Battle of the Paracel Islands

Battle of the Paracel Islands
Battle of the Paracel Islands.png
DateJanuary 19–20, 1974
LocationParacel Islands
ResultChinese victory
Territorial
changes
China establishes control over the Paracels
Belligerents
 China South Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
China Zhang Yuanpei (张元培)
China Wei Mingsen (魏鸣森)
Colonel Hà Văn Ngạc
Strength
4 minesweepers
2 submarine chasers[1]
Unknown number of marines
Unknown number of militia
3 frigates
1 corvette
1 commando platoon
1 demolition team
1 militia platoon
Casualties and losses
18 killed
67 wounded
4 minesweepers damaged
53 killed
16 injured
48 captured
1 corvette sunk
3 frigates damaged[2]

The Battle of the Paracel Islands was a military engagement between the naval forces of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and South Vietnam in the Paracel Islands on January 19, 1974. The battle was an attempt by the South Vietnamese Navy to expel the Chinese navy from the vicinity.

As a result of the battle, the PRC established de facto control over the Paracels.

Background

The Paracel Islands, called Xisha Islands (西沙群岛; Xīshā Qúndǎo) in Chinese and Hoang Sa Islands (Quần Đảo Hoàng Sa) in Vietnamese, lie in the South China Sea approximately equidistant from the coastlines of the PRC and Vietnam (200 nautical miles). With no native population, the archipelago’s ownership has been in dispute since the early 20th century.

China first asserted sovereignty in the modern sense to the South China Sea’s islands when it formally objected to France’s efforts to incorporate them into French Indochina during the Sino-French War (1884–1885). Initially, France recognized Qing China's sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, in exchange for Chinese recognition of Vietnam as a French territory. Chinese maps since then have consistently shown China’s claims, first as a solid and then as a dashed line. In 1932, one year after the Japanese Empire invaded northeast China, France formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly Islands; China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France bolstered their claim and seized the Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included them in French Indochina. They built several weather stations on them, but they did not disturb the numerous Chinese fishermen found there. In 1938 Japan took the islands from France, garrisoned them, and built a submarine base at Itu Aba (now Taiping / 太平) Island. In 1941, the Japanese Empire made the Paracel and Spratly Islands part of Taiwan, then under its rule.

In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China government at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province. In 1946 it established garrisons on both Woody (now Yongxing / 永兴) Island in the Paracels and Taiping Island in the Spratlys. France promptly protested. The French tried but failed to dislodge Chinese nationalist troops from Yongxing Island (the only habitable island in the Paracels), but were able to establish a small camp on Pattle (now Shanhu / 珊瑚) Island in the southwestern part of the archipelago.

In 1950, after the Chinese nationalists were driven from Hainan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), they withdrew their garrisons in both the Paracels and Spratlys to Taiwan. In 1954 France ceased to be a factor when it accepted the independence of both South and North Vietnam and withdrew from Indochina.

In 1956 North Vietnam formally accepted that the Paracel and Spratly islands were historically Chinese. About the same time, the PLA reestablished a Chinese garrison on Yongxing Island in the Paracels, while the Republic of China (Taipei) stationed troops on Taiping Island in the Spratlys. That same year, however, South Vietnam reopened the abandoned French camp on Shanhu Island and announced it had annexed the Paracel archipelago as well as the Spratlys. To focus on its war with the North, South Vietnam by 1966 had reduced its presence on the Paracels to only a single weather observation garrison on Shanhu Island. The PLA made no attempt to remove this force.[3]