Paracel Islands

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Paracel Islands
Disputed islands
Other names: Xisha Islands
Paracel Islands
Location South China Sea
Coordinates 16°30′N 112°00′E / 16.500°N 112.000°E / 16.500; 112.000
Total islands >30
Major islands Rocky Island, Tree Island, Woody Island
Area 15,000 km2 ocean surface (7.75 km2 land surface)
Coastline 518 kilometres (322 mi)
Highest point on Rocky Island
14 metres (46 ft)
Administered by
 People's Republic of China
Prefecture-level city

Claimed by
Municipality Kaohsiung
Province Da Nang
Population Over 1,000 (as of 2014)
Ethnic groups Chinese
Paracel Islands
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese 西沙群岛
Traditional Chinese 西沙群島
Literal meaning Western Sandy Islands
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Quần đảo Hoàng Sa
Location of Paracel Islands in relation to other disputed islands and neighbors, showing claims.[2]

The Paracel Islands, known as Xisha Islands in Chinese and as Hoàng Sa Archipelago in Vietnamese, is a group of islands in the South China Sea controlled by the People's Republic of China and claimed by Taiwan (Republic of China) and Vietnam.

The islands include over 30 islets, sandbanks and reefs over a maritime area of around 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi) with less than 8 square kilometres (3.1 sq mi) of land. The archipelago is approximately equidistant from the coastlines of Vietnam and China: 180 nautical miles (330 km; 210 mi) southeast of Hainan Island, and about one-third of the way between Central Vietnam to the northern Philippines.

The Paracel Islands consist of two main island groups: the Amphitrite Group in the northeast and the Crescent Group about 70 km (43 mi) to the southwest. China (PRC) took over the Amphitrite Group in 1950 from Taiwan (ROC) during the Chinese Civil War, and the Crescent Group from South Vietnam in the Battle of the Paracel Islands in January 1974. South Vietnam's claim to the islands was inherited by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which has ruled all of Vietnam since 1976. China established the city of Sansha, under Hainan Province in July 2012, to administer the islands.

The largest island of the Paracels, Woody Island, which is 2.13 km2 (0.82 sq mi) in area, has over 1,000 Chinese residents as of 2014 including fishermen and their families, military personnel and civilian administrators.[3] Turtles and seabirds are native to the islands, which have a hot and humid climate, abundant rainfall and frequent typhoons.[4] The archipelago is surrounded by productive fishing grounds and seabed with potential oil and gas reserves.


Geographic data[edit]

Panoramic image of Paracel Islands by NASA satellite.

Amphitrite Group[edit]

The Amphitrite group was named after the French frigate Amphitrite of the Jesuit missionary.[5][6][7] Lying in the most northeastern of the Paracel Islands, at the coordinates of 16.97 degrees North and 112.28 degrees East, the group consists of six low narrow islands with sand cays; enclosed shallow lagoons, connected by reefs of rock, and about 37 km (23 mi) northwest from Lincoln Island.

The northern section of the group comprises South Island, Middle Island, North Island, and Tree Island. The last of these lies toward the eastern tip of this section and coconut palm trees grow on the island. Together the four islands form the upper branch of a 22 km (14 mi) long ellipse of semimajor axis that orientates from approximately west to east. The southern section consists of two islands called Woody and Rocky Islands lying close to each other. The former is located approximately 5 km (3 mi) south of the southern tip of the eastern extremity of the northern section. This feature is the largest island of the Amphitrite group.

Crescent Group[edit]

Aerial photograph of the Crescent Group, Paracel Islands
Location of the Duncan Islands
Duncan Islands
Location of Drummond Island
Drummond Island
Location of Money Island
Money Island
Location of the Antelope Reef
Antelope Reef
Location of Robert Island
Robert Island
Location of the Pattle Island
Pattle Island
Location of the Observation Bank
Observation Bank
Crescent Group, looking westward

Lying about 70 km (43 mi) southwest of the Amphitrite group, at a latitude of 16.52 degrees North and longitude of 111.63 degrees East, this group consists of eight islands 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) from east to west and from north to south, respectively. All of the islands in the group support vegetation except on their small cays. Money Island lies at the southwest extremity of the group, at the axis of the crescent structure, and has some small cays in the southern side. 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 reef are the Robert and Pattle Islands, separated from each other by a 3.5 km (2.2 mi) wide deep channel. The latter is the largest island of the group; a lighthouse along with a radio and weather station were built there in 1937. The Observation Bank situated at the northernmost of the Crescent group contains a small cay and on the southeastern side lies a 12 km (7 mi) long boomerang shaped reef alongside Drummond Island. The last distinct feature of the atoll-like structure is the Duncan Islands group, which is approximately 3 km (2 mi) west of Drummond Island and about 8 km (5 mi) east of Antelope Island.

