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The archipelago includes about 130 small coral islands and reefs, most grouped into the northeast Amphitrite Group or the western Crescent Group. They are distributed over a maritime area of around 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi), with a land area of approximately 7.75 square kilometres (2.99 sq mi). The archipelago is approximately equidistant from the coastlines of the People's Republic of China and Vietnam; and approximately one-third of the way from central Vietnam to the northern Philippines.
Turtles and seabirds are native to the islands, which have a hot and humid climate, abundant rainfall and frequent typhoons. The archipelago is surrounded by productive fishing grounds and a seabed with potential, but as yet unexplored, oil and gas reserves.
In February 2017, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported 20 outposts of the PRC built on reclaimed land in the Paracels, three of which have small harbours capable of berthing naval and commercial ships.
Location of the Paracel Islands showing the more significant PRC settlements
The northern section of the group comprises West Sand, Tree Island and the Qilian Yu sub-group (The "Seven Sisters": North Island, Middle Island, South Island, North Sand, Middle Sand, South Sand and two small "sands".) The centre of the group consists of Woody Island and Rocky Island, approximately 5 km (3 mi) south of the southern tip of the eastern extremity of the northern section. The southwest corner of the group is occupied by the Iltis Bank.
The largest island of the Paracels, Woody Island (which has an area of 213 ha (530 acres)), has over 1,000 residents including fishermen and their families, military personnel and civilian administrators.
Aerial photo of the Crescent group
Lying about 70 km (43 mi) southwest of the Amphitrite group, at 16°30?N111°42?E / 16.5°N 111.7°E / 16.5; 111.7, the Crescent group consists of islands and reefs that form a crescent-like structure from west to east, enclosing a deep central lagoon. The group measures 31 by 15 km (19 by 9 mi) east-west and north-south. All of the islands in the group support vegetation except on their small cays.
The islands are named after former senior figures in the British East India Company (EIC). Three were members of the EIC's 'Select Committee' in Canton: James Drummond, Thomas Pattle and John William Roberts. Jonathan Duncan was Governor in Council of Bombay, and William Taylor Money was Superintendent of the Bombay Marine.
Money Island lies at the southwest extremity of the group, and has some small cays on the southern side. The Chinese name for Money Island, Jin Yin Dao, is simply the translation of the English name.
Antelope Reef, submerged at high tide and containing a central lagoon, lies 2.4 km (1.5 mi) east of Money Island.
Northeast of this are Robert Island (also named Round Island) and Pattle Island, separated from each other by a 3.5 km (2.2 mi) wide deep channel. A weather station was built on Pattle Island (by the French) in 1932, and a lighthouse and radio station in 1937.
Northeast of this is Quanfu Dao ("All Wealth Island").
Observation Bank, also named Silver Islet, and the Lesser Silver Islet, are the northernmost of the group and contain a small cay.
Just south of them are Yagong Dao (He Duck) and Xianshe Yu (Salty Hut).
At the eastern side of the group lies a 12 km (7 mi) long boomerang shaped reef with Stone Islet at its north end and Drummond Island at its south end.
The Duncan Islands (16°27?N111°43?E / 16.450°N 111.717°E / 16.450; 111.717), consisting of Duncan Island and Palm Island, lie approximately 3 km (2 mi) west of Drummond Island and about 8 km (5 mi) east of Antelope Reef. Kuangzai Shazhou (Little Basket) lies about halfway between Palm Island and Antelope Reef.
Bombay Reef: This elongated reef is situated at the southeastern corner of the Paracel Islands (16°00?N112°30?E / 16°N 112.5°E / 16; 112.5) and lies approximately 90 km (56 mi) southeast of the Crescent group. With most parts submerged, the reef measures approximately 18 by 5 km (11 by 3 mi) (E-W by N-S). Bombay Reef encloses a deep lagoon with rocks on its edge.
Bremen Bank: Located 24 km (15 mi) north of Bombay Reef (16°18?N112°30?E / 16.3°N 112.5°E / 16.3; 112.5), is the southwestern-most feature of this subgroup. This submerged shallow bank measures approximately 23 km (14 mi) in length from northeast to southwest. The shallowest area reaches a depth of about 12 metres (39 ft) and is located in the southwestern part of the bank.
Lincoln Island: Surrounded by a coral reef, located 37 km (23 mi) southeast from the Amphitrite Group at 16°42?N112°42?E / 16.7°N 112.7°E / 16.7; 112.7, the island is covered with brushes and fairly high trees, including coconutpalm trees. The depth increases sharply on the northern and eastern sides of the island but the southern and south western regions are shallow. An observation post on the western side was found by officers of the German government surveys in 1883. In 1948, Great Britain requested France for permission to use the feature for military exercises.
