VietNam Bridge – Compared with the battle in Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands, China was more prepared for its attack to seize Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) in 1988. It chose a time when Vietnam was in a difficult situation.
The soldiers who defended Truong Sa in 1988.
On 30/4/1975, the Republic of Vietnam government collapsed, and Vietnam was unified and entered the period of reconstruction. In that circumstance, defending the country’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa was still a top priority.
On 09/9/1975, at the Asia Meteorological Conference in Colombo, the representative of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam was required to maintain OMM registration of Vietnam’s meteorological station located on Hoang Sa to the SYNOP system with the name 48860.
On 24/9/1975, at a meeting with the delegation of Vietnam, led by Party General Secretary Le Duan, Mr. Deng Xiaoping, vice president of the Communist Party of China and deputy prime minister, admitted that the problems between the two countries was the Xisha (Hoang Sa) and Nansha (Truong Sa) dispute. Deng promised: "The problem will be solved in the future."
On 10/11/1975, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Vietnam Democratic Republic sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterating Deng Xiaoping’s statement on 24/9/1975 and asked China to stop its propaganda related to the dispute over the Islands in order to create a favorable atmosphere for negotiations.
However, in a diplomatic note dated 24/12/1975, the China's Foreign Ministry rejected the proposal.
On 3/12/1975, the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Beijing confirmed to the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam's sovereignty of the two archipelagoes of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 5/6/1976, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Vietnam stated that Vietnam would defend its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 2/7/1976, after the general election to unify the country, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was officially born.
On 12/5/1977, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam issued a statement on Vietnam’s waters and continental shelf, which emphasized sovereignty over the two archipelagoes of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 7/10/1977, Vietnam and China met to discuss border issues. The head of the Vietnamese delegation – Mr. Phan Hien – proposed a discussion about the Hoang Sa Islands, which had been occupied by China since 1974, but the chief negotiator of China refused.
In September and October 1978, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong paid a visit to the Philippines and Malaysia, and signed an agreement with the President and Prime Minister of the two countries to resolve the dispute over the East Sea by peaceful means.
In this period the relationship between Vietnam and China became more tense. China turned from “Hoang Sa is a dispute issue" to "Hoang Sa of China is an indisputable fact."
On 17/2/1979, 600,000 Chinese troops attacked the six northern border provinces of Vietnam. After two weeks of heavy losses, the Chinese troops withdrew.
On 15/3/1979, the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the White Paper on the border of Vietnam – China, which includes the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 3/7/1979, the Chinese civil aviation authorities set four dangerous zones in the Xisha airspaces (Hoang Sa) in order to force the world to admit Chinese sovereignty in Hoang Sa.
On 7/8/1979, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry issued a statement completely rejecting China’s misrepresented intention.
On 8/9/1979, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam made public documentation verifying Vietnam's sovereignty over the two archipelagoes of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.
On 25/3/1980, the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs affirmed Vietnam's sovereignty over the island of An Bang and Truong Sa Archipelago.
On 4/2/1982, the Vietnamese Government established Hoang Sa district in Quang Nam – Da Nang province.
On 9/12/1982, the Government of Vietnam established Truong Sa district. On December 28, 1982, the Vietnamese government decided to merge Truong Sa district into Phu Khanh province.
In 1984, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam protested China’s establishment of the Hainan administrative division, including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa of Vietnam.
From 16/5 to 6/6/1987, the Chinese navy conducted exercises in the western Pacific and south of the East Sea, near Truong Sa Islands.
On 10/11/1987, the Chinese navy occupied Louisa island in Vietnam’s Truong Sa archipelago.
Many documents and articles called the event on 14/3/1988 when China used warships and gunboats to occupy Truong Sa "the Hoang Sa naval battle."
However, Commander Le Ke Lam and some international scholars said that it is totally inaccurate to call it a “naval battle” because Vietnamese forces on the islands of Co Lin, Len Dao and Gac Ma were only sappers and they were not equipped with weapons. Moreover, the Vietnamese ships on duty were transport ships.
According to the declassified documents of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), China chose the time when world opinion was focusing on political solutions in Cambodia and Soviet Union to occupy Truong Sa. The latter was an important ally of Vietnam but was bogged down in Afghanistan and was trying to resume relations with China.
Before taking action, Chinese diplomatic missions visited the countries involved in the East Sea dispute to assert China’s "peaceful stance" and declared that China only had "dispute" with Vietnam, and no "dispute" with other countries.
In early 1988, the Chinese navy began seizing a number of islands in Truong Sa. Specifically, on 31/1/1988 China occupied Chu Thap reef, then Chau Vien reef on 18/2/1988, Ga Ven reef on 26/2/1988 and Tu Nghia reef on 28/2.
In early March 1988, China mobilized up to 12 warships to the East Sea to expand its occupation of the reefs and islands in Vietnam’s Truong Sa Archipelago.
On the morning of 14/31988, four Chinese warships approached Gac Ma Reef. At 6am, 40 Chinese soldiers landed in the island, pulled off the Vietnamese flag on the reef and killed two Vietnamese soldiers who were protecting the flag pole.
Vietnamese sappers, without weapons, tried to defend the national flag. Two Chinese naval ships fired straight into the Vietnamese sappers on Gac Ma Reef and the cargo ship 604. Captain Vu Phi Tru and several soldiers were sacrificed and the 604 ships sank.
At the islands of Co Lin (3.5 nautical miles from Gac Ma Reef) and Len Dao, China attacked fiercely from 6 am on 14/3 and destroyed Vietnam’s ships 505 and 605 and killed many Vietnamese soldiers on the islands.
The massacre that lasted 28 minutes caused severe damage to Vietnam, with three ships destroyed and sunk, three soldiers died, 11 soldiers wounded and 74 soldiers missing. China later returned nine soldiers. The rest were considered sacrificed.
Despite Vietnam’s fierce objections, China continued the attack to occupy more islands and then sent many fishing boats from Guangzhou to Truong Sa.
On 28/4/1990, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi protesting China’s invasion of En Dat Reef in Truong Sa Islands.
In August 1990, Chinese Premier Li Peng proposed to conduct joint mining in Truong Sa area.
On 1/12/1990, during his visit to the Philippines, Premier Li Peng said: "We can find an appropriate solution to the Spratlys issue with the involved parties at the appropriate time, if not at this time. I think we can put aside this issue and not let it interfere in relations between China and the concerned neighboring countries."
In March 2013 Sina.com praised the Chinese army’s brutal acts in Truong Sa as "seizing the opportunity" to "crush the unruliness of Vietnam".
This site quoted a Chinese general as saying that the clash between China and Vietnam shows the trend of no intervention of the major powers when their interests are not affected. China should take advantage of and promote this trend, the quote said.
To be continued…