Background Brief

Paracel Islands: A Sovereignty
Claim Too Far?
Carlyle A. Thayer
January 17, 2014

[cllenL name deleLed]
We seek your assessmenL abouL vleLnam' soverelgnLy clalm over Þaracel lslands. We
requesL your analysls of Lhe followlng lssues:
C1) ln your oplnlon, whaL should Lhe vleLnam governmenL do Lo advance lLs
soverelgnLy clalm over Lhe Þaracel lslands, especlally ln llghL of lncreaslngly
provocaLlve acLlon by Chlnese auLhorlLeles?
AnSWL8: vleLnam has Lhree opLlons relaLlng Lo lLs clalm of soverelgnLy over Lhe
Þaracel lslands: llrsL, lL can accepL Lhe facL LhaL Chlna occuples and admlnlsLers Lhe
Þaracels. Second, vleLnam can conLlnue Lo asserL lLs clalm Lo soverelgnLy Lhrough
pollLlcal and dlplomaLlc means. 1hlrd, vleLnam could aLLempL Lo re-Lake Lhe Þaracel
lslands by mlllLary force.
1he only reallsLlc opLlon ls Lhe second one. ln order Lo keep lLs clalms Lo soverelgnLy
over Lhe Þaracel lslands allve vleLnam musL proLesL each and every acL by Chlna LhaL
bolsLers Chlna clalms Lo soverelgnLy. lor example, when Palnan provlnce lssued new
flshlng regulaLlons wlLh effecL from !anuary 1, lf vleLnam dld noL proLesL Lhls acL Lhls
would be vlewed ln lnLernaLlonal law as acqulescence Lo Chlna's acLlon.
ConfllcLlng soverelgnLy clalms can only be resolved ln lnLernaLlonal law Lhrough Lhe
consenL of boLh parLles. Chlna wlll noL dlscuss Lhe dlspuLe over Lhe Þaracel lslands
wlLh vleLnam. 1he longer Chlna occuples and admlnlsLers Lhe Þaracel lslands Lhe
sLronger Chlna's case becomes ln lnLernaLlonal law. lf vleLnam perslsLs ln keeplng lLs
soverelgnLy clalm allve, Lhls opens Lhe posslblllLy however lmprobable, LhaL Chlna
mlghL aL some fuLure polnL ln Llme dlscuss Lhe lssue wlLh vleLnam. ln Lhls case,
however remoLe, Lhere ls Lhe posslblllLy LhaL Lhe Lwo sldes could agree Lo Lake Lhelr
dlspuLe Lo Lhlrd parLy arblLraLlon such as Lhe lnLernaLlonal CourL of !usLlce.
Clven Lhe dlsparlLy ln economlc and mlllLary power vleLnam could noL hope Lo
recover Lhe Þaracel lslands by mlllLary force.
C2) WhaL long-Lerm sLraLegy should vleLnam adopL Lo advance lLs soverelgnLy
clalm? WhaL can vleLnam reallsLlcally hope Lo obLaln by conLlnually asserLlng lL clalm
Lo soverelgnLy and argulng LhaL Lhe Þaracels were selzed by Chlna lllegally?
AnSWL8: vleLnam and Chlna should falLhfully lmplemenL Lhe Culdellnes on
lundamenLal Þrlnclples for Lhe SeLLlemenL of MarlLlme ulspuLes. vleLnam should
Thayer Consultancy
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keep lLs clalms Lo soverelgnLy over Lhe Þaracel lslands allve Lhrough pollLlcal and
dlplomaLlc means. AL Lhe same Llme, and wlLhouL pre[udlce Lo Lhelr soverelgnLy
clalms, Chlna and vleLnam should enLer ln flshery cooperaLlon agreemenL so
vleLnamese flshermen can flsh ln waLers around Lhe Þaracel lslands. vleLnam should
use dlplomaLlc means Lo geL Chlna's concurrence Lo dlscuss ln advance any
admlnlsLraLlve or legal acLlon LhaL Chlna ls conslderlng and lLs lmpacL on relaLlons
wlLh vleLnam.
C3) WhaL ls your suggesLlon abouL Lhe ways Lo fosLer connecLlons beLween Lhe
governmenL of vleLnam and researchers Lo advance vleLnam's efforLs Lo asserL
soverelgnLy over Lhe Þaracel lslands?
AnSWL8: 1he vleLnamese governmenL has funded flve lnLernaLlonal sclenLlflc
workshops on Lhe LasL Sea lnvolvlng vleLnamese and forelgn scholars. LasL year
Þham van uong unlverslLy held a conference on Lhe LasL Sea lnvolvlng many
vleLnamese researchers and forelgn scholars. 1hls was slgnlflcanL because lmporLanL
lnformaLlon on Lhe uol Poang Sa (Poang Sa 8rlgade) was presenLed. lorelgn scholars