North Reef: Situated approximately 56 km (35 mi) north from the Crescent group and about 70 km (43 mi) west-northwest from the Amphitrite group at 17°06?N111°30?E / 17.1°N 111.5°E / 17.1; 111.5, the reef is the most northwesterly feature of the Paracel Islands. Most parts of the reef are submerged. There are rugged rocks are around the edge that are barely above water. There is a passage into the lagoon on the southwestern side of the reef.
(West: Crescent group)
Discovery Reef: Measuring approximately 27 km (17 mi) in length from east to west, and 7 km (4 mi) from north to south, the reef is located about 18 km (11 mi) south of the Crescent Group at 16°15?N111°42?E / 16.25°N 111.7°E / 16.25; 111.7. Completely submerged, the elongated ring structure is the largest single reef in the Paracel Islands. The reef has two large, deep openings into the lagoon on its southern side. In the ocean nearby is Dragon Hole the deepest known sinkhole in the world.
Passu Keah: This small reef encloses a shallow lagoon and is located about 12 km (7 mi) south of the eastern side of Discovery Reef at 16°06?N111°48?E / 16.1°N 111.8°E / 16.1; 111.8, approximately 37 miles (60 km) east-northeast from Triton Island. The sand cay measures 9 km (6 mi) in length.
Vuladdore Reef: Located slightly south of the centre of the group at 16°18?N112°00?E / 16.3°N 112°E / 16.3; 112, this mostly submerged reef is orientated east-west and measures approximately 12 km (7 mi) by 3 km (2 mi). Some small spiral rocks are to be seen on the reef.
The Vietnamese call the islands Hoang Sa, ( or Yellow Sands), and this name is found in historic Vietnamese documents dating back to the 15th century. In the modern language system it is written as Hoàng Sa or Cát Vàng. They all have the same meaning -- the Yellow Sands or the Yellow Sandbank. Before the early 19th century, the present-day Spratly Islands were treated as features of Hoàng Sa. It was not until the reign of Emperor Minh M?ng (1820-1841) that the Spratlys were distinctly delineated and officially named V?n Lý Trng Sa (?), the Ten-thousand League-long Sandbank.
Xisha and other Chinese names
Paracel Islands as shown in Zheng He Voyage Map (suggested by some to be the islands to the left at the bottom)
The Chinese name Xisha (), literally "western sands" or "shoals", is a name adopted in the 20th century to distinguish it from the "eastern sands" (the Dongsha or Pratas), the "southern sands" (the Nansha or Spratlys), and the "central sands" (the Zhongsha or Macclesfield Bank). Prior to that, there had been no consistent designation of these islands in early Chinese sources, with names such as Changsha, Shitang, Shichuang and others being used for Paracel and Spratly inconsistently. In the 14th century Song Dynasty work Zhu fan zhi by Zhao Rugua, the names Qianli Changsha (????, lit. "Thousand mile-Long Sands") and Wanli Shichuang (???? lit. "Ten-thousand mile-Rock Bed") were given, interpreted by some to refer to Paracel and Spratly respectively, but opinions differed. The Yuan dynasty work Daoyi Zhilüe by Wang Dayuan considers that Shitang () to be the same as Wanli Shitang (????, lit. "Ten-thousand mile-Rock Embankment"), which starts from Chaozhou and extends to Borneo, west to Côn S?n Island off Vietnam and down as far as Java. The History of Yuan uses the terms Qizhouyang (, "The Ocean of Seven Islands") and Wanli Shitang, which are taken to mean Paracel and Spratly respectively. In the Mao Kun map from the Zheng He's voyage of the early 15th century, groups of islands were named as Shitang (), Wansheng Shitangyu (), and Shixing Shitang (?), with Shitang (sometimes including Wansheng Shitangyu) being taken by some to mean Paracel. Another Ming text, Haiyu (On the Sea), uses Wanli Shitang to refer to Paracel and Wanli Changsha for Spratly.
During the Qing dynasty, a set of maps refer to Paracel as Qizhouyang (Shitang became Spratly, and Changsha became Zhongsha), while a book Hai Lu (Illustrations of the Sea) refers to Paracel as Changsha and Spratly as Shitang. A sea chart prepared in the Daoguang era, Yiban Lu (Particular Illustrations) by Zheng Guangzu, uses Xisha to refer to Paracel. Xisha became the standard name used in China in the 20th century, and was used in 20th century maps published by the Republic of China, for example in 1935, and the 1947 11-dash line map which claimed Paracel and Spratly as its territories.
