Vietnam has reaffirmed its claim over the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea, after the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi edited the islands out of a map of Vietnam it had posted on its Facebook page for a recent diplomatic event.
“Vietnam has consistently maintained the Paracel and Spratly Islands as inseparable parts of the Vietnamese territory,” foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said at a press briefing Thursday when asked about the edit.
“This consistent stance has been taken multiple times in multiple forms, including at the United Nations, and is supported and respected by many countries,” she said.
In a complex, overlapping territorial dispute in the South China Sea, Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim the Paracels, while the Spratlys are also claimed by three other countries.
The seemingly insignificant sandbars and sea rocks cover a territory sought for rich fishing grounds and potential petroleum deposits. Vietnam and China frequently butt heads over their competing South China Sea claims.
In Sept. 9 Facebook post commemorating the start of the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Minister’s Meeting that day, the embassy included two graphics detailing the 25-year bilateral relationship between Washington and Hanoi, the second of which contained a map of Vietnam that included the two disputed island chains.
The post was initially met with cheers in its comments section.
“Amazing! This is our truly whole Vietnam map,” wrote Facebook user Doan Duy Thuc on Sept. 9.
Another commenter took the map to mean that Washington recognized Hanoi’s claim.
“The U.S. government recognizes: The Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam, the Spratly Islands belong to Vietnam. Thank you very much. Best partnership ever,” wrote Nam Truong Sept. 10.
The edited version of the map replaced the original on Sept. 14, this time without the disputed islets. Following the switch, commenters voiced their displeasure.
“Why did the U.S. embassy change the Vietnam map? Where are our Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands? The two island [chains] belong to Vietnam – That truth never changes,” wrote Facebook user Trang Ha on Wednesday.
Nguyen Trong Kha commented that he wondered if the U.S. intended anything by the edit.
“You guys literally posted a picture of Vietnam’s map with the Paracel islands and Spratly islands included. We really felt thankful and happy for such an action because Vietnam has enough historical [evidence] to prove that all those islands belong to Vietnam. I’m wondering why you’re doing this. Do you mean anything?” he said.
Both versions of the graphics bear the logo of East-West Center, a U.S.-funded education and research organization headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii.
RFA sought comment from the embassy, but there was no immediate reply as of Friday.
Officially the U.S. does not recognize the unilateral sovereignty of any claimant country over the Spratlys and Paracels. But the Trump administration has accused China of bullying Southeast Asian neighbors with its aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
China’s military currently controls the Paracels, with China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia occupying different parts of the Spratlys and Brunei claiming part of it inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In recent years, Beijing has undertaken major reclamation of disputed land features in the Paracel and Spratly island chains, hoping to bolster its claims.
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