were also Laken Lo Ly Son lsland. l recommend LhaL slmllar conferences conLlnue,
each wlLh a speclflc focus Lo examlne key lssues ln vleLnam's clalms Lo soverelgnLy.
1hls year 1on uuc 1hang unlverslLy ln Po Chl Mlnh ClLy wlll also hosL an lnLernaLlonal
ln addlLlon, vleLnam has held many semlnars and workshops wlLh vleLnamese
researchers. Þerhaps now ls Lhe Llme Lo hold a serles of lnLernal workshops lnvolvlng
vleLnamese researchers aL home and abroad, parLlcularly Lhose wlLh knowledge of
Lhe former Salgon admlnlsLraLlon. vleLnam should also conslder hosLlng a workshop
by vleLnamese and Chlnese hlsLorlans Lo revlew Lhe 1974 baLLle for Lhe Þaracels.
All of Lhese workshops and conferences should publlsh research papers LhaL were
presenLed. 1hls can be done on Lhe web, Lhrough uvu and ln book form. 1hls has
been done wlLh respecL Lo prevlous conferences and publlshlng academlc research
should conLlnue. ln order Lo be successful Lhere should be a long-Lerm research plan
LhaL sysLemaLlcally revlews all Lhe key lssues.
C4) Can vleLnam counL on Lhe supporL from Lhe lnLernaLlonal communlLy? Why?
Whlch counLrles are wllllng Lo help, provlde resources and supporL vleLnam?
AnSWL8: AfLer vleLnam [olned ASLAn lL [olned Lhe prolonged and unsuccessful
dlscusslons beLween Chlna and ASLAn on a Code of ConducL ln Lhe SouLh Chlna Sea
(CCC). ln facL, ln early 2000 boLh Chlna and ASLAn exchanged Lhelr drafLs for Lhe
CCC and a worklng group was seL up Lo merge Lhem. A number of dlsagreemenLs
arose LhaL could noL be resolved. 1hls led Lo Lhe adopLlon of Lhe ueclaraLlon on
ConducL of ÞarLles ln Lhe SouLh Chlna Sea (uCC) ln november 2002. Cne of Lhe maln
lssues ln dlspuLe was Lhe geographlc scope of Lhe CCC. vleLnam wanLed Lo lnclude
Lhe Þaracel lslands, Chlna refused. lL ls clear from Lhls LhaL all Lhe oLher ASLAn sLaLes
vlew vleLnam's clalms Lo Lhe Þaracel lslands as a bllaLeral maLLer beLween Chlna and
lL ls my assessmenL LhaL Lhe lnLernaLlonal communlLy would llke Lo see Lhe
soverelgnLy dlspuLe beLween vleLnam and Chlna over Lhe Þaracels lslands resolved
peacefully wlLhouL coerclon or Lhe LhreaL of force under lnLernaLlonal law. ln Lhe
meanLlme, under lnLernaLlonal law, lf Lhere ls a soverelgnLy dlspuLe over LerrlLory,
parLles Lo Lhe dlspuLe are obllged noL Lo Lake unllaLeral acLlon and are furLher
obllged Lo cooperaLe wlLh one anoLher. Chlna ls unllkely Lo recognlze LhaL Lhere ls a
soverelgnLy dlspuLe wlLh vleLnam over Lhe Þaracel lslands. 1hls makes lL very dlfflculL
lf noL lmposslble for reglonal sLaLes Lo become dlrecLly lnvolved.
lf we Lake Lhe example of lnLernaLlonal reacLlon Lo Lhe promulgaLlon of new flshlng
rules ln Lhe SouLh Chlna Sea by Palnan provlnce auLhorlLles, we can see LhaL only a
few counLrles ob[ecLed - Lhe Þhlllpplnes, 1alwan, !apan and Lhe unlLed SLaLes. 1hls ls
an lndlcaLlon LhaL Lhe elghL oLher members of ASLAn, whlle noL approvlng of Chlna's
acLlons, do noL wanL Lo become lnvolved. MosL of Lhese counLrles are concerned noL
Lo provoke Chlna. none are Lherefore llkely Lo provlde resources and supporL Lo

SuggesLed clLaLlon: Carlyle A. 1hayer, ºÞaracel lslands: A SoverelgnLy Clalm 1oo
lar?," 1hayer ConsulLancy 8ackground 8rlef, !anuary 17, 2014. All background brlefs
are posLed on (search for 1hayer). 1o remove yourself from Lhe malllng
llsL Lype unSu8SC8l8L ln Lhe Sub[ecL headlng and hlL Lhe 8eply key.
1hayer ConsulLancy provldes pollLlcal analysls of currenL reglonal securlLy lssues and
oLher research supporL Lo selecLed cllenLs. 1hayer ConsulLancy was offlclally
reglsLered as a small buslness ln AusLralla ln 2002.

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