Pracel and Paracel
18th century European map showing the Paracel Islands as part of Cochinchina (Vietnam)
The name 'Paracel' is found in the first Portuguese maps of the region. The Portuguese, whose vessels frequented the South China Sea as early as at the beginning of the 16th century, were the first to refer to these islands as 'Ilhas do Pracel' in the 16th century. Regarding the likely origin of the term Paracel, the word is a variant of the more common form pracel or parcel, from the Spanish: placer, which was used by the Portuguese and Spanish navigators to designate shallow sandy seas or submerged banks, such as Placer de los Roques.
Pracel is a moderately elevated chain of islets, sandbanks, and reefs. These features are continuously distributed and stretched over a noticeable distance of tens or hundreds of kilometers in length. Pracel may not be a suitable place for human residents, but its irregular depth creates an ideal environment inhabited by fish. Pracel often forms a natural bulwark as an outer line of defense for a coast or a land.
The Portuguese were later followed by the Dutch, the English, the Spanish, and the French in the waters of the island group. On the "Map of the coast of Tonquin and Cochinchina", made in 1747 by Pierre d'Hondt, the dangerous band of rugged rocks was labeled "Le Paracel", a French phonetic notation. Because of their location on an important seaborne route the Paracel Islands drew much attention from navigators and hydrographers in the Age of Exploration. Disputes in the area since the Second World War have again drawn attention to the islands.
On the "Map of Europe, Africa and Asia" published in 1598 by Cornelis Claesz, an unnamed band of rocks and sandbanks are shown near the present-day location of the Paracel and Spratly Islands. About two decades later, the names Pracel and Costa de Pracel (Coast of Pracel) appeared on the Chart of Asia and eight city maps published in 1617 by Willem Jansz Blaeu, a Dutch map maker. The coast belonged to the Kingdom of Cauchi China.
East India Company
The islands were first scientifically surveyed by Daniel Ross of the British East India Company in 1808. The names of Duncan, Drummond, Money, Pattle and Roberts islands were all chosen in honour of senior figures in the East India Company.
Infrastructure and natural resources
The PRC is investing millions in infrastructure and development to support its territorial claims over the archipelago, and as a result there has been, and continues to be, a lot of construction activity. In recent years Woody Island has acquired an upgraded airport, an upgraded sea port, and a city hall. A primary school for children of construction workers and troops stationed there is planned.
There is limited supply of fresh water on the islands. In 2012, it was reported that China (PRC) planned to build a solar-energy-powered desalination plant on the islands. In 2016, it was reported that the first desalination plant was activated. On most of the islands controlled by China in the South China Sea, drinking water comes in barrels together with other supplies from small boats, making it as scarce as fuel.
With the activation of a desalination plant on China's most militarized South China Sea outpost, Beijing improves its troops ability to endure longer during conditions that may have otherwise deprived them of important supplies at sea, including drinking water. In due time, desalination facilities may make their way to China's artificial islands in the Spratly group.
Both wind and solar powered facilities exist to supply electricity on the islands.
There is a post office, hospital, bank and hostel on Woody Island. The Chinese postal zip code of the island is 572000, and the telephone area code is +86 (898).
There is an airport on Woody Island with a 2,400 metres (7,900 ft) long runway, which can handle take-offs and landings of Boeing-737s or planes of similar size. Flight services operate on the Haikou - Xisha route. There are three main roads on Woody Island as well as an 800 metres (2,600 ft) long cement causeway that connects Woody Island and Rocky Island. Extensive port facilities have been constructed on Duncan Island.
Harbour developments between the Duncan Islands (December 2012)
The islands have been open for tourists since 1997. Chinese tourists can take a 20-hour ferry to the Islands, paying up to US$2,000 for a 5-day cruise, and are placed on a long waitlist before being accepted. The BBC article states that "Chinese tourism has strong political implications, as the Chinese tourists are being used as 'foot soldiers of China' by Beijing to further China's territorial claims there". The video also states "Vietnam is considered unlikely to send military vessels to stop them".
There are two museums on Woody Island; a Naval Museum and a Maritime Museum. In April 2012, the Vice-Mayor and officials from the Haikou Municipal Government made several announcements about developing new docking facilities and hotels within the Crescent Group - on Duncan and Drummond Islands specifically. Promotion of the naturally unspoilt reef system was cited as the driver for new tourism potential with other such reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, now placed under threat of extinction due to human activities. However, according to The China Post, this was denied by a PRC Government official in April 2012, due to sensitivities surrounding the islands.
Territorial disputes and their historical background
After the 1884-1885 Sino-French War, in an international context, France officially gained control of Annam and Tonkin as protectorates and fully established French colonial rule in Vietnam by signing a number of treaties with Chinese and Vietnamese governments including Tientsin Accord, Treaty of Hu? (1884) and Treaty of Tientsin (1885). Article 2 of the Treaty of Tientsin (1885) forced China to stop any claims to suzerainty all over Vietnam. Therefore, the French also took over the control of the Paracel Islands which were under the Nguy?n dynasty's administration, still nominally ruled Annam at the time.
