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China’s 3 Crimes of War of Aggression against the Vietnamese People
The UN General Assembly’s Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (Oct. 17, 1970) (hereinafter “the Declaration”) provided, inter alia, “The principle that States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations”.
The Declaration announced:
“A war of aggression constitutes a crime against the peace, for which there is responsibility under international law.”
“Every State has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate the existing international boundaries of another State or as a means of solving international disputes, including territorial disputes and problems concerning frontiers of States.”
The Declaration “declares further that: The principles of the Charter which are embodied in this Declaration constitute basic principles of international law”.
(The crime of war of aggression was refined further by General Assembly resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974 defining “aggression”, and the Amendment to the Rome Statute of The International Criminal Court on June 11, 2010 adding the “crime of aggression” to the Rome Statute. )
However, in complete disregard of the international criminal law, China blatantly committed 3 crimes of war of aggression against Vietnam in 1974, 1979, and 1988.
1. China’s First Crime of Aggression: The Paracel War 1974
On January 19th, 1974, the Navy of the People’s Republic of China (“China Navy”) attacked the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam (“ROV Navy”), who was temporarily holding the Paracel islands on behalf of Vietnam in accordance with the Geneva Accords of 1954. The southwest half of the Paracel group under Vietnam’s control was called the Crescent Group. The Northeast half was the Amphitrite Group, over which Vietnam also claimed sovereignty, was occupied by China since 1956.
China Navy defeated ROV Navy in this war, killed 74 ROV Navy soldiers and took over the Crescent group of islands, effectively occupying the entire Paracel group of islands until today.
Regardless of the status of sovereignty claims by each side over the islands, using military force to resolve territorial disputes, killing people and taking territory of another State, was a crime of aggression under the international criminal law.
The Declaration provided:
“The territory of a State shall not be the object of military occupation resulting from the use of force in contravention of the provisions of the Charter. The territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force. No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal.”
No territorial acquisition resulting from China’s use of force shall be recognized as legal by any court of the world, by any international organization of the world, or by any State of the world. There shall never be any international recognition of China’s claim of sovereignty over the Crescent Group of the Paracel group, if not over the entire Paracel group.
2. China’s Second Crime of War of Aggression: the Border Invasion of 1979 and the next decade of border attacks
Soon after Vietnam’s armed forces entered Cambodia to rescue the decimated Cambodian population from the genocidal Khmer Rouge on December 23, 1978, China decided to “teach Vietnam a lesson” (because China happened to support the genocidal Khmer Rouge), by moving 120 thousand soldiers and hundreds of tanks and airplanes penetrating Vietnam across Vietnam’s northern border. By March 16, 1979 when China withdrew its forces from Vietnam, about ten thousand Vietnamese had been killed by Chinese invading forces.
Though withdrawing, China’s armed forced continued to attack across the Vietnamese northern border constantly over the next decade, resulting in hundreds of deaths each year, until well after the Spratly massacre in 1988 and into the early 1990’s.
Five years before the war of aggression of 1979, the General Assembly had further refined the definition of the crime of aggression by Resolution No. 3314 (XXIX), Dec. 14, 1974, providing:
“Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations,”
“An act of aggression is the invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof.”
China’s war of aggression in 1979 to support one of the worst genocidal regimes of the 20th century, and to attack Vietnam while Vietnam was performing its international humanitarian duty of rescuing the decimated Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields, was so appalling to human conscience and to the sense of justice and dignity of the world citizens that words cannot describe sufficiently. China’s 1979 war of aggression against Vietnam was a criminal activity of the highest degree.
China must be responsible for the death of ten thousand Vietnamese in the 1979 war of aggression and the next decade of border attacks.
3. China’s Third Crime of War of Aggression: The Spratly Massacre on March 14, 1988
This was not even a war, this was a massacre of the highest criminal killing order. A video footage of the actual event at Johnson South Reef, in the Spratly group, on March 14, 1988, taken by China Navy at the time, showed that a large force of China Navy with very high firepower simply shot and sank two unarmed transport ships, severely damaged another unarmed transport ship, and murdered their light-armed defenders, killing 64 soldiers and taking its first six holdings in the Spratly group of islands.
This was neither a war nor a battle. This was simply a massacre. Please take several minutes to watch the video so that you see with your own eyes.
“No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal.”
All the current holdings of China in the Spratly group are ill-gotten spoils from a criminal activity and cannot have any recognition from the United Nations, any international organization or any State.
The UN General Assembly has declared: “A war of aggression constitutes a crime against the peace, for which there is responsibility under international law.”
China has constantly engaged in such criminal activities, and today still continues using military force to grab lands in South China Sea, time and time again putting the world peace at the brim of shattering.
Through all these, the world seems to forget that there is criminal law in the world’s law book and no one forces China to pay for its criminal behavior.
However, the world should not be a lawless place and the good international order that so many world citizens and States have worked hard to build over many trial decades should not be lost to the will of an arrogant fool.
We are asking the citizens and governments of the world to force China to take responsibilities for the damages its criminal activities have created against the citizens of Vietnam through these three crimes of war of aggression.
We shall also address China’s crimes of aggression against other peoples of the world.
We shall make sure that international criminal law operates to force China to take its responsibilities, pay for its crimes, and behave like a law abiding citizen of the world.
We are absolutely sure that the citizens and governments of the world will respond to our call to preserve the world’s law and order.
Trần Đình Hoành
August 5, 2014
(The author is a trial attorney in Washington DC. He advises various governments on international legal and political issues, and is the founder of UNCLOSforum.com)