:29 AM
The oil rig is well inside China's territorial water you talking about that everyone in this world has known that China did used violent force to invade it from Vietnam in 1974. China must return Tibet to the Tibetan, and all territories it stole from Vietnam to Vietnam or it will face the punishment as the Nazi regime who had tried to claim every territories as their land. China communist leaders are clearly the war criminals mus be execute us the Nazi leaders.
In Response

by: Ryan from: USA
May 29, 2014 6:17 AM
You're a Chinese troll. Your lies are so obvious. Only idiots would believe that these islands belong to China. Vietnam has plenty of official evidences of showing its ownership.

by: David from: Ohio
May 29, 2014 3:32 AM
If China feels that the letter gives them a legal claim to the islands then it should present the letter as evidence to an international tribunal and state its case. But whether the letter is valid or not, China had no right to unilaterally decide the dispute by placing the oil rig in the area.

by: Anonymous
May 29, 2014 2:08 AM
These people must get paid by the Chinese. Save our planet. China is large polluter of our global environment. Boycott products that are "MADE IN CHINA"
In Response

by: art from: houston
May 29, 2014 7:42 AM
If you really want to save US then here what we need to do:

1- STOP buying CHINA products.
2- STOP traveling to CHINA.
3-STOP flying CHINA airline (even via connections)
4- STOP doing business with CHINA
5- STOP teaching or showing CHINA how to make a copy (this is what chinese will come back
and bite you).
6- STOP selling high tech goods to CHINA.
7- STOP spying for CHINA.
8- STOP making friends to CHINA.
9- STOP inviting chinese to your countries (this is where they spy or engage in espionage)
10- STOP watching chinese movies or TV series opera
In Response

by: Anonymous
May 29, 2014 4:27 AM
Don't let anybody know you are an idiot.

by: Phil from: USA
May 29, 2014 2:01 AM
Nixon wrote a letter to SVN President Thieu, in similar nature in 1973, guarantees protection of SVN in event of NVN invasion to urge Thieu signing the Paris convention accord that Thieu fiercely objected. Thieu bought it believing he has an agreement in hand. When NVN invaded SVN in 1975, USA prepared for evacuation, Thieu cant do nothing with the letter and resigned.

The fact is letters, notes or chit-chat between leaders have no legal basis as any promises made are not authorized by proper institutions and therefore, are illegal. In the case of Mr. Dong's letter, it is even more remote as NVN has no sovereign basis to discuss the fate of Paracel and Spratly islands at the time.

by: thuy from: USA
May 29, 2014 1:15 AM
Now Vietnamese know that Ho Chi Minh, Pham van Dong and his Communist party are the traitor. Who sold their soul for fiend. Only way to keep our land is throw communist party in the trash. Forming a Liberty Vietnam, and make diplomatic tie with all Asian country and USA. This is only way!!!!
In Response

by: Will from: Sydney
June 02, 2014 2:49 AM
Thuy, it'd be pointless. The communist has already sold out the country and now just trying to put up a brave face for their people. Most Vietnamese these days know nothing apart from communist propaganda and I would bet none of them have seen the Chinese declaration on its territory in 1958.

The communist party has run the country into the ground. It's now one of the poorest countries in South East Asia. Pollution is uncontrollable and corruption is everywhere. It's a lost cause trying to bring Vietnam back. The Vietnamese living there will have to do it themselves.

To be quite frank, looking at the 2nd generation of communist regime, I'd say it would not happen in my life time.

China has a lot of problems with pollution and corruption but at least their government is trying.
In Response

by: Peter from: USA
May 29, 2014 3:33 AM
You take the lead, I guess.

by: 2tigers from: oakland, ca
May 29, 2014 1:02 AM
DON'T BUY ANYTHING THAT MAKE IN CHINA. They also supported N.Korea nuclear weapon.
In Response

by: Will from: Sydney
June 02, 2014 2:50 AM
I agree. No iphones, ipads, samsung galaxies, laptops etc... Welcome to the stone age.

Think before you comment pls.
In Response

by: Anonymous
May 29, 2014 4:32 AM
How do you know?you dreamt it?

by: obama from: USA
May 29, 2014 12:32 AM
After the North Vietnam conquered the South Vietnam in 1975, the puppet government of the South the so called the National Liberation Front of Nguyen Huu Tho, Huynh tan Phat agreed to unite with the North. That entity becomes nowadays Vietnam. So , Vietnam is the successor state of both the former North and South Vietnam. What exPremier Dong agreed to the Chinese are legally bound. Arguing otherwise is just the hogwash.
In Response

by: Will from: Sydney
June 02, 2014 2:24 AM
I would strongly disagree that Vietnam today represents North and South. The South was invaded by the communist aggressors and to be quite frank, without the aid from China, they would have failed, hence the diplomatic note from Pham Van Dong selling out the country.

Only the Vietnamese communist party is bounded by the agreement.
In Response

by: kathysonomo
May 30, 2014 12:16 AM
The letter from Dong to Chu Enlai because Chu Enlai allows Dong to put his Dong in chu Enlai's wife. So such personal matter should not be counted.
In Response

by: Yazu
May 29, 2014 7:07 AM
It is not a hogwash since we all remembered that China also signed the UNCLOS which mean the treaty that both party signed is already voided.

Therefore China is the reason why they lost the treaty if China want to take back what it signed then Vietnam could also take back what it signed.
In Response

by: John Candy from: USA
May 29, 2014 3:42 AM
You seem to know the fact and master the law.

I guess you can help China to take the case to International Tributal. You will make much $$$ than being a 50cent poster.
In Response

by: clinton from: USA
May 29, 2014 3:36 AM
The letter itself has no legal basis, idiot. Go back to law school or you can just go to China and open a law office there.
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