Between 1881 and 1883 the German navy surveyed the islands continuously for three months each year without seeking the permission of either France or China. No protest was issued by either government and the German government published the results of the survey in 1885. In 1932, France nonetheless formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly Islands. China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France seized the Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included them in French Indochina, and built a couple of weather stations on them, but did not disturb the numerous Chinese fishermen it found there. In 1941, the Japanese Empire made the Paracel and Spratly islands part of Taiwan, then under its rule.
After the communists gained control of China in 1949, they occupied Woody Island, the main island of the Amphitrite group and the only island that was occupied at the time. Pattle Island in the Crescent group, on the other hand, was taken by French Indochina and then controlled by South Vietnam following independence in 1956. Tensions over the islands have continued to rise unceasingly since then.
The Paracel islands are claimed by both China and Vietnam and the majority of those islands lie within 200 NM of China's and Vietnam's geographic baseline.
Letter from South Vietnam's General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces, dated 02-18-74, concerning the Battle of the Paracel Islands
In 1974, the political and diplomatic dispute over the islands became an armed conflict between China and South Vietnam. On January 16, South Vietnamese naval officers and an American observer reported to Saigon some suspected military activities of the Chinese navy on the Drummond and Duncan islands. After receiving the report, the government of South Vietnam decided to counter the Chinese forces, to defend the South Vietnamese-controlled section (the western half of the Paracels) from Chinese occupation, and sent a unit of frigates to the area. On January 19, there were sea and land battles between the Chinese and Vietnamese forces with casualties on both sides. At the end, the Chinese fleet defeated the naval force of South Vietnam. With the ongoing civil war with the Viet Cong embroiling South Vietnam's attention and the absence of the USA's support, no military attempt was made to re-engage the PRC over the islands. After the military engagement and the subsequent victory, the PRC gained the entire archipelago and has taken control of Paracel Islands ever since. It was a significant turning point for the PRC but the sovereignty dispute on the islands remains unresolved with Vietnam.
The Route through Qu?ng Nam map depicting Bãi Cát Vàng - the Golden Sandbank - off the coast of Qu?ng Nam, 1634
Atlas produced by Belgian geographer Philippe Vandermaelen (1795-1869), published in 1827 in Belgium, showing Paracel Islands is a part of Vietnam
1460-1497, under the reign of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông, the Vietnamese began conducting commercial activities on and around Hoàng Sa, including harvesting abundant sea-products and conducting salvage operations on shipwrecks.
In 1634, under the Lê dynasty (1527-1786), the ship Grootebroek of the Dutch East India Company sank in the vicinity of the Paracel archipelago. Using a small boat, captain Huijch Jansen and 12 sailors managed to reach Annam, territory of Lord Nguy?n Phc Nguyên (1613-1635), to seek rescue for other castaways remained on the islands.
1680-1705, Lord Tr?nh C?n instructed Bá Công o to publish Thiên Nam t? chí l? (), an encyclopedia consists of 4 series of maps that detail routes from Th?ng Long, capital of i Vi?t, to other countries in the Southeast Asia. Part of this work was based on the H?ng c Atlas (H?ng c B?n ) developed during the time of Emperor Lê Thánh Tông (1460-1497). This encyclopedia was considered one of the oldest and rarely preserved Vietnamese documents regarding the islands. The volume "ng t? ph? Ph?ng Thiên n Chiêm Thành" (The Route to Champa from Ph?ng Thiên Province), remarkably described the archipelago with maps. For instance, a statement found in the volume read "In the middle of the sea, there is a long sandbank called Bãi Cát Vàng, which is approximately 400-league long and 20-league wide rising up above the sea." Bãi Cát Vàng means Hoàng Sa, Golden Sandbank.
In the 18th century, under instructions of the Nguy?n Lords, the salvage operations officially started with the formation of Hoàng Sa and B?c H?i Companies. Their responsibility was to carry out the mission at Hoàng Sa (Golden Sandbank) and V?n Lý Trng Sa (Ten-thousand-league Long Sandbank) respectively. This effort was continued thereafter with successive establishments of other naval task units in accordance with strategic policies toward the two archipelagos under the Nguy?n dynasty. Noticeably, a number of naval battles between the Dutch fleet and the Nguy?n Royal Navy occurred in 1643 and 1644. The Hoàng Sa naval task unit consisted of 70 men recruited from An V?nh and An H?i villages of Qu?ng Ngãi, while the majority of members of the B?c H?i Company came from Bình Thu?n province.
