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The tiny islands that could blow up the China-Vietnam relationship

"Belongs to Vietnam!" call back about 30 students, even louder. Their singing echoes through the three-story Paracel Islands museum in Da Nang, whose construction cost the Vietnamese government $ 1.8 million, according to official sources.

Since opening in 2018, about half of the 40,000 visitors have been schoolchildren Discover exhibits, including documents, maps and photographs, all curated to bring home a point.

The Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam. Not to China.

The 16th-century Portuguese map makers named Paracels consist of 130 small coral islands and reefs in the northwestern South China Sea. They support a rich underwater world. However, there is not just speculation that the islands could harbor potential energy reserves.

They have no significant indigenous population, only Chinese military garrisons with 1

,400 inhabitants, according to the CIA Factbook.

] But there is no certainty about who they really belong to. Ask an expert, and the answer is: Vietnam has the strongest claim. Ask another, and the answer will be China.

It is unmistakable that the Paracels have been in Chinese hands for 45 years.

Beijing increasingly claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory and wants to be Hanoi is fed up with the greatest impact on resources and access in the region and beyond.

Conflict deeply rooted in history

If anyone in Vietnam knows the importance of the Paracel Islands Museum, then Tran Duc Anh Son.

As one of the country's outstanding South China marine experts, he helped curate the materials in the museum. He says that this is the earliest evidence of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracels: a map from 1686 depicting the islands as [19659002] The Nguyen Dynasty, which ruled much of today's Vietnam.

  The Paracel Islands Museum displays a map confirming Vietnam's claims to sovereignty over those of China.

In the late 17th century, the Nguyen dynasty dispatched a fleet of fishermen thei Hoàng Sa, "to occupy these islands and to harvest edible bird nests and seafood to be returned to the Lords," says Anh Son

These fishermen gave the islands their Vietnamese name: Hoang Sa Archipelago. In 1816, King Gia Long of the Nguyen Dynasty officially annexed the Paracels and established Vietnam's sovereignty, says Anh Son.

But China says its claims to the islands can be traced back to thousands of years.

Chinese Activities China was the first country to discover, designate, explore and exploit the resources of the South China Sea Islands, and the first country to exercise sovereign authority over them, "the country's foreign ministry said in a 2014 newspaper.

China calls the Paracels the Xisha Islands.

  The $ 1.8 million Paracel Islands Museum opened in 2018 in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Experts say it's more complicated than who named or mapped the area first.

Mark Hoskin, a researcher at the University of London's International Studies and Diplomacy Center, says that independent records from 1823 show Chinese ships and fishermen in the Paracels.

According to Hoskin, Vietnam may have any claim to the 1958 Paracels gave up when the then Prime Minister of North Vietnam wrote to the Chinese government a letter stating that Hanoi "recognizes and endorses" Beijing's claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea and its territories.

But also Raul Pedroza, former professor of international law at US Naval War College,

gave Vietnam the legal mark. Pedroza argues in a 2014 CNA analysis A nonprofit research organization has noted that since the early eighteenth century, Vietnam has shown a clear interest in sovereignty over the Paracels, during the French colonial era in the first half of the 20th century and during the period the division of Vietnam in 1954 and the subsequent unification in 1975. 19659003] China showed no real interest in sovereignty until it sent a small fleet of naval ships in 1909 to inspect some of the islands and mark them, argues Pedroza.

  Photos on exhibition at the Paracel Islands Museum show ships involved in a clash with China.

Even then, the Chinese lived there until China Woody occupied Iceland – the largest landmass in the Paracels – in 1956 and the rest of the archipelago in 1974 after a short but bloody battle with the then South Vietnamese forces. However, China's actions in both cases violated the United Nations Charter, which threatened the territorial integrity of another country, Pedroza claims, and was not valid to assert sovereignty.

