VietNamNet Bridge – Let’s review Vietnam’s tragic history to compare the naval battle of Hoang Sa and Beijing’s careful preparation for the invasion of Vietnam’s Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef). They attempted to choose the right time when Vietnam was in difficult distress to attack the reef.
Releasing garlands to commemorate the soldiers who sacrificed to defend Gac Ma Reef.
On 30/4/1975, the Republic of Vietnam government collapsed, and Vietnam was unified and entered the reconstruction phase.
Facing a lot of difficulties and mountains of tasks in the post-war period, and defending the sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands was still a top priority of Vietnam.
On September 9th 1975, at the Asian Meteorological Conference held in Colombo, the representative of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam asked to maintain the registration in the SYNOP system of OMM Vietnam’s meteorological station located on the Paracel Islands under the code of 48860.
On September 24th 1975, at the meeting with the delegation of the Party and State of Vietnam led by General Secretary Le Duan, Deng Xiaoping, Vice President of the Communist Party of China and Chinese Deputy Prime Minister, admitted that Xisha and Nansha (Paracel and Spratly Islands) were still a matter between the two countries. Deng Xiaoping promised: “The issue will be settled in the future.”
On November 10th 1975, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam sent to the Chinese Foreign Ministry a diplomatic note on the statement made by Deng Xiaoping on September 24th and asked China to stop spreading propaganda about disputes over the Islands in order to create a favorable atmosphere for negotiations.
However, in a diplomatic note dated December 24th 1975, the Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the proposal.
On December 3rd 1975, the Ambassador of Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Beijing confirmed to the Chinese Foreign Minister of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On June 5th 1976, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam declared that Vietnam would take the right to defend the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On July 2nd 1976, after the general election of the unified country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was officially born.
On May 12th 1977, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam announced the Declaration of the waters and continental shelf of Vietnam, which emphasized the sovereignty of Vietnam over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelago.
On October 7th 1977, Vietnam and China had a meeting on border negotiations. Phan Hien, the head of the Vietnamese delegation, proposed negotiation about the Hoang Sa, which had been illegally occupied by China since 1974 but the Chinese chief negotiator refused.
In September and October 1978, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong paid official visits to the Philippines and Malaysia and signed agreements with the President and the Prime Minister of the two countries to resolve the disputes over the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea) by peaceful means.
In this period, the relationship between the two countries was strained. China shifted from the viewpoint that the Hoang Sa is a”dispute” to “Hoang Sa belong to China as an indisputable fact.”
On February 17th 1979, China mobilized 600,000 troops to attack the six northern border provinces of Vietnam. After two weeks of heavy losses, the Chinese troops withdrew.
On March 15th 1979, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam published a white paper on Vietnam – China borders, which included both the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelago.
On July 3rd 1979, the civil aviation authorities of China set up four dangerous areas in the Xisha airspaces (Hoang Sa) with the intention to force the international community to recognize Chinese sovereignty over the Hoang Sa.
On August 7th 1979, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam completely rejected China’s distorting intention.
On September 8th 1979, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam announced the documents proving Vietnam’s sovereignty over the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On March 25th 1980, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam affirmed Vietnam’s sovereignty over the island of An Bang, as well as the Truong Sa Archipelago.
On February 4th 1982, the Government of Vietnam established the Hoang Sa District of Quang Nam – Da Nang Province.
On December 9th 1982, the Government of Vietnam established Truong Sa District. On December 28th 1982, the Vietnamese government decided that Truong Sa District belonged to Phu Khanh Province.
In 1984, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry protested China’s statement on the establishment of Hainan Province’s administrative area, which included Hoang Sa and Truong Sa of Vietnam.
From May 16th to June 6th 1987, a Chinese naval fleet appeared in the western Pacific and the southern East Sea, near the Hoang Sa Archipelago.
On November 10th 1987, a Chinese naval fleet landed and occupied Louisa Island in Vietnam’s Truong Sa Archipelago.
Choosing the right time to take action
Many documents and articles called the event that China used warships to attack Vietnam’s islands on March 14th 1988 as the “sea battle of Truong Sa”.