In 1776, the Ph? Biên T?p L?c (?), the Miscellaneous Records on the Pacification of the Frontiers, published by Lê Quý ?ôn, a philosopher, an encyclopaedist, and a Minister of Construction of the Lê dynasty (1527-1786). These six volumes detail the Nguy?n dynasty's territories, including the exploitation of the Paracel and Spratly Islands from 1702 onwards.
1777-1784, when traveling to Cochin China, Father Jean-Baptiste Grosier recorded his impression about maritime activities of the Vietnamese from Hu?, ?à N?ng, and Qu?ng Ngãi. The abbot Grosier wrote that the people from those ports were excellent and cleverest navigators in this Kingdom. One of their activities was making long-distance sailing every year to the long chain of islands and rocks known as the Paracels to collect debris from shipwrecks.
The Royal Ordinance issued by Emperor Minh M?ng, 1835
i Nam Th?ng Nh?t Toàn - The Unified i Nam Complete Map (1838) - distinctly delineated Hoàng Sa and V?n Lý Trng Sa at the far right margin
1880 German map of Southeast Asia, locating the Paracel Islands as part of "Annam" (Vietnam)
1802-1820, under the reign of Emperor Gia Long, the territory of his kingdom included Tonkin, Cochin China, part of Cambodia, and "certain islands off the coast including the well known Paracels which bear such an evil reputation as a source of danger to navigation in the China Seas."
In 1807, the East India Company sent Captain Daniel Ross to Cochin China to survey the Paracel Islands. Upon arriving to the kingdom, he presented a letter of introduction entrusted by the English company to the reigning king, who was believed to be Emperor Gia Long at that time. Subsequently, Captain Ross completed chartering the south coast of China in 1807, the Paracel Islands in 1808, part of the coast of Cochin China in 1809, and the coast of Palawan in 1810. Most notably, in his surveys published in 1821 under the title "(South) China Sea, Sheet I & II", the Spratly Islands was referred to as The Dangerous Ground, and was later renamed as Storm Island on the 1859 edition of the chart. Separately, in another document, the "Correct Chart of the China Sea", published by Herbert in 1758, the Paracel archipelago was described as a long group of islands and reefs extending from 13 to 17 degrees North, which approximately correspond to the geographic latitudes of the present-day Spratly and Paracel Islands, respectively. It is quite clearly that the captain himself, and probably most navigators of his time, did not differentiate the two archipelagos, but instead had delineated the present-day Spratly Islands as part of the Paracels. Captain Daniel Ross was a well known hydrographer of the Navy of Government of English Bengal and founder of the Bombay Geographical Society.
In 1815, Emperor Gia Long ordered Ph?m Quang Anh's Hoàng Sa naval task unit to sail to the islands to make surveys and report on maritime routes and draw up maps.
In 1816, according to Jean-Baptiste Chaigneau, Emperor Gia Long officially claimed the sovereignty of the Paracel Islands, which would include the present-day Spratly archipelago. These two islands were later delineated distinctly under the reign of his successor, Emperor Minh M?ng. Chaigneau was one of the most respected advisors to Emperor Gia Long. He spent more than 30 years in Cochinchina and became the first French Consul to this kingdom in 1821.
In 1821, the L?ch tri?u hi?n chng lo?i chí () published by Phan Huy Chú, a historian, an encyclopaedist, and an officer of the Ministry of Construction in the time of emperor Minh M?ng. This remarkable work was prepared in 10 years (1809-1819) and consisted of 10 volumes. One of them, the a D? Chí volume, details territories of Dai Nam Kingdom. In 1838, he published the i Nam Th?ng Nh?t Toàn , the Unified i Nam Complete Map, that distinctly delineated V?n Lý Trng Sa (the Ten-thousand-league Long Sandbank) and Hoàng Sa (the Golden Sandbank).
In 1827, a world atlas produced by Belgian geographer Philippe Vandermaelen was published in Belgium. Vietnam was described by four maps in this atlas. One of these maps has the title "Partie de la Cochinchine", in which Paracel Islands was included, indicating that it was part of Cochinchine (southern Vietnam region). The map also featured geography, politics, minerals and statistics about the Empire of An Nam (former name of Vietnam). Moreover, the map titled "Partie de la Chine" in the atlas had identified Hainan Island as the southernmost point of China at that time.
In 1833, Emperor Minh M?ng ordered Ministry of Construction to build a temple, erect steles, and plant many trees on the islands for navigation purposes.
In 1834, Emperor Minh M?ng ordered Trng Phúc S?, a naval task unit commander, accompanied by 21 men sailing to the islands to survey and draw map of Hoàng Sa.
