On Dangerous Ground

Publisher : Oxford University Press

ISBN-13 : 0197633986

Page : 336 pages

Rating : 4.5/5 from 986 voters

"The first documented moves to claim and administer some of these far-flung islands took place during the early nineteenth century. The Spanish, as the colonial power in the Philippines, undertook occasional surveys of Scarborough Shoal from 1800 onward. Spain never made a formal declaration of sovereignty over the feature but included it on some maps as part of the Philippine archipelago. Emperor Gia Long, who founded the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam, declared sovereignty over the Paracel Islands in 1816. Prior to that, Vietnamese authorities had been officially sanctioning salvage operations in the islands for several decades. Vietnam continued to make occasional use of the islands during the 1830s and 1840s, after which official interest lapsed. In 1843, Captain Richard Spratly aboard the British whaler Cyrus claimed to be the first to discover the island that bears his name. Eventually the entire island group would come to be known as the Spratlys. The British East India Company had been conducting surveys of the islands from the late eighteenth century and in 1868, the British Admiralty compiled the results of those efforts into a new nautical chart of the South China Sea. That map displayed nine distinct islands and reefs in the western portion of the grouping, including Spratly Island itself. In the east, it showed a largely empty expanse of water dotted with reefs whose existence could not be confirmed. The chart labeled this area "Dangerous Ground," a nickname it still bears. The map was revised in 1881 and reproduced by nearly every country with an interest in the South China Sea, including the United States. It would remain the standard chart of the area until the 1950s. No government showed much interest in the islands themselves until 1877 when the British colonial authorities in Labuan, North Borneo registered a claim to Spratly Island and Amboyna Cay on behalf of London. Those two features were listed as possessions by the British Colonial Office from 1891 to 1933, though the British never vigorously pursued the claim. Despite later revisionism, Qing Dynasty documents and actions show that Chinese officials considered Hainan Island to be the southernmost limit of their authority. There is no record of any Chinese objections to Gia Long's annexation of the Paracels or subsequent Vietnamese activity there. When German and Japanese ships carrying insured British copper wrecked on the islands in 1895 and 1896, Chinese authorities foreswore any responsibility for them. Chinese fishers had salvaged the wrecks, prompting the insurance company to demand compensation from those responsible. This was transmitted through the United Kingdom's embassy in Beijing and its consul in Hoihow (modern Haikou). In response, Chinese officials in Liangguang-supervising Guangxi and Guangdong provinces, including Hainan-insisted the islands were unclaimed as far as they were concerned"--

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