Wiki  Paracel Islands

From (Updated 21 April 2016)

The Paracel Islands, also known as Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese (Xisha in Chinese), is a group of islands, reefs, banks and other maritime features in the South China Sea. It belongs to  Vietnam and nowaday has been invaded by the People's Republic of China, and also the-wanted target by Taiwan.

The archipelago includes about 130 small coral islands and reefs, most grouped into the northeast Amphitrite Group or the western Crescent Group. They are distributed over a maritime area of around 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi), with a land area of approximately 7.75 square kilometres (2.99 sq mi). The archipelago is approximately equidistant from the coastlines of China (PRC) and Vietnam; and approximately about one-third of the way from central Vietnam to the northern Philippines.[4]

Turtles and seabirds are native to the islands, which have a hot and humid climate, abundant rainfall and frequent typhoons. The archipelago is surrounded by productive fishing grounds and a seabed with potential, but as yet unexplored, oil and gas reserves.

Amphitrite Group

The Amphitrite group was named after the French frigate Amphitrite of the Jesuitmissionary.[5][6][7]

Lying in the northeast of the Paracel Islands at 16°53′N 112°17′E,[8] the group consists of low narrow islands with sand cays, enclosed shallow lagoons connected by reefs of rock, and is about 37 km (23 mi) northwest of Lincoln Island. The group approximately forms an ellipse with a north-south axis of 22 km (14 mi).

The northern section of the group comprises West Sand, Tree Island and the Qilian Yu sub-group (The "Seven Sisters": North Island, Middle Island, South Island, North Sand, Middle Sand, South Sand and two small "sands".) The centre of the group consists of Woody Island and Rocky Island, approximately 5 km (3 mi) south of the southern tip of the eastern extremity of the northern section. The southwest corner of the group is occupied by the Iltis Bank.

The largest island of the Paracels, Woody Island (which has an area of 213 ha (530 acres)), has over 1,000 residents[9] including fishermen and their families, military personnel and civilian administrators.[10]

Crescent Group

Lying about 70 km (43 mi) southwest of the Amphitrite group, at 16.5°N 111.7°E, the Crescent group consists of islands and reefs that form a crescent-like structure from west to east, enclosing a deep central lagoon. The group measures 31 by 15 km (19 by 9 mi) east-west and north-south. All of the islands in the group support vegetation except on their small cays.

The islands are named after former senior figures in the British East India Company. Three were members of the EIC's 'Select Committee' in Canton: James Drummond, Thomas Pattle and John William Roberts. Jonathan Duncan was Governor in Council of Bombay and William Taylor Money was Superintendent of the Bombay Marine. The Chinese name for Money Island is simply the translation of the word 'money - Jin Yin Dao. Money Island' lies at the southwest extremity of the group, and has some small cays in the southern side.

Antelope Reef, submerged at high tide and containing a central lagoon, lies 2.4 km (1.5 mi) east of Money Island.

Northeast of this are Robert Island (also named Round Island) and Pattle Island, separated from each other by a 3.5 km (2.2 mi) wide deep channel. A weather station was built on Pattle Island (by the French) in 1932, and a lighthouse and radio station in 1937.

Northeast of this is Quanfu Dao ("All Wealth Island").

Observation Bank, also named Silver Islet, and the Lesser Silver Islet, are the northernmost of the group and contain a small cay. Just south of them are Yagong Dao (He Duck) and Xianshe Yu (Salty Hut).

At the eastern side of the group lies a 12 km (7 mi) long boomerang shaped reef with Stone Islet at its north end and Drummond Island at its south end.

The Duncan Islands (16°27′N 111°43′E[11]), consisting of Duncan Island and Palm Island, lie approximately 3 km (2 mi) west of Drummond Island and about 8 km (5 mi) east of Antelope Reef. Kuangzai Shazhou (Little Basket) lies about halfway between Palm Island and Antelope Reef.

Other features

Taking 16°40′N 112°20′E as the centre of the Paracel Islands, then the Amphitrite Group is ENE, and the Crescent Group is West.


