A History of Three Warnings
By Dr. Jose Antonio Socrates
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The PRC will of course deny it but China may be intent on building a new base in the Kalayaan Island Group north of Mischief Reef and closer to Palawan: at the southern edge of the potentially oil rich Reed Bank, the largest geologic structure of the Spratlys.
FROM THE EDITOR: We aborted publishing Dr. Socrates’ “A Risky Bill of Opportunity” that started last week to give way to his latest study on the same issue. Interested individuals can request a copy of such article at the Office.
FIRST PART: DIVIDING THE PARACELS
Far northwest of the Spratlys and only 150 miles from China’s Hainan Island, the Paracels is the second largest archipelago in the South China Sea. The islands are in two clusters, a western “crescent group” and an eastern “Amphitrite Group”. Before the Second World War, China, Japan and the French in Vietnam, had various disputes over the Paracels. France made a formal claim on December 1931 and in July 1938 formally declared its occupation of the whole archipelago. In March 1939, however, conquering Japanese forces seized control of the Paracels; but were forced to surrender them to the Republic of China government in 1945 by General Douglas Mac Arthur. In November 1946 a naval contingent of the Republic of China formally repossessed the Paracels. In response the French sent a battleship but failed to persuade the Chinese to withdraw. Instead they left two officers and 27 soldiers, 14 of them Vietnamese in Pattle Island, of the Crescent Group. One thing led to another until by January 1947, a post-war division with the French controlling the Crescent Group from Pattle Island and the Chinese the Amphitrite Group from Woody Island. These were pre-Mao Tze Tung times.
Shortly after Mao Tze Tung proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in October 1949, the forces of Chiang Kai Shek retreated to Taiwan, abandoning also their bases in the Spratlys and the Paracels. Woody Island in the Amphitrite Group of the Paracels was almost immediately occupied by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In October 1950, France formally handed over the control of Pattle Island to the Vietnamese, although French personnel continued to operate on the island until 1956. In September 1951 the French Republic of Vietnam claimed the Paracels and the Spratlys but did not station any military forces there. Then in August 1955, the PRC dispatched its first survey team to the Amphitrite and began to settle demobilized soldiers in some of the Paracel Islands. The Amphitrite of the Paracels and the Spratlys were unoccupied then but the PRC did not move into the Spratlys even though in 1951 China had asserted its claim to both the Spratlys and the Paracels.
This Chinese move in the Paracels, however, provoked the South Vietnamese Government to occupy Robert Island of the Crescent Group in the Paracels and to send an expedition to the Spratlys. The Republic of China (Taiwan) also set up a military garrison in Itu Aba, the largest island of the Spratlys. It was also during this time that Tomas Cloma made his personal claim to the Spratlys, but officially, the Philippine Government was not interested.
When in 1957 China protested Vietnam’s move in Robert Island, Saigon was already in control also of two other islands of the Crescent Group: Pattle and Money Islands. The three South Vietnamese held islands are on the western side of the Crescent Group. Then in August 1958 Saigon took over Duncan Island in the eastern sector of the Crescent, thus facing the Amphitrite Group. Two weeks later the PRC government declared its sovereignty over the whole of the Paracels. They were supported by North Vietnam.
Inexplicably, however, the troops of the Republic of Vietnam pulled out of Robert, Duncan and Money Islands, leaving only one platoon of soldiers on Pattle Island. Chinese fishermen moved in, then in the subsequent years Vietnam was preoccupied with chasing and occasionally detaining “illegal fishermen” off the Paracels much as the Philippines is now similarly preoccupied with in the Spratlys.
China was preoccupied with other concerns but steadily built up its presence in their Amphitrite Group. When in 1972 Richard Nixon visited Mao Tze Tung in Beijing and with American recognition of the People’s Republic of China, Japan too turned away from the Taiwan government in favor of the China in the mainland.
The PRC will of course deny it but China may be intent on building a new base in the Kalayaan Island Group north of Mischief Reef and closer to Palawan: at the southern edge of the potentially oil rich Reed Bank, the largest geologic structure of the Spratlys.