However, Rear Admiral Le Ke Lam and several international researchers about the East Sea said that using the words “sea battle” is inaccurate because the forces of Vietnam on the reefs of Co Lin (Collins), Len Dao (Lansdowne) and Gac Ma were unarmed sappers. And Vietnam’s ships in the waters were freighters, without weapons.
China used guns and cannons on its warships to fire on the unarmed sappers and cargo ships of Vietnam.
According to declassified documents of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), China chose the time when the world public opinion was focusing on a political solution in Cambodia; the Soviet Union, a key ally of Vietnam, got stuck in Afghanistan and was trying to resume relations with China, so it did not want any trouble with the Chinese to attack and occupy Vietnam’s reefs.
Before taking action, Chinese diplomatic missions visited the countries related to the East Sea conflict to confirm the “peaceful stance” and declared that China only had “island dispute” with Vietnam only.
In early 1988, for the first time the Chinese navy went to some islands in the Truong Sa Archipelago. Specifically, on January 31st 1988 China occupied the Chu Thap (Fiery Cross) Reef, the Chau Vien (Cuarteron) Reef on February 18th 1988, the Gaven Reefs on February 26th 1988, and the Tu Nghia (Hughes) Reef on February 28.
In that situation, Vietnam confirmed its sovereignty over the remaining islands and reefs, including the reefs of Gac Ma, Co Lin, and Len Dao.
China, after illegally occupying several reefs in Vietnam’s Truong Sa Archipelago, in early March 1988 increased the number of warships in the region to 12, including one missile destroyer, seven missile guardian ships, two cannon ships, two landing crafts, three LSM freighters, a tug and a large pontoon ship.
On the morning of March 13th 1988, four Chinese warships approached Gac Ma Reef of Vietnam. At 6am Chinese troops landed on the reef, rushed to pull up the Vietnam flag on the island. The Vietnamese soldiers who were protecting the national flag were stabbed by bayonets and shot dead.
The unarmed sappers of Vietnam were still determined to defend the flag. Two Chinese warships fired on the Vietnamese soldiers on the reef and the Vietnamese cargo vessel 604. Captain Vu Phi Tru and some soldiers were sacrificed. The ship was sunk.
At the Co Lin Reef (3.5 nautical miles from Gac Ma) and Len Dao Reef, China attacked fiercely from 6 am on March 14th, killed some Vietnamese sappers on the reefs and fired two cargo ships of Vietnam, the HQ 505 and HQ 605.
The massacre that lasted 28 minutes caused heavy damage to Vietnam, with three cargo ships sunk, three soldiers died, 11 soldiers were injured and 74 soldiers got missing. China later returned nine soldiers who were arrested. The remaining people are considered to sacrifice.
Vietnam protested fiercely China’s brutal act. However, China kept illegally occupying more islands and mobilized many fishing boats from Guangzhou to Vietnam’s Truong Sa fishing ground.
On April 28th 1990, the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to oppose China’s invasion of the En Dat (Eldad) Reef in Vietnam’s Truong Sa Archipelago.
In August 1990, Chinese Premier Li Peng suggested joint exploitation of the Truong Sa region
On December 1st 1990, during the visit to the Philippines, Chinese Premier Li Peng said: “We can find a suitable solution to the problem of Truong Sa with parties of concern at the appropriate time, if not at this moment. I think we can put aside this issue and not let it interfere in relations between China and the neighboring countries in concern.”
China robbed Vietnam’s Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in the two periods in which the Vietnamese governments were an ally of one of the two greatest superpowers of the 20th century. Both superpowers offered a “handshake” with China to let China did brutal acts.
In March 2013, Sina.com launched the topic “Fight to defend sovereignty” to praise the Chinese military for”seizing opportunities” to “crush the unruly of Vietnam”. Quoting General Yue Qiang, Sina.com boldly declared: “The clashes between China and Vietnam showed the trend of no intervention of big countries when their interests are not affected. China should take advantage of and promote it.”