Paracel Islands & Congressional Actions to Support Peace and Stability in the Indo-Pacific

Duy Hoang

Duy Hoang, Executive Directof of Viet Tan.

Statement by Duy Hoang, Executive Director of Viet Tan, at the Congressional briefing marking 50 years of China’s invasion and occupation of Vietnam’s Paracel Islands.

January 18, 2024

Fifty years ago, the People’s Republic of China invaded Vietnam’s Paracel islands. It was an act of aggression then and represents a continued danger to the civilized world today.

The international community is at threat when any state uses force to unilaterally change its borders. China violated the UN Charter by seizing the Paracels from Vietnam on January 19, 1974.

And, unfortunately, China has not and will not stop with the Paracels. The Chinese occupation of the Paracels has been the springboard for expanding into the Spratlys and claiming nearly all of the South China Sea.

This is why the PRC’s illegal occupation of the Paracels is still highly relevant today. The purpose of today’s Congressional briefing is to offer actions to support peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

So what can Congress do? I’d like to provide three recommendations:

First, publicly reject the PRC’s claim on the Paracels.

I’d like to thank the offices of Representative Chris Smith, Representative Young Kim and Representative Lou Correa for making today’s event possible. By marking the anniversary of China’s invasion of the Paracels we highlight the illegality of that action.

The House could take further action by passing a resolution denouncing the PRC’s invasion of th Paracels in 1974 and the other times that the PRC used force to seize islands and reefs in the South China Sea — such as Johnson Reef 1988, Mischief Reef 1995, and Scarborough Shoal 2012.

The Select Committee on the CCP could also follow up with hearings on Beijing’s record of expansionism and how if left unchecked could further threaten peace and stability.

Second, push back on PRC efforts to dominate the South China Sea.

By now, the pattern of Chinese expansionism is clear. Based on its dubious claims over the Paracels, some rocks in the Spratlys, and fanciful 10-dash map, the PRC wants unilateral control over virtually the entire South China Sea.

In recent years, Beijing has declared fishing bans in what are clearly international waters and conducted oil and gas exploration in the exclusive economic zones of both Vietnam and the Philippines. When the Chinese coast guard obstructs and harasses Vietnamese fishermen, they not only impact the livelihoods of countless Vietnamese, they are trying to establish the fiction of a Chinese lake that they own. This is a major threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that the PRC’s 9-dash claim was “null and void”. Congress needs to underscore that important ruling through public statements, oversight and legislation. We must continue to enable the US military, in conjunction with partners and allies, to assert freedom of navigation throughout international waters and airspace.

Third, help empower Vietnam and other ASEAN states to defend their sovereignty.

This can be done in many ways. Keep in mind that Beijing’s fundamental strategy is to divide the international community and diminish the independence of its neighbors.

The issue of the Paracels specifically and the South China Sea more broadly should be discussed in international forums — not just bilateral settings where China can bully the smaller state.

Over the long run, the United States should help Vietnam and other ASEAN states resist Chinese pressure. This goes beyond building national defense capabilities and requires empowering those societies.

Notably, Vietnam needs political institutions that are resilient to Chinese meddling and control. And the Vietnamese government must encourage free debate on strategies to defend the country’s sovereignty. Therefore, Congress should support a free and more open Vietnam.

Achieving a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific requires the political will to resist PRC expansionism — from the United States, Vietnam and the region.

In sum, the Paracels question is not ancient history but a challenge for today, for everyone that aspires for a free and open Indo Pacific.