The 1974 fighting, which killed 53 South Vietnamese troops, is highlighted in the Paracels Museum. The map shows the battle, the pictures of the ships involved and the pictures of the deceased to protect every inch of their homeland on the high seas. "

The Chinese version of the events, of course, states that Beijing recaptured what was rightfully China.

  DigitalGlobe images captured by Woody Island in the South China Sea in April 2016.
Since the expulsion of the last Vietnamese troops from the Paracels in 1974, China has steadily strengthened its claim to the islands placed military garrisons on it and set up an airfield and an artificial harbor Woody Island built earlier this summer, China deployed J-10 fighter jets on the island, a signal to the region that "it's their territory and they can use military aircraft there whenever they want," said Carl Schuster, a former dispatcher in the US The Joint Intelligence Center of Pacific Command.

"There is also a statement that they have their Reichwei could expand across the South China Sea as needed or desired, "said Schuster.

And in Da Nang, only 375 kilometers directly west

signs that the problem does not disappear.

In front of the Paracel Islands Museum is the fishing boat 90152 TS.

At first glance, it does not look much different than some other other boats are being repaired along the coastal highway. But in the museum, visitors learn their story.

  The 90152 fishing vessel is located in front of the Paracel Islands Museum in Da Nang, Vietnam. The ship was sunk in 2014 in a skirmish with China, salvaged from Vietnam and located outside the museum as
sunk in 2014 during a confrontation with a Chinese naval vessel near the Paracels. The crew was later rescued by another Vietnamese boat. However, the symbolism of this conflict is still very pronounced.

"90152 TS is a testimony to the allegations of China's refractory behavior," a spokesperson for the museum said in an e-mail how easily the larger Chinese ship with the steel hull overwhelmed the smaller one. wooden vietnamese.

The boat is a symbol of Vietnamese "determination" to protect its sovereignty over the islands, the spokesman added.

Beijing's version of the story of 90152 looks different.

According to China's state-run news agency Xinhua, the Vietnamese vessel "harassed" a Chinese fishing boat in waters near the Paracels. Xinhua reported at the time that the Vietnamese boat was overturned after it had "jostled" a Chinese fishing boat.

  Vietnamese fishing boats moored in front of the beach in Da Nang, Vietnam, directly opposite the Paracel Islands Museum.

It is an incident that shows how quickly something can happen in the South China Sea explosion.

As China expanded its claims to ocean territory, it built and fortified islands in the Spratly chain – claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines – while at the time, it raved boats and ships around those of the Philippines controlled island Thitu.

And in a similar incident as in 2014, a Filipino fishing boat sank after colliding with a larger Chinese boat in early June. According to reports in Chinese state media, the Chinese boat hit the Philippine boat as it quickly left the area as its crew felt threatened by seven or eight Filipino boats that had "besieged" it during fishing.

But the Filipino media refused, saying the bigger Chinese boat was trying to intimidate the Filipino. He called China's fishing fleet "the forefront of Beijing's efforts to control neighboring waters."

In the meantime, the South China Sea game between Vietnam and China flared up again this summer when a Chinese survey ship and escorts entered Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone – the 200-mile stretch off the coast of a country that it is exclusively mineral rights – in the Spratlys.

The area is said to contain significant gas and oil reserves that Vietnam is trying to develop.

Hanoi leaders made their displeasure clear when the State Department called on July 19th All Chinese ships are leaving Vietnamese waters.

Analysts say China's approach is worrying.

"Beijing is not only testing Vietnam, but also the United States and the international community," said Huong Le Thu, a leading analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said in an analysis this month.

China's aggressions in the South China Sea are tests from Beijing to find out to what extent all countries will support "the rule-based order," she wrote.

What can Vietnam's island boost do?

With its superior military and financial resources, China seems to have the upper hand in the struggle for the South China Sea. Hanoi's search for the Paracels may be more alienated than practical.

"It's a bit puzzling to me," said Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow in the Asia-Pacific program at Chatham House in London. "Does the Vietnamese Communist Party really expect to get the islands back, do they expect to keep the population on the brink of nationalist hysteria indefinitely?"