  • Pattle Islands
  • Money Island
  • Drummond Island
  • Duncan Islands

Other features[edit]

  • Bombay Reef: This elongated reef is situated at the southeastern corner of the Paracel Islands 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) from east to west and from north to south, respectively. Bombay Reef encloses a deep lagoon with rocks on its edge.
  • Bremen Bank: Located 24 km (15 mi) north of Bombay Reef, 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • Itis Bank: Located 11 km (7 mi) south of the Amphitrite Group, this shallow bank measures approximately 5 km (3 mi) in length with an average depth of 12 m (39 ft).
  • Lincoln Island: Surrounded by a coral reef, located 37 km (23 mi) southeast from the Amphitrite Group, the island is covered with brushes and fairly high trees, including coconut palm 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, the reef is the most northwesterly feature of the Paracel Islands. Most part of the reef is submerged. Ruggedly, rocks are around the edge and barely above water. There is a passage into the lagoon on the southwestern side of the reef.
  • 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, approximately 37 miles (60 km) east-northeast from Triton Island. The sand cay measures 9 km (6 mi) in length.
  • Triton Island: The sand cay supports vegetation and stands on a steep-sided coral reef measuring 1.5 km (1 mi) in length. This southernmost island of the Paracel Islands lies far away from the rest and is situated about 56 km (35 mi) southwest of Discovery Reef.
  • Vuladdore Reef: Mostly submerged, this reef is orientated from east to west and measures 12 km (7 mi) and approximately 3 km (2 mi) in length and width. Lying near the center of the Paracel Islands, this feature is locatedabout 18 km (11 mi) west-northwest of Discovery Reef. Some small spiral rocks are also to be seen on the reef.

List of all geographical entities with Chinese and Vietnamese names[edit]

