National Geographic maps support occupation of Vietnamese islands

Thanh Nien Daily
23 March 2010

A recent set of maps published by the National Geographic Society has implicitly endorsed China’s illegal occupation of the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands, which have been the sovereign territory of Vietnam for centuries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga on March 13 reaffirmed Vietnam’s sovereignty over the [Paracel] Islands and asked the Washington-based society, which publishes the popular National Geographic Magazine, to correct the mistake.

“Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa [Spratly] Islands is indisputable. The map showing the Paracel Islands as part of China is incorrect. We request that National Geographic [Society] correct this error,” she said.

In either defiance or ignorance of history and international conventions that deem the islands either part of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam or at least as “disputed” by both Vietnam and China, the maps show the word “China” printed in red letters below “Paracel Is”, which is written in parenthesis. At least one map also refers to the Paracel Islands by their Chinese name, “Xisha Qundao.”

The collection of world maps can be found at http://www.natgeomaps.com/worldma ps.html.

On March 12, the US Embassy in Vietnam said the map’s error did not reflect the US Government’s point of view.

National Geographic Society is a private entity that has no connection with the US Government and thus its documents don’t reflect the US Government’s policy, the US Embassy in Vietnam told Tuoi Tre.

Public ire

Lawyer Hoang Viet in Ho Chi Minh City said the general public in Vietnam was visibly upset with the maps.

“Many people, including me, are frustrated because a prestigious scientific organization has issued unscientific, subjective information,” he said.

Duong Danh Huy, a Vietnamese expert on the East Sea who is working in the UK, said he thought the map error was an honest mistake because the agency usually doesn’t take sides in political disputes.

However, he said “it is a mistake that should be criticized” because even though such maps don’t have any legal value “this could lead to similar error in many other maps.”

“If more and more maps show the islands as China’s territory, it could affect the thinking of many people in the world,” he said.

Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s Government Border Committee, echoed Huy’s criticism, saying scholars had often talked about “map wars” when discussing island sovereignty disputes.

“Many countries, especially China, have published maps with new border lines, and names of places in their languages with the intention of legalizing their sovereignty there,” he said.

‘Misleading’

Thanh Nien wrote to the Board of Editors of National Geographic Maps to ask for a correction of the mapping error and to ask for an explanation. Thanh Nien asked National Geographic Maps to reclassify the islands and put them under the correct status as being disputed by Vietnam and China.

NGS responded to Thanh Nien in a statement Wednesday: “With respect to the Paracel Islands (the traditional name), National Geographic has recognized that this archipelago has been occupied and administered by the Chinese government since 1974, and as a result, the Society recognizes the Chinese name Xisha Qundao as the primary name.”

NGS said on regional and other maps, they had designated the alternative Vietnamese name Hoang Sa, and included a note indicating that while China occupies and administers the archipelago, Vietnam claims the archipelago as its own. The society said the scale of its World Map made it difficult to include detailed information about such a small land mass.

NGS conceded that “simply denoting the archipelago with the Chinese name and the word ‘China’ in parenthesis without further explanation can be misleading and misinterpreted.” The group made one important concession: “In the future, we will either provide the additional explanation that is included on our other maps as described above, or we will omit any designation.”

However, inconsistencies can still be found on the maps, despite the NGS explanation.

The World Decorator map, for example, labels islands disputed by the UK and Argentina as Falkland/Malvinas – the former is the British name and the other is the name Argentina uses. However, this map sub-labels the Paracel Islands as Xisha Quandao, the Chinese name, while failing to include the Vietnamese name, Hoang Sa.

In recognizing both disputed names of the Falkland/Malvinas islands on all its maps, NGS appears to be applying a double-standard when it lists only the Chinese name for the Hoang Sa Islands.

On the Asia map, NGS named the islands disputed by Vietnam and China as “Xisha Qundao” with “Paracel Is.” in parentheses and a note reading “Administered by China” and “Claimed by Vietnam”. However, this map still fails to indicate the Vietnamese name.

History

Over the past several decades, Vietnam has exhibited legal documents, historical proof and archeological evidence demonstrating that Vietnamese have long inhabited and administered the Paracel Islands, along with the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago, also in the East Sea.

No other countries claimed ownership of the islands until rich oil and gas deposits were discovered around the archipelagos in 1968.

In 1974, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the American troops from the Vietnam War, China invaded the Paracel Islands. A brief but bloody naval battle with the forces of the then Republic of Vietnam ensued and China was victorious. Vietnam’s behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since.

A post-1975 united Vietnam never relinquished ownership of the Paracel Islands and continues to keep military bases and other facilities on the Spratly Islands. Vietnam has vigorously protested the illegal Chinese occupation of the Paracel Islands as well as some of the Spratly Islands, not only in discussions with China, but also at meetings of the United Nations.

LOCAL FISHING BOAT RAMMED, SUNK IN HOANG SA

Quang Ngai Province’s Ly Son District authorities have requested that central authorities ask China to investigate an unidentified ship that rammed and sunk a local fishing boat last week.

Vo Xuan Huyen, chairman of Ly Son People’s Committee, said the fishing boat was rammed March 9 while it was anchored near the Hoang Sa Islands. The assailant vessel then fled, leaving the 17 Vietnamese sailors to drown on the sinking boat, he said.

The fishermen abandoned ship on coracles and were luckily rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat that passed by half an hour later. They arrived home safely at Ly Son Island on March 12.

“The strange boat deliberately rammed us,” said Duong Thanh Phu, owner of the sunk boat, adding that material damages were about VND2 billion (US$104,766).

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