Ben Bland, research director of the Southeast Asia project at the Australian Lowy Institute, says Vietnam is using a "use or lose it" practice. "Governments really want to show that they are managing these areas to support their territorial claims or to create a deeper framework," says Bland.

And there are more subtle ways to build claims, he said. Like a museum.

  Activists place chrysanthemums and pray during a rally on the 42nd anniversary of the 1974 South Sea Battle between China and the then South Vietnamese troops over the Paracel Islands on January 19, 2017 in Hanoi.

On the Paracel Islands, however, there seems to be little room for fineness.

"The reality on the ground is that China has been occupying the entire Paracel group for 40 years, and without Vietnam's military action to reclaim the archipelago it will never go," wrote CNA chief Michael McDevitt.

And that puts a limit on Hanoi's possibilities.

"None of the parties is willing to risk war to bring the issue to a close, and the territorial claim is a never-ending journey," said Hayton.

Anh Son, the Vietnamese expert, agrees.

"We can not start a war with China because it would be absolutely devastating to our people," he said. "I know that China will not give in easily, but bringing the lawsuit against it before the International Tribunal is currently the only solution."

The Street View

Vietnam does not limit its propaganda campaign to the Paracel Islands Museum alone.

In the imperial city in Hue, one of Vietnam's major tourist attractions in the historic capital, which is just a few hours drive north of Hue Da Nang, there is an indication of what Vietnam calls "China's oldest map of the present".

  On the citadel in Hue is a map of what Vietnam calls.

"This shows that the southernmost point in China's territory in the early 20th century The island of Hainan is and there is no mention of Xisha and there are Nansha archipelagos, which are in fact Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes in Vietnam, "it says on the large wall display.

Meanwhile, the road on the beach at Da Nang is heavily used. Visitors cross the unregulated traffic lights in a ballet, where the cars and scooters hardly slow down, while the pedestrians race undamaged on the highway.

A sign says that the beach is called My Khe, but a tourist maps and guides call it "China Beach".

That was the nickname US soldiers gave him for which it was a rest and resort.

But the Vietnamese government has shortened its term of office by threatening to shut down domestic travel sites on which it is used. During the Vietnam War, the Americans called this China Beach. "src-mini =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190814122045-my-khe-beach-da-nang-vietnam-small-169.jpg "src-xsmall =" // cdn.cnn .com / cnnnext / dam / assets / 190814122045-my-khe-beach-da-nang-vietnam-medium-plus-169.jpg "src-small =" http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/ assets / 190814122045-my-khe-beach-da-nang-vietnam-large-169.jpg "src-medium =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190814122045-my-khe-beach-da -nang-vietnam-exlarge-169.jpg "src-large =" // cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190814122045-my-khe-beach-da-nang-vietnam-super-169.jpg " src-full16x9 = "// cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190814122045-my-khe-beach-dan-nang-vietnam-full-169.jpg" src-mini1x1 = "// cdn.cnn. com / cnnnext / dam / assets / 190814122045-my-khe-beach-da-nang-vietnam-small-11.jpg "data-demand-load =" not-loaded "data-eq-pts =" mini: 0, xsmall: 221, small: 308, medium: 461, large: 781 "/>

Many locals do not take it well either.

On the TripAdvisor website, a Vietnamese user answers the question, "Where can I find China Beach?"

"I do not have China Beach in Vietnam!" it is said that the questioner should go to China if he wants to find a beach in China.

The mood takes over on the beach itself on a July morning.

"Do not call it that," says a local who asked not to be named when asked for the nickname. It "only" encourages Beijing's violation of the territory of Vietnam.

He recognizes the effect of these maps, the museum a few miles up the beach, the relentless attitude of the Vietnamese government towards the Paracels.

They are part of Vietnam. and eventually they have to return.

"Today we preserve peace," he says. "Tomorrow, who knows?"

Dan Tham of CNN contributed to this report.

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