EEZ line of Vietnam (green), and China's red dotted line correspond with each of the respective countries' claims to the Paracels
Depiction of existing locations of oil and gas extraction in the South China Sea as of 1998.
List of Paracel Islands (See map below for locations)
English name Chinese name Vietnamese name coordinates Area(km2) Location/Note
Amphitrite Group Xuande Qundao
Nhóm An Vĩnh 16°50′N 112°20′E / 16.833°N 112.333°E / 16.833; 112.333 - NE of the Islands
Woody Island Yongxing Dao
Đảo Phú Lâm 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 2.1 Has airport, Center East
Rocky Island Shidao
Đảo Đá 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.08 connected to (NE of) Woody, 14m elev.
West Sand Xisha Zhou
Cồn cát Tây 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.04 NW of Amphitrite Group
Tree Island Zhaoshudao
Đảo Cây 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.22 North of Amphitrite Group
(Unknown) Qilian Yu Subgroup
- - - NE of Amphitrite Group
North Island Bei Dao
Đảo Bắc 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.04 N of Seven Islets(1)
Middle Island Zhong Dao
Đảo Trung 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.13 N2 of Seven Islets(2)
South Island Nan Dao
Đảo Nam 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.17 N3 of Seven Islets(4)
North Sand Bei Shazhou
Cồn cát Bắc 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.02 N4 of Seven Islets(4)
Middle Sand Zhong Shazhou
Cồn cát Trung 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.05 N5 of Seven Islets(5)
South Sand Nan Shazhou
Cồn cát Nam 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.06 N6 of Seven Islets(6)
(Unknown) Xixin Shazhou
- 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.002 N7a of Seven Islets(7W)
(Unknown) Dongxin Shazhou
- 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 0.004 N7b of Seven Islets(7E). South of South Sand.
Iltis Bank Yin Shuo Tan
Bãi Bình Sơn 16°50′N 112°19′E / 16.833°N 112.317°E / 16.833; 112.317 - SW of Amphitrite Group
Crescent Group Yongle Qundao
Nhóm Lưỡi Liềm 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 - -
Money Island Jinyin Dao
Đảo Quang Ảnh 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.36 West end of Crescent Group
Robert Island Ganquan Dao
Đảo Hữu Nhật 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.30 W side of Crescent Group
Pattle Island Shanhu Dao
Đảo Hoàng Sa 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.31 N of Robert Island
Antelope Reef Lingyang Jiao
Đá Hải Sâm 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 - W side of Crescent Group, S of Robert Is.
(Unknown) Kuangzai Shazhou
- 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.01 Lies on the southeast section of Antelope Reef
Duncan Island Chenhang Dao
Đảo Quang Hòa 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.48 S side of Crescent Group
Palm Island Guangjin Dao
Đảo Quang Hòa Tây 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.06 S side of Crescent Group
Drummond Island Jinqing Dao
Đảo Duy Mộng 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.21 SE of Crescent Group
(Unknown) Shi Yu
(Đảo Lưỡi Liềm?) 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.002 NE of Crescent Group
(Unknown) Yinyu Zi
16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.002 SE of Silver Islet
Observation Bank Yin Yu
Bãi Xà Cừ 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.01 NE of Crescent Group
(Unknown) Yagong Dao
Đảo Ba Ba 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.01 SW of Observation Bank
(Unknown) Quanfu Dao
Đảo Ốc Hoa 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 0.02 NE of Pattle, SW of Observation Bank
(Unknown) Xianshe Yu
(Đá Trà Tây?) 16°30′N 111°40′E / 16.500°N 111.667°E / 16.500; 111.667 - W of Stone Islet
Other features - - - - -
Triton Island Zhongjian Dao
Đảo Tri Tôn 15°40′N 111°10′E / 15.667°N 111.167°E / 15.667; 111.167 1.20 SW of the Islands
Discovery Reef Huaguang Jiao
Đá Lồi 16°10′N 111°40′E / 16.167°N 111.667°E / 16.167; 111.667 - S of Amphitrite Group
Passu Keah Panshi Yu
Đảo Bạch Quy 16°05′N 111°35′E / 16.083°N 111.583°E / 16.083; 111.583 0.40 S of Discovery Reef
Herald Bank Songtao Tan
Bãi Ốc Tai Voi 15°35′N 112°15′E / 15.583°N 112.250°E / 15.583; 112.250 - Central South of the Islands
Bombay Reef Langhua Jiao
Đá Bông Bay 16°02′N 112°32′E / 16.033°N 112.533°E / 16.033; 112.533 - SE of the Islands
Vuladdore Reef Yuduo Jiao
Đá Chim Én 16°20′N 112°00′E / 16.333°N 112.000°E / 16.333; 112.000 - SE of Amphitrite Group, Center of the Islands
Bremen Bank Binmei Tan
Bãi Châu Nhai 16°22′N 112°40′E / 16.367°N 112.667°E / 16.367; 112.667 - Eastern Group
Jehangire Bank Zhanhan Tan
Bãi Quảng Nghĩa 16°20′N 112°30′E / 16.333°N 112.500°E / 16.333; 112.500 - Eastern Group
Neptuna Bank Beibian Lang
Bãi Thuỷ Tề 16°31′N 112°31′E / 16.517°N 112.517°E / 16.517; 112.517 - Eastern Group
Pyramid Rock Gaojian Shi
Hòn Tháp 16°35′N 112°08′E / 16.583°N 112.133°E / 16.583; 112.133 0.04 Eastern Group
Lincoln Island Dong Dao
Đảo Linh Côn 16°40′N 112°18′E / 16.667°N 112.300°E / 16.667; 112.300 1.60 Eastern Group
Dido Bank Xidu Tan
Bãi Gò Nổi 16°48′N 112°52′E / 16.800°N 112.867°E / 16.800; 112.867 - SE of the Islands
North Reef Bei Jiao
Đá Bắc 17°05′N 111°30′E / 17.083°N 111.500°E / 17.083; 111.500 - NW of the Islands

Satellite images[edit]



Paracel Islands as shown in Zheng He Voyage Map (the group of rocks at the lower right hand corner)[8]

The Chinese name Xisha (西沙), literally meaning western beach, refers to the islands' location in the west of the South China Sea. The Chinese historically called the different groups of islands here Western Beach (Xisha or Paracel Islands), Southern Beach (Nansha or Spratly islands), Eastern Beach (Dongsha or Pratas Islands) and Central Beach (Zhongsha or the Macclesfield Bank. The Paracel Islands were originally named by the Chinese as Wanglishitang (万里石塘, literally "ten thousand miles of stony ponds") according to the book Voyage with the Tail Wind (順風相送) which was based on 13th century Yuan dynasty documentation and published during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).[9] The same Chinese name referring to the Parecel Islands was also found in the 1430s Map of Zheng He's Voyage (郑和航海图).[10]