In 1835, Emperor Minh M?ng issued a royal ordinance to order 24 troops to the Paracel Islands. The royal ordinance has been preserved by generations of ng family and was publicly disclosed in early 2009.
In 1835, the King ordered Ph?m V?n Nguyên's naval task unit, accompanied by workers from Bình nh and Quãng Ngãi provinces, to build Hoàng Sa temple with a wind screen and erect steles on Bàn Than Th?ch (Bàn Than Rock) of the present-day Woody Island. The mission was completed in 10 days. Notably, about 33m southwest from the erection, there was a little ancient temple where a stele engraved with the words "V?n Lý Ba Bình" found. This inscription means Ten Thousand Leagues of Calming Waves. The date of the actual erection of the ancient temple remains unknown
In 1836, Emperor Minh M?ng received a report from his Ministry of Construction that recommended a comprehensive survey of all the East Sea islands because of their "great strategic importance to our maritime borders." The King ordered Ph?m H?u Nh?t, a royal navy commander, to erect a wooden stele on the islands. The post was engraved with the following inscription: The 17th of the reign of Minh M?ng by the royal ordinance commander of the navy Ph?m H?u Nh?t came here to Hoàng Sa for reconnaissance to make topographical measurements and leave this stele as record thereof.
In 1838, Bishop Jean-Louis Taberd published the "Latin-Annamese Dictionary". The dictionary contains the "An Nam i Qu?c H?a " (The Great Annam Map). In the neighborhood of the present-day coordinate of the islands, words found on the map read "Paracel seu Cát Vàng" (Paracel or Cát Vàng). Cát Vàng means Hoàng Sa, Golden Sands or Golden Sandbank.
In 1842, Hai Lu Do Chi, a historical Chinese document was written in the 22nd year of the reign of the Daoguang Emperor (1820-1850) of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912) of China. A statement found in this book read: Wang Li Shi Tang (?) is a sandbank rising above the sea. Several thousand leagues in length, it forms a rampart on the periphery of the Kingdom of Annam. Wang Li Shi Tang means Ten-thousand-league Long Sandbank.
The 1887 Chinese-Vietnamese Boundary convention signed between France and China after the Sino-French War stated that China was the owner of the Spratly and Paracel islands.
1895-1896, German vessel Bellona and Japanese ship Himeji Maru sank at the islands. Chinese fishermen looted and resold them at Hainan. These countries protested but local Chinese authorities, the Governor of Liang Guang, denied any responsibilities on the ground that the Paracels were abandoned and belonged to neither country.
There are some Chinese cultural relics in the Paracel islands dating from the Tang and Song eras,[note 1] and there is some evidence of Chinese habitation on the islands during these periods. According to the Wujing Zongyao, a book published in the Northern Song dynasty in 1044, the Song government then included the Islands in the patrol areas of the Navy of the Court.
In 1279, the Yuan dynasty emperor sent the high-level official and astronomer, Guo Shoujing, to the South China Sea to survey and measure the islands and the surrounding sea area. Guo's base of survey was located in the Paracel Islands. His activities were recorded in the Yuan Shi, or History of Yuan. According to the Yuan Shi, the South China Sea islands were within the boundary of the Yuan dynasty. Maps published in the Yuan era invariably included the Changsha (the Paracels) and the Shitang (the Spratlys) within the domain of Yuan.
Relevant local annals and other historic materials of the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1912) dynasties continued to make reference to the South China Sea islands as China's territory. The Qiongzhou Prefecture (the highest administrative authority in Hainan), exercised jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
In the 19th century, Europeans found that Chinese fishermen from Hainan annually sojourned on the Paracel and Spratly Islands for part of the year. For three months each year between 1881 and 1884, the German Imperial Navy sent two boats (the ship Freya and the warship Iltis) to study and map the Paracel Islands without either seeking the permission of or incurring protest by the Chinese government. This mission was finished without any problems and the German Admiralty published the results in 1885 in a document called "Die Paracel-Inseln" (The Paracel Islands).
In 1909, Zhang Renjun (Chinese: ), the Viceroy of Liangguang, ordered Guangdong Fleet Admiral Li Zhun () to sail to the Paracel Islands. In June, with over 170 sailors in three warships named Fubo (), Guangjin () and Shenhang (), he inspected 15 islands, erected stone tablets engraved with each island's name, raised China's flag and fired cannons to declare the islands "sacred territory of China", which France did not protest. In 1910, the Qing government decided to invite Chinese merchants to contract for the administration of the development affairs of the South China Sea islands, and demanded that officials shall provide protection and maintenance in order to highlight Chinese territory and protect its titles and interests.
