From V. T. Sambandan
By occupying the Paracels Islands after a battle with the South Vietnamese forces, the People’s Republic of China has established its strategic presence in the South China Sea which links the Indian Ocean with the Pacific and the Far East. The ownership of this chain of islands, running about 750 miles north-south and east of Da Nang (South Vietnam) and about 175 miles south of the Chinese Island of Hainan, has been disputed over a long period. When the French occupied Indo-China it belonged to the French. During the World War II it was occupied by Japan and later turned over to China at the 1951 Peace Conference. Since then South Vietnam, as successor to the French and Taiwan as “representing” mainland China, have both claimed sovereignty over it. In the 1950’s the Philippines too had claimed it.
On Jan. 11, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, protested against the Saigon authorities’ action in adding ten islands of the group to South Vietnam. On Jan. 15, according to the New China News Agency, Saigon sent warships to the area leading to the incidents. On Jan. 19, Chinese ships, numbering over ten, backed by the Air Force, took over the territory in a two-day battle and rehoisted the Chinese flag.
This is the first time that China has taken naval action against a disputed territory. Its last major military action was along the Soviet border in 1969, apart from the war against India.
The Paracels Islands are said to have oil, mineral and guano resources.