Hoàng Sa[edit]

The Vietnamese call the islands Hoang Sa, (黃沙 or Yellow Sands), and this name is found in historic Vietnamese documents dating back to the 15th century.[11] 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.[12][13] Only under the reign of Emperor Minh Mạng (1820–1841) when the Spratlys were distinctly delineated and officially named Vạn Lý Trường Sa (萬里長沙), the Ten-thousand-league Long Sandbank.[14][15]

Chinese researcher Li Jinming however claims that the original "Hoang Sa" in historic Vietnamese documents is along the coast of the Vietnamese shore, and not the modern Paracel or Spratly Islands.[16][17][18]

Pracel and Paracel[edit]

18th century European map showing the Paracel Islands as part of Cochinchina (Vietnam)

On the "Map of Europe, Africa and Asia" published in 1598 by Cornelis Claez, 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.[19][20] As early as at the beginning of the 16th century, Portuguese vessels frequented the South China Sea later followed by the Dutch, the English, the Spanish, and the French. They all wanted to become major traders in a region of great commercial opportunity that at the time was little known in the West. The name "Paracel" began to replace "Pracel" on maps and charts as the century passed. Typically, 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 its peculiarity on an important water channel, Ilhas de Pracel (Pracel Islands) drew much attention from navigators and hydrographers for several centuries. In addition, recent disputes have once again inflamed the popularity of the islands; but the origination of the terminology is still only vaguely understood. There are different stories about the names but none of them provide any convincing evidence. The report "Paracel and Spratly Islands on Charts and Maps made by Westerners" by Dr. Dai-Viet Nguyen (Nguyễn Đại Việt) of the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng) has shed light on the origin of the terminology.[19] Part of his findings includes various citations, typically:

The coast of Brazil from Santa Catharina island to Maranluio presents a peculiarity which is worthy of remark; for it appears as though it were encircled by two bands of elevated ground (dentures de haut fonds), which, except in a few intervals, are continued throughout all its extent, and seem as if intended to defend the land from the encroachment and impetuosity of the waves, which continually lash the shores. One of these defences adjacent to the land is a ridge rocks, which forms a kind of border, extending principally from cape Frio to Maranhao. The other natural bulwark or defence of the coast is a bank, situated from 2 to 10 leagues from the land, generally of a moderate though irregular depth, which the natives term Pracel or Paracel, as all the depths are unequal and irregular where the inhabitants fish. It may be said that this Pracel the same as the recife...[21]

or, Off Mount Melançia (Ion. 39 degrees 18') before noticed a bank commences which thence extends all the way to the River Iguarassu, an extent of 45 leagues. This bank which is called in the country Pracel de Caracu from the name of the most considerable hamlet on this part of the coast, extends outward about 3 leagues from the shore, and is circumscribed by the depth of 6 fathoms...[22]

Ecologically, it is understood that the terminology was used to classify certain islands, rather than being used as a proper noun. Notably, that class of islands seems to possess a number of special characteristics, which may be defined as follows:

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.[19]

Regarding the features off the coast of the Kingdom of Cauchi China, their structure closely fits the above description. By piecing all the elements together, undoubtedly, it is the Portuguese people who purposely classified them as a pracel in their native language in the early 16th century. Pracel is an antiquated variation of the now much more common form parcel, which was used by the Portuguese navigators to designate shallow seas or sea banks, and is still widely found in the toponymy of Portuguese-speaking countries. Approximately three hundred and fifty years later, in the early-mid-19th century, Ilhas de Pracel was divided into two archipelagos. From that time onwards, the names Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands have become more popular internationally and widely used on charts, maps, and related documents.[citation needed]

Infrastructure and natural resources[edit]

Fresh water[edit]

There is limited supply of fresh water on the islands. In 2012, it was reported that China planned to build a solar-energy-powered desalination plant on the islands.[23]


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 HaikouXisha route. There are three main roads on Woody Island as well as an 800 metres (2,600 ft) long cement bank that connects Woody Island and Rocky Island. Extensive port facilities have been constructed on Duncan Island. As of 2012, a harbour has been constructed and several seawalls built.

