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Spratly Islands never a part of China, newly found maps show

 | June 2, 2016

Vietnamese researcher’s find ruptures Beijing’s claim that Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands were part of China even centuries ago.


HANOI: China’s claim to the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands have taken a hit with the discovery of early China territorial maps that make no mention of these islands.

A report in Forbes said that Vietnamese historian and deputy director at the Da Nang Institute for Socio-Economic Development, Dr Tran Duc Anh, found two collections of maps at Yale University in the US which showed these islands were not a part of China in earlier days.

The Spratlys and Paracels are two island chains that are claimed in whole or in part by several nations, including Malaysia, China and Vietnam.

China has claimed a large swathe of the South China Sea, including the Spratlys and Paracels, which it says, were part of its territory even in the 13th century. In 1947, China issued a map detailing its claims, showing the two island groups falling entirely within its territory.

According to a report in the Ho Chi Minh City-based Tuoi Tre News on Sunday, Dr Son found two map collections at Yale University which sketched China’s territory during the Qing dynasty in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The first collection, around 200 maps, was named Qianlong’s Map in Thirteen Rows, and dated 1760.

The Forbes report said the maps illustrated in detail all the territories that belonged to China under the rule of the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796). The territories stretched from mainland China to islands and surrounding waters, but none of the maps drew nor mentioned the Nansha Islands or Xisha Islands, the names given by China for the Spratlys and Paracels.

“Moreover, one of the maps specified that the southernmost point of China’s territory at the time was the Hainan Island, China’s southernmost point.”

The second collection that Dr Son found at the library was the Atlas von China (The Atlas of China). It consists of two parts published in 1885 by Dietrich Reimer publishing house, a Berlin-based publisher.

The report said although it might seem unusual for a German publisher to print maps of 19th Century China, it must be noted that Sino-German relations were formally established in 1861. Moreover, Germany joined other Western powers such as Great Britain and France in carving out spheres of influence in China. German troops also took part in subduing the Boxer Rebellion between 1899 and 1901.

Along with the second collection of maps found by Dr Son were 16 pages of description in German and 55 colour-printed, full-page administrative and geographical maps on Beijing along with 26 other prefectures under the rule of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908), the eleventh emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the ninth Qing emperor to rule over China.

Interestingly, the report said, the first map in part one of Atlas von China drew the entire Chinese territory at the time, showing Hainan Island as China’s southernmost point.
Dr Son said, “it is observable that Chinese maps in official atlases released during the Qing dynasty and the Republic of China period all specified that the southernmost point of China is Hainan Island”.

According to the report he added that he had also collected, over the years, numerous other maps published by the Chinese Government from the late 19th century until the 1930s, and none of them mentioned the Spratly Islands or the Paracel Islands.


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