After the fall of the Qing dynasty, the new Government of Guangdong Province decided to place the Paracel Islands under the jurisdiction of the Ya Xian County of Hainan Prefecture in 1911. The Southern Military Government in 1921 reaffirmed the 1911 decision. China continued to exercise authority over the South China Sea islands by such means as granting licenses or contracts to private Chinese merchants for the development and exploitation of guano and other resources on those islands and protesting against foreign nations' claims, occupations, and other activities. For example, in May 1928, the Guangdong provincial government sent a naval vessel, the Hai-jui (), with an investigation team organized by the provincial government and Sun Yat-Sen University to investigate and survey the islets, after which the investigation team produced a detailed Report of Surveys on the Paracel Islands.
On July27, 1932, the Chinese Foreign Ministry instructed the Chinese Envoy to France to lodge a diplomatic protest to the French Foreign Ministry and to deny France's claims to the Paracel Islands. On November 30 of the same year, Zhu Zhaoshen, a high-level inspection official of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, issued public correspondence Number 66 to the French Consul in Guangzhou, reiterating that "it is absolutely beyond doubt that the Xisha [Paracel] Islands fall within the boundary of China". Despite repeated Chinese protests, French troops, who had colonized French Indochina in the 19th century, invaded and occupied the Paracel Islands on July 3, 1938. This took place shortly after the breakout of the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the armed forces of China and Japan were busy elsewhere. Three days later, on July 6, the Japanese Foreign Ministry also issued a declaration in protest of the French occupation:[This quote needs a citation]
The statement of Great Britain and France made respectively in 1900 and 1921 already declared that the Xisha [Paracel] Islands were part of the Administrative Prefecture of Hainan Island. Therefore, the current claims made by An'nam or France to the Xisha Islands are totally unjustifiable.
During the Second World War, the Japanese expelled the French troops and took over the islands in spite of the 1938 declarations. The Spratlys and the Paracels were conquered by Japan in 1939. Japan administered the Spratlys via Taiwan's jurisdiction and the Paracels via Hainan's jurisdiction. The Paracels and Spratlys were handed over to Republic of China control after the 1945 surrender of Japan,:124 since the Allied powers had assigned the Republic of China to receive Japanese surrenders in that area. At the end of the war (Asian-Pacific Region), Nationalist China formally retook the Paracels, Spratlys and other islands in the South China Sea in October and November 1946. In the Geneva accord of 1954 Japan formally renounced all of its claims to, inter alia, the South China Sea islands which it had occupied during the World War II. After WW2 ended, the Republic of China was the "most active claimant". The Republic of China then garrisoned Woody Island in the Paracels in 1946 and posted Chinese flags and markers on it; France tried, but failed, to make them leave Woody island. The aim of the Republic of China was to block the French claims. In December 1947, the Republic of China drew up a map showing its eleven-dotted line U shaped claim to the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel Islands as Chinese territory.
In the 1910-20s, the French Ministry of Colonies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed that the Paracel Islands were under Chinese sovereignty, and that France should not try to claim them, either on behalf of itself, or Annam. Therefore, France did not protest in 1921 when the government of Guangdong province declared the Paracels to be under the administration of Hainan Island. 5 years later in 1926, France refused an application from a French company to exploit guano in the Paracels. It also refused a similar application from a Japanese company.
In 1932, France nonetheless formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly Islands. China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France seized the Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included them in French Indochina, and built a couple of weather stations on them.
In 1938 Japan took the islands from France, garrisoned them, and built a submarine base at Itu Aba (now Taiping / ) Island. In 1941, the Japanese Empire made the Paracel and Spratly islands part of Taiwan, then under its rule.
After World War II, Nationalist China reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, and dispatched a patrol force to the islands, but this was challenged by the French.
After the fall of the nationalist regime in China in 1949, the PRC gained control of the eastern half of the Paracel islands. Several small clashes occurred between the French and the communist Chinese naval forces during this period, but eventually a de facto line of control was established with the PRC occupying Woody Island, while the remainder was held by Franco-Vietnamese forces.
In 1951, at the international Treaty of San Francisco conference, Vietnam's representative claimed that both the Paracels and Spratlys are territories of Vietnam, and was met with no challenge from all nations at the event. However, neither the PRC nor the ROC participated in the conference. Separately, the ROC negotiated and signed its own treaty with Japan regarding the islands on April 29, 1952.
In 1954, according to the Geneva Agreements, which were signed by a number of nations including the PRC, Vietnam was partitioned into two states, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The 17th parallel was used as the provisional military demarcation line, which was effectively extended into the territorial waters. The Paracel archipelago lies south of this line and belongs to South Vietnam accordingly.