Aerial photograph showing harbour developments on Duncan Island as of December 2012


The island has been open for tourists since 1997 as announced by the government of China. There are two museums, a Naval Museum and a Maritime Museum, on Woody Island. 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 of islands - on Duncan and Drummond Islands specifically.[24] 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.[25] However this was disputed by the Chinese National Government in Beijing due to sensitivities surrounding the islands.[26]

Territorial disputes and their historical background[edit]

The sovereignty of the archipelago has been the subject of disputes between China, Taiwan, and Vietnam since the 20th century. Around the mid-19th century, after conquering Vietnam, France subsequently took over and administered the islands on behalf of her colony.[27] 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.[28] France annexed the islands as part of French Indochina despite protests from China in the 1930s, but they were taken over by Japanese troops during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Japan renounced claims to the islands after the war and the Nationalist Chinese retook the Paracel islands in late 1946. A small Chinese platoon remained stationed on Woody Island.

After the communists gained control of China in 1949, the country occupied Woody Island, the main island of the Amphitrite group and the only island that was occupied at the time. Pattle Island, the largest of the Crescent group, on the other hand, was later 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.

Military engagement[edit]

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,[29] 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.

Historical perspectives[edit]



There are some Chinese cultural relics in the Paracel islands dating from the Tang and Song eras,[30][note 1] and there is some evidence of Chinese habitation on the islands during these periods.[31] 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.[32]


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.[citation needed] 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.[33][34]

When the Spratlys and Paracels were being surveyed by Germany in 1883, China issued protests against them. China sent naval forces on inspection tours in 1902 and 1907 and placed flags and markers on the islands. The Qing dynasty's successor state, the Republic of China, claimed the Spratly and Paracel islands under the jurisdiction of Hainan.[35] 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.[36]


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.

On July 27, 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 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:[citation needed]

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'nan or France to the Xisha Islands are totally unjustifiable.

During the Second World War, 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.[37] The Paracels and Spratlys were handed over to Republic of China control from Japan after the 1945 surrender of Japan,[38]:124 since the Allied powers assigned the Republic of China to receive Japanese surrenders in that area.[39] 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 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.[40] After WW2 ended, the Republic of China was the "most active claimaint". 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.[41] The aim of the Republic of China was to block the French claims.[39][42] In December 1947, the Republic of China drew up its map showing its U shaped claim on the entire South China Sea, showing the Spratly and Paracels in Chinese territory.[35]


15th–17th centuries[edit]

The Route through Quảng Nam map depicting Bãi Cát Vàng – the Golden Sandbank – off the coast of Quảng Nam, 1634.
  • 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.[11]
  • 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 Nguyễn Phước Nguyên (1613–1635), to seek rescue for other castaways remained on the islands.[43]
  • 1680–1705, Lord Trịnh Căn instructed Đỗ Bá Công Đạo to publish Thiên Nam tứ chí lộ đồ (天南四至路圖), an encyclopedia consists of 4 series of maps that detail routes from Thăng Long, capital of Đại Việt, to other countries in the Southeast Asia. Part of this work was based on the Hồng Đức Atlas (Hồng Đức Bản Đồ) 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 "Đường từ phủ Phụng Thiên đến Chiêm Thành" (The Route to Champa from Phụng 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.[11][44]
  • In the 18th century, under instructions of the Nguyễn Lords, the salvage operations officially started with the formation of Hoàng Sa and Bắc Hải Companies. Their responsibility was to carry out the mission at Hoàng Sa (Golden Sandbank) and Vạn Lý Trường 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 Nguyễn dynasty. Noticeably, a number of naval battles between the Dutch fleet and the Nguyễn Royal Navy occurred in 1643 and 1644. The Hoàng Sa naval task unit consisted of 70 men recruited from An Vĩnh and An Hải villages of Quảng Ngãi, while the majority of members of the Bắc Hải Company came from Bình Thuận province.[11][14][45][46]


A map in Phủ Biên Tạp Lục depicting Bãi Cát Vàng, the Golden Sandbank, 1776.
  • In 1776, the Phủ Biên Tạp Lục (撫邊雜錄), the Miscellaneous Records on the Pacification of the Frontiers, published by Lê Quý Đôn, a philosopher, an encyclopaedist, and a Minister of Construction of the Lê dynasty (1527–1786). These six volumes detail the Nguyễn dynasty's territories, including the exploitation of the Paracel and Spratly Islands from 1702 onwards.[11][45][46]
  • 1777–1784, when traveling to Cochin China, Father Jean-Baptiste Grosier recorded his impression about maritime activities of the Vietnamese from Huế, Đà Nẵng, and Quảng 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.[47]