Aerial photo of the Crescent Group

Eastern sub-group


(ENE: Ampitrite Group)

16°53′N 112°17′E[8]


(West: Crescent Group)

Inner Southwest

Outer Southwest



List of entities

English name

Amphitrite Group

Woody Island

Rocky Island

West Sand

Tree Island

("Seven Sisters")

North Island

Middle Island

South Island

North Sand

Middle Sand

South Sand

(New West Sand)

(Sth S Sand)

Iltis Bank

Crescent Group

Money Island

Antelope Reef

Robert Island

(Round Island)

Pattle Island

(All Wealth)

Observation Bank

(Silver Islet)

(Lesser Silver Islet)

(He Duck)

(Salty Hut)

(Stone Islet)

Drummond Island

Duncan Island

Palm Island

(Little Basket)

Other features

Triton Island

Discovery Reef

Passu Keah

Herald Bank

Bombay Reef

Vuladdore Reef

Bremen Bank

Jehangire Bank

Neptuna Bank

Pyramid Rock

Lincoln Island

Dido Bank

North Reef

Chinese name

Xuande Qundao (宣德环礁)

Yongxing Dao (永兴岛)

Shidao (石岛)

Xisha Zhou (西沙洲)

Zhaoshudao (赵述岛)

Qilian Yu Subgroup (七连屿)

Bei Dao (北岛)

Zhong Dao (中岛)

Nan Dao (南岛)

Bei Shazhou (北沙洲)

Zhong Shazhou (中沙洲)

Nan Shazhou (南沙洲)

Xixin Shazhou (西新沙洲)

Dongxin Shazhou (东新沙洲)

Yin Shuo Tan (银铄滩)

Yongle Qundao (永乐环礁)

Jinyin Dao (金银岛)

Lingyang Jiao (羚羊礁)

Ganquan Dao (甘泉岛)

Shanhu Dao (珊瑚岛)

Quanfu Dao (全富岛)

Yin Yu (银屿)

Yinyu Zi (银屿仔)

Yagong Dao (鸭公岛)

Xianshe Yu (咸舍屿)

Shi Yu (石屿)

Jinqing Dao (晋卿岛)

Chenhang Dao (琛航岛)

Guangjin Dao (广金岛)

Kuangzai Shazhou (筐仔沙洲)

Zhongjian Dao (中建岛)

Huaguang Jiao (华光礁)

Panshi Yu (盘石屿)

Songtao Tan (嵩焘滩)

Langhua Jiao (浪花礁)

Yuduo Jiao (玉琢礁)

Binmei Tan (滨湄滩)

Zhanhan Tan (湛涵滩)

Beibian Lang (北边廊)

Gaojian Shi (高尖石)

Dong Dao (东岛)

Xidu Tan (西渡滩)

Bei Jiao (北礁)

Vietnamese name

Nhóm An Vĩnh

Đảo Phú Lâm

Đảo Đá

Cồn cát Tây

Đảo Cây

Đảo Bắc

Đảo Trung

Đảo Nam

Cồn cát Bắc

Cồn cát Trung

Cồn cát Nam



Bãi Bình Sơn

Nhóm Lưỡi Liềm

Đảo Quang Ảnh

Đá Hải Sâm

Đảo Hữu Nhật

Đảo Hoàng Sa

Đảo Ốc Hoa

Bãi Xà Cừ

Đảo Ba Ba

(Đá Trà Tây?)

(Đảo Lưỡi Liềm?)