In 1956, after the French withdrawal from Vietnam, South Vietnam replaced French control of the islands. By February 1956, the South Vietnamese Navy was already stationed on Pattle Island by Ngô ?ình Di?m. Again, both the PRC and ROC politically and diplomatically condemned the decision and reaffirmed their claims to the islands. Although the South Vietnamese "inherited" the French claim to the entire Paracel Islands, the period was peaceful, and both sides held onto what was in their control without venturing into other's domain. At this time, maps and other official documents of the North Vietnam government asserted that the islands belonged to the PRC, mainly due to the fact that the PRC was the largest supporter of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
On September 4, 1958, the government of the PRC proclaimed the breadth of its territorial sea to be twelve nautical miles (22 km) which applied to all its territory, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Ten days later, the prime minister of North Vietnam, Ph?m V?n ng, in his letter to Zhou Enlai stated that his government had recognized the declaration of the PRC government.
On January 19, 1974, the Battle of the Paracel Islands occurred between the PRC and South Vietnam. After the battle, the PRC took control over the entire Paracel Islands.
In a statement released on 13 July 1999 by the foreign ministry of Taiwan, under President Lee Teng-hui stated that "legally, historically, geographically, or in reality", all of the South China Sea and the islands were Taiwan's territory and under Taiwanese sovereignty. The ROC's and the PRC's claims "mirror" each other. Taiwan and China are largely strategically aligned on the islands issue, since they both claim exactly the same area, so Taiwan's claims are viewed[by whom?] as an extension of China's claims. Taiwan and China both claim the entire island chains, while all the other claimants only claim portions of them, and China has proposed cooperation with Taiwan against all the other countries claiming the islands, such as Vietnam. China has urged Taiwan to cooperate and offered Taiwan a share in oil and gas resources while shutting out all the other rival claimants. Board director Chiu Yi of Taiwan's state run oil company, CPC Corp, has named Vietnam as the "greatest threat" to Taiwan. The United States has regularly ignored Taiwan's claims in the South China Sea and does not include Taiwan in any talks on dispute resolution for the area.
21st-century events and land reclamation
In July 2012 the National Assembly of Vietnam passed a law demarcating Vietnamese sea borders to include the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
In response to the Vietnamese move,[dubious – discuss] Beijing announced the establishment of the prefecture-level city of Sansha covering the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
The Philippines and Vietnam promptly lodged diplomatic protests strongly opposing the establishment of the Sansha City under Chinese jurisdiction.
In April 2013, a representative from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry's National Boundary Commission gave a diplomatic note to a representative of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi demanding that China cancel its plan to bring tourists to the Paracel archipelago.
According to reports, at the beginning of May 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese naval vessels collided near the islands as Hanoi sought to prevent a Chinese oil rig from setting up in the area. On May 26, a Vietnamese fishing boat sank near the oil rig, after colliding with a Chinese vessel. As both sides imputed the blame to each other, Vietnam released a video footage in a week later, showing a Chinese vessel ramming into its ship before it sank; the Chinese said they were on the defensive while Vietnamese vessels were attacking the Chinese fishing boats.
[when?]Taiwan rejected all rival claims to the Paracel islands amidst the standoff, repeating its position that all of the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, Macclesfield Bank and Pratas Islands belong to the Republic of China along with "their surrounding waters and respective seabed and subsoil", and that Taiwan views both Vietnam and mainland China's claims as illegitimate. This statement was released by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which added - "There is no doubt that the Republic of China has sovereignty over the archipelagos and waters."
In January 2016, photographs emerged that indicate that China is reclaiming land and expanding military facilities in the Paracels, including at Duncan Island, North Island, and Tree Island. Commentators have likened this work to the initial stages of China's large-scale construction in the Spratly Islands.
On July 12, 2016, an arbitral tribunal under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague backed the Philippines in an arbitration proceedings against China's claim on the territories within the "nine-dash line" which include the Paracel Islands, saying that it is unlawful under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The tribunal argued that there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources, hence there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" over the nine-dash line. The ruling however was rejected by both China and Taiwan.
In February 2017, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported that Chinese authorities had carried out land reclamation on 20 reefs, thus establishing 20 Chinese outposts so far. These include Duncan Island and Drummond Island which also have small helipads. Of these, three were capable of berthing small naval and commercial merchant ships. Vietnam had responded to this by expanding its already existing facilities on some of the Spratly islands occupied by it.
^ [Ministry of Public Affairs Announcement: State Council Ratification on the Establishment of Shashi City] (in Chinese). Ministry of Civil Affairs (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China). June 21, 2012. Archived from the original on June 25, 2012. Retrieved 2014.
^Jones, Gareth Wyn (2002). "Provinces". In Boland-Crewe, Tara; Lea, David (eds.). The Territories of the People's Republic of China. London: Europa Publications. p. 101. ISBN978-0-203-40311-2.