Atlas produced by Belgian geographer Philippe Vandermaelen (1795-1869), published in 1827 in Belgium, showing Paracel Islands is a part of Vietnam
The Royal Ordinance issued by Emperor Minh Mạng, 1835.
Đại Nam Thống Nhất Toàn Đồ – The Unified Đại Nam Complete Map (1838) - distinctly delineated Hoàng Sa and Vạn Lý Trường Sa at the far right margin
An Nam Đại Quốc Họa Đồ – the Great Annam Map by Jean-Louis Taberd – showing Cát Vàng, 1838.
1880 German map of Southeast Asia, locating the Paracel Islands as part of "Annam" (Vietnam)
Current map of Vietnam, locating the Paracels as part of Đà Nẵng, 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."[48]
  • 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.[49] 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.[50] 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.[50] 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.[51]
  • In 1815, Emperor Gia Long ordered Phạm 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.[46][52]
  • 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 Mạng. 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.[53]
  • In 1821, the Lịch triều hiến chương loại chí (歷朝憲章類誌) published by Phan Huy Chú, a historian, an encyclopaedist, and an officer of the Ministry of Construction in the time of emperor Minh Mạng. This remarkable work was prepared in 10 years (1809–1819) and consisted of 10 volumes. One of them, the Địa Dư Chí volume, details territories of Dai Nam Kingdom. In 1838, he published the Đại Nam Thống Nhất Toàn Đồ, the Unified Đại Nam Complete Map, that distinctly delineated Vạn Lý Trường Sa (the Ten-thousand-league Long Sandbank) and Hoàng Sa (the Golden Sandbank).[14]
  • 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.[54]
  • In 1833, Emperor Minh Mạng ordered Ministry of Construction to build a temple, erect steles, and plant many trees on the islands for navigation purposes.[46][52]
  • In 1834, Emperor Minh Mạng ordered Trương Phúc Sĩ, a naval task unit commander, accompanied by 21 men sailing to the islands to survey and draw map of Hoàng Sa.[11]
  • In 1835, Emperor Minh Mạng issued a royal ordinance to order 24 troops to the Paracel Islands. The royal ordinance has been preserved by generations of Đặng family and was publicly disclosed in early 2009.[55]
  • In 1835, the King ordered Phạm Văn Nguyên's naval task unit, accompanied by workers from Bình Định and Quãng Ngãi provinces, to build Hoàng Sa temple with a wind screen and erect steles on Bàn Than Thạch (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 "Vạn 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[46][52]
  • In 1836, Emperor Minh Mạng 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."[46][56] The King ordered Phạm Hữu Nhật, 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 Mạng by the royal ordinance commander of the navy Phạm Hữu Nhật came here to Hoàng Sa for reconnaissance to make topographical measurements and leave this stele as record thereof.[46][52]
  • In 1838, Bishop Jean-Louis Taberd published the "Latin-Annamese Dictionary". The dictionary contains the "An Nam Đại Quốc Họa Đồ" (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.[15]
  • 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 eynasty (1644 to 1912) of China. A statement found in this book read: Wang Li Shi Tang (万里石塘) 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.[46]
  • In 1858, Napoleon III ordered French troops to attack Tourane, the present-day Đà Nẳng city. Subsequently, France launched more attacks and forced Cochin China and some provinces in the South to become her colonies. The French Indochina was formed in 1887 and consisted of Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China, and Cambodia.
  • 1895–1896, German vessel Bellona and Japanese ship Imezi 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.[46]

20th-century events[edit]

