Vietnamese and people from all over the world
United Nations General Secretary
United Nations Rule of Law Unit
United Nations First Committee (Disarmament and International Security)
International Court of Justice
19th January 2014
January 19th this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the China’s seizure of the Paracel archipelago.
In the context of recent tensions, notably in the East China Sea following the establishment by China of an “Air Defense Identification Zone”, we would like firstly to draw your attention on this anniversary with the hope that history will help us understand the present and thereby better predict the future for the sake of a peaceful world. Secondly, we would like on this occasion to remind the importance of respect for international law, as a cornerstone of world peace and stability. Promoting the rule of law at the international level is at the heart of the United Nations’ mission. As world citizens, we feel compelled to share part of this responsibility.
According to numerous historical documents, before the French colonization in 1884, Vietnam enjoyed undisputed sovereignty on the Paracel archipelago, without any rivalry, for nearly two centuries. During the period of French colonization in Vietnam, France clearly and strongly asserted sovereignty over the archipelago.
During the post-colonial period and the years of the Vietnam War, from 1956 to 1975, Vietnam was divided in two parts on either side of the 17th parallel by the 1954 Geneva Accords. The Paracel archipelago, lying south of this line, naturally came under the sovereignty of the Republic of Vietnam. The Government of the Republic of Vietnam never departed from a clear and well stated intention to maintain its sovereignty over the archipelago. It maintained military contingents there ever since French troops withdrew from Indochina.
On January 15, 1974, Beijing landed troops in the western islands of the Paracel archipelago and in the following days reinforced its operation by a strong maritime deployment.
On January 19 and 20, 1974, China attacked and completely took over the islands after fierce fighting against the forces of the Republic of Vietnam.
After these acts of extreme violence, the Republic of Vietnam’s observer at the United Nations requested the review of the matter by the Security Council of the United Nations. In a diplomatic note sent to all signatories of the Paris Accords, the administration of the Republic of Vietnam requested a special session of the Security Council. Yet China, due to its veto in the Security Council, blocked all efforts to open a debate on the issue.
Ever since, Vietnam, reunited after 1975, continued to clearly assert its sovereignty over the Paracel archipelago. Despite all these challenges, China continues occupying the whole archipelago and develops there considerable infrastructures.
The Chinese military intervention in 1974 on the Paracel archipelago constitutes an obvious breach of international law, including the principle according to which all international disputes must be settled exclusively by pacific means. This principle, originally enshrined in the 1928 Briand-Kellogg Pact has been solemnly reaffirmed on number of occasions since then in the framework of the United Nations. Hence, the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States unambiguously states that “[e]very State has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate the existence of another State or as a means of settling international disputes on international borders, including territorial disputes and problems concerning the borders of States.”
There is nevertheless no lack of means to find a solution to the dispute over the Paracel archipelago, one of them being the submission of the dispute to the International Court of Justice. However, Beijing has turned a deaf ear to all proposals in this direction. If China continuously asserts the strength of evidence of its sovereignty over the archipelago, why does it not agree to submit the case to the most appropriate organization for resolving such disputes between States?
Reference to the United Nations Security Council, whose competences in that respect flow from Article 33 (and more generally Chapter VI) of the Charter could be another mean to move towards a peaceful settlement of that dispute.
But here too, China prevented any initiative of the Security Council, in particular in 1974, or after in 1988, when Vietnam attempted to make a similar call to the Council.
The use of force, the threat to use force, and the refusal to negotiate or to submit the dispute to settlement by an international court are obviously not actions and behaviors in favor of a peaceful and stable world.
We therefore firmly urge China to comply with international law and to accept the submission of the Paracel archipelago dispute to the arbitration of the International Court of Justice.
The world witnessed in the past terrible sufferings as nations for the sake of their own benefit did not respect the basic principles of international law. No one wishes such situations to recur.
January 19, 2014, the 40th anniversary of the China’s seizure of the Paracel archipelago, is an occasion for the whole world to look back and for the parties to correct mistakes made in the past. Let us do all for a world of peace, stability and justice, where each nation respects international rules.
Vietnamese and people from all over the world