On the first point, no abandonment can be discerned in legal terms. Indeed, in the last decade(before the War), there was even an affirmation or reaffirmation of France’s rights. Yet the long period of French uncertainty or hesitation put the Vietnamese title on ice as it were and theremust be a question mark over its vitality after thawing out.Apart from the diplomatic correspondence, the legal force of other elements of the case needs to be weighed up. An example is a report by Chief Engineer Gauthier dated 26 November 1937 atHaiphong,
It gives an account of a civilian mission aimed at displaying France’s interest inthe Paracels.
True, from start to finish, the text of the report reveals,
on that date
(1937), hisignorance of the ancient links between these islands and Vietnam and for him the archipelago isnot under French jurisdiction… or Chinese jurisdiction either for that matter. This administrativereport is not binding on the official authorities. By entrusting Gauthier with this mission, theseauthorities, in other words the Governor-General, clearly had the exercise of French sovereigntyin mind.
By the time of the Decree of 15 June 1938 administratively attaching the Paracelsto Indochina, the exercise became completely official.
The fact that the maps of Indochina printed by France throughout this whole period do notinclude the archipelagos must also be interpreted. All the available maps drawn up during this period, more particularly the aeronautical and climatic maps, those relating to typhoons, do notgo as far as the Paracels or mention them without any indication of sovereignty. None of them provides the slightest pointer.
It is easy to see why. French uncertainties were long-standing… they did not create a favourableclimate for producing maps in support of an assertion of French sovereignty.Furthermore, at that time no-one even considered the cartographic argument, since by virtue of well-established case-law (arbitration in the Island of Palmas or Temple of Preah Vihear cases),
international law held that, in disputes regarding sovereignty between States, maps have noofficial value.
Hence, the title, which was nevertheless ultimately reclaimed by France, emerged from this period less strongly asserted. Yet it cannot possibly be said that it was destroyed, as twoadditional remarks support the conclusion that, in 1939, this title was still valid, held by thecolonial power. That power did not perform the act of abandonment which, by creating a rightfor a third State, made abandonment irreversible. The colonial power was ignorant, prudent toexcess, yet it remained keenly aware of its interests.When it finally regained independence, the Vietnamese people had no cause to adopt suchreticence or ignorance, which could not be imputed to it.
The decrees of the recent period areessential.
Confronted by the difficult, chaotic yet genuine maintenance of this title, China, the only truerival power, and only as regards the Paracels, was slow off the mark and unsuccessful.The exercise of the previous title, constructed patiently and at such length, was paralysed as aresult of the colonial period and the administration of the islands was very sporadic. However,