Đảo Duy Mộng

Đảo Quang Hòa

Đảo Quang Hòa Tây


Đảo Tri Tôn

Đá Lồi

Đảo Bạch Quy

Bãi Ốc Tai Voi

Đá Bông Bay

Đá Chim Én

Bãi Châu Nhai

Bãi Quảng Nghĩa

Bãi Thuỷ Tề

Hòn Tháp

Đảo Linh Côn

Bãi Gò Nổi

Đá Bắc


































Location / Notes

ENE [8]

Centre of Amphitrite Group [15]

Connected to (NE of) Woody Is.[15]

NW of Amphitrite Group

N of Amphitrite Group [8]

NE of Amphitrite Group

N1 of Seven Islets [16]

N2 of Seven Islets

N3 of Seven Islets

N4 of Seven Islets

N5 of Seven Islets

N6 of Seven Islets [16]

N7a of Seven Islets (7W)

N7b of Seven Islets (7E); South of South Sand

SW of Woody Island [15]

W end of Crescent Group [17]

W Crescent Group, S of Robert Is.[17]

W of Crescent Group; Has a well

N of Robert Island [18] Has a well

NE of Pattle, SW of Observation Bank

NE of Crescent Group

SE of Silver Islet

SW of Observation Bank

SW of Observation Bank, W of Stone Islet

E of Crescent Group

E of Crescent Group

S of Crescent Group [11]

S of Crescent Group [11]

E of Antelope Reef

Outer SW [19]

Inner SW [19]

Inner SW, S of Discovery Reef [19]


SE [20]


Eastern sub-group

Eastern sub-group

Eastern sub-group

Eastern sub-group [20]

Eastern sub-group [12]

"Water can be found on the island"

NE [12]

NW [13]





































Satellite images


Xisha and other Chinese names

The Chinese name Xisha (西沙), literally "western sands" or "shoals", is a name adopted in the 20th century to distinguish it from the "eastern sands" (the Dongsha or Pratas), the "southern sands" (the Nansha or Spratlys), and the "central sands" (the Zhongsha orMacclesfield Bank). Prior to that, there had been no consistent designation of these islands in early Chinese sources, with names such asChangsha, Shitang, Shichuang and others being used for Paracel and Spratly apparently interchangeably.[22] In the Song Dynasty workZhu fan zhi by Zhao Rugua, the names Qianli Changsha (千里, lit.  "Thousand-mile Long Sands") and Wanli Shichuang (萬里lit. "Ten-thousand-mile Rock Bed") were given, interpreted by some to refer to Paracel and Spratly respectively, but opinions differed.[23]The Yuan dynasty work Daoyi Zhilüe by Wang Dayuan considers that Shitang (石塘) to be the same as Wanli Shitang (萬里, lit. "Ten-thousand-mile Rock Embankment"), which starts from Chaozhou and extends to Borneo, west to Côn Sơn Island off Vietnam and down as far as Java.[24] The History of Yuan uses the terms Qizhouyang (七洲洋, "The Ocean of Seven Islands") and Wanli Shitang, which are taken to mean Paracel and Spratly respectively.[24][25] In the Mao Kun map from the Zheng He's voyage of the early 15th century, groups of islands were named as Shitang (石塘), Wansheng Shitangyu (萬生石塘嶼), and Shixing Shitang (石星石塘), with Shitang (sometimes including Wansheng Shitangyu) being taken by some to mean Paracel.[26][27] Another Ming text, Haiyu (On the Sea), uses Wanli Shitangto refer to Paracel and Wanli Changsha for Spratly.[27]

During the Qing dynasty, a set of maps refer to Paracel as Qizhouyang (Shitang became Spratly, and Changsha became Zhongsha), while a book Hai Lu (Illustrations of the Sea) refers to Paracel as Changsha and Spratly as Shitang. A sea chart prepared in the Daoguang era, Yiban Lu (Particular Illustrations) by Zheng Guangzu, uses Xisha to refer to Paracel.[28] Xisha was also used in 20th century maps published by the Republic of China, for example in 1935,[29] and the 1947 11-dash line map which claimed Paracel and Spratly as its territories.[30]

Hoàng Sa

The Vietnamese call the islands Hoang Sa, (黃沙 or Yellow Sands), and this name is found in historic Vietnamese documents dating back to the 15th century.[31] In the modern language system it is written as Hoàng Sa or Cát Vàng. They all have the same meaning — the Yellow Sands or the Yellow Sandbank. Before the early 19th century, the present-day Spratly Islands were