International Legal Expert Urges China to Settle the Paracel Occupation Issue with Vietnam

A leading foreign expert on China’s legal system is urging Beijing to open bilateral talks with Hanoi over the disputed Paracel Islands.

The islands disputed between China and Vietnam. China used force to remove Vietnamese troops from Paracel in 1974, currently under full Chinese occupation

Islets of Paracel Islands (noted that most names are French because the French accurately explored,measured and mapped the islets during their Protectorate of Vietnam Empire from 1859-1949 (date of initial French invasion and date of independence of Vietnam recognized by the French government.)

The Paracel Islands are wisps of atolls and pretentious lumps of sand right off the coasts of China and Vietnam. Some of them would fit in the average mall's parking lot, none of them would take up more room than a major American airport.

A settlement could help ease “dangerous” tensions in the South China Sea and promote similar deals with other claimants, he said.

Professor Jerome Cohen, director of the US-Asia Law Institute at the New York University School of Law, said yesterday he believed a new leader such as Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is expected to replace Premier Wen Jiabao in March 2013, could find it easier than the present leadership to deal with such issues.

“All these countries are worried now,” Cohen told an audience at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent’s Club. China had made “a major blunder” over the South China Sea and would be looking to be reasonable.

“Everybody’s got to start making some concessions and let’s put the Chinese to the test,” he said, repeatedly mentioning the Paracels talks as an opening move. Do they really believe in peaceful settlement? There is a chance that they may.”

Noting Li’s legal training, Cohen added: “I think he could be persuaded. It is a lot easier for him to deal with this question than the issue of human rights in China.”

China wants territorial disputes in the South China Sea settled bilaterally, rather than the multilateral solutions demanded by smaller claimants – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

After settling complex border disputes on land and in the Tonkin Gulf with China, Vietnam has attempted to open talks over the Paracels with Beijing but has been snubbed. China said there was no dispute about its occupation of the islands. Only China and Vietnam claim the Paracels while the larger Spratlys chain to the south is claimed by all five countries. Taiwan’s claims mirror that of Beijing’s.

China’s forceful taking of the islands from an ailing South Vietnamese regime in 1974 had left a legacy of “tensions and resentment”, Cohen said.

“The occupying power is very reluctant to recognise there is a dispute – occupation is 90 per cent of the game,” he said.

He also noted the “inconsistency” of Japan’s refusal to discuss with China its occupation of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea while pushing for talks with Seoul over islands further north that are occupied by South Korea.

“The situation has reached a stage where countries have to be consistent with what they preach and what they practise,” Cohen said. “You can’t get away these days with a totally inconsistent posture.

Cohen has decades of involvement with China’s legal system and has extensive connections across several generations of leaders, despite being an outspoken critic of its human rights record.

Historical and Legal documents of Vietnamese occupation of Hoang Sa before Chinese invasion 1974:


Huu Nhat (Robert Island) belonging to the Hoang Sa Islands, was named after Pham Huu Nhat, the chief of the Hoang Sa flotilla.


Vietnam’s lighthouse on (Paracel) Hoang Sa before 1945.


The stele of sovereignty of Vietnam in Hoang Sa in 1930.


French-Vietnamese army saluting the flag on Hoang Sa before 1945.


Nguyen Giao, a staff member of the Hoang Sa meteorological division, measured temperature and humidity levels at Hoang Sa meteorological station.


Hoang Sa Islands with Vietnam’s military and meteorological facilities in 1968.


Vietnam’s administrative office on Hoang Sa before 1945.


Emperor Bao Dai approved commendation of officer in Hoang Sa in 1939

Emperor Bao Dai approved to grant the "Dragon Order of Annam" to a French officer serving in Hoang Sa in 1939the Hoang Sa in 1939


State of Vietnam approved meteorologic services in Hoang Sa in 1955

Emperor Minh Mang's Decree instructing the Hoang Sa Flotilla to build temples and trees in Hoang Sa in 1833.

Hoang Sa/Paracel under China’s occupation today:

China's Navy invaded Hoang Sa in 1974

Woody islets of Paracel islands.With even more creativity it’s possible to make airports big enough for fully-loaded military transports on some of the islands. The effect is a little like a snake swallowing an alligator sideways, though.

Chinese troops on Hoang Sa


By getting really creative it is possible to create swimming pool-like ports, mostly used by military vessels and so the owners hope, before long, oil tankers as well


This entry was posted in East Sea Dispute, History, International, Law, Politics, Vietnam, War. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>