One of Vietnam's sovereignty steles on Paracel Island built around 1930 under French Protectorate Administration
  • In 1930, France claimed the islands on behalf of its protectorate based on the fact that Emperor Gia Long had officially taken possession of the Paracel Islands in 1816, and that Emperor Minh Mạng had sent a mission to build a temple and erect steles there in 1835.[57]
  • In 1932, French Indochina and the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island.[57]
  • In 1939, the Empire of Japan invaded and occupied the islands from the French. The official reason for the Japanese invasion was that the islands were Chinese territory and Japan was at war with China.[57]
  • After World War II, Nationalist China reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands like other islands in the South China Sea, and dispatched patrol force to the islands, but this was challenged by the French.
  • After the fall of the nationalist regime in China in 1949, the Chinese 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 Chinese occupying Woody Island and the Macclesfield Bank while the remainder were 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 mainland China nor Taiwan participated at the conference. Separately, the Taiwan negotiated and signed its own treaty with Japan regarding the islands on April 29, 1952.[57]
  • In 1954, according to the Geneva Agreements, which was signed by a number of nations including China,[58][59] 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 below this line and belongs to South Vietnam accordingly.
  • In 1956, after the French's withdrawal, South Vietnam replaced the French to have control of the islands. Again, both China and Taiwan politically and diplomatically condemned the decision and reaffirmed their control over the islands. Although the South Vietnamese inherited the same French claim over the entire Paracel Islands, the period was marked by the peace and both sides held onto what was in their control without venturing into other's domain. At the same time, maps and other official documents of the North Vietnam government during this period had shown that the islands belong to China,[60][citation needed] mainly due to the fact that China was the largest backer of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
  • On September 4, 1958, the government of China 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, Phạm Văn Đồng, in his letter to Zhou Enlai stated that his government had recognized the declaration of the Chinese government.[61][62][46][38]
  • On January 19, 1974, the Battle of the Paracel Islands occurred between China and South Vietnam. After the battle, China gained control over the entire Paracel Islands.
  • In 1982, Vietnam established Hoang Sa District in Quang Nam-Da Nang covering these islands.[63][64]
  • On July 1999, Under President Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan 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 in a statement on July 13, 1999 released by the foreign ministry of Taiwan.[65] Taiwan and China's claims "mirrors" each other.[66] 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 as an extension of China's claim.[67] Taiwan and China both claim the entire island chains while all the other claimaints only claim portions of them and China has proposed cooperation with Taiwan against all the other countries claiming the island such as Vietnam.[68] China has urged Taiwan to cooperate and offered Taiwan a share in oil and gas resources while shutting out all the other rival claimaints.[69] Taiwan's state run oil company CPC Corp's board director Chiu Yi has called Vietnam as the "greatest threat" to Taiwan.[68] America 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.[70]

21st-century events[edit]

In July 2012 the National Assembly of Vietnam passed a law demarcating Vietnamese sea borders to include the Paracel and Spratly Islands.[71][72] In response to the Vietnamese move, 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.[73][74]

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.[75]

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.[76] 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 rammed into its ship before it sank; the Chinese said they were on the defensive while Vietnamese vessels were attacking the Chinese fishing boats.[77]

Taiwan rejected all rival claims to the Paracel islands amidst the standoff, repeating its position that all of the Paracel, Spratly, Zhongsha 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, in a statement 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."[78]

In popular culture[edit]

FIPS country code[edit]

The FIPS 10-4 country code for the Paracel Islands is PF.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hainan was a part of Guangdong by then.



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  75. ^ Vietnam asks China to end tourism plan in Hoang Sa — TalkVietnam
  76. ^ Associated Press (7 May 2014). "Ships collide as Vietnam tries to stop China oil rig deployment in disputed waters". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  77. ^ Bloomberg News (6 June 2014). "Vietnam Says China Still Ramming Boats, Airs Sinking Video". Bloomberg. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  78. ^ Staff writer, with CNA "Taipei Times" 2014, p. 3
  79. ^ 《南海风云》_互动百科
  80. ^ 南海风云【华语电影】 – 专辑 – 优酷视频


  • (1686) Do Ba Cong Dao (translated by Buu Cam), "Toan Tap Thien Nam Tu Chí Lo Do Thu ", Hong Duc Ban Do, Saigon, 1962.
  • (1776) Le Quí Don (translated by Le Xuan Giao), "Phu Bien Tap Luc", Saigon, 1972.
  • (1821) Phan Huy Chu (translated by Nguyen Tho Duc), "Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chí", Saigon, 1972.
  • Jean Louis TABERD, "Note on the Geography of Cochinchina", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, Vol. VI, 9/1837.
  • (1838) Jean Louis TABERD, "Additional Notice on the Geography of Cochinchina", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, Vol. VII, 4/1838, pp 317 – 324.
  • (1849) GUTZLAFF, "Geography of the Cochinchinese Empire", Journal of The Geographical Society of London, vol the 19th, p93.
  • Vietnamese Claims to the Truong Sa Archipelago. Todd C. Kelly, August 1999.
  • Dr. Phan Van Hoang's historical and geographical analysis on Vietnam and China's claims on the Paracels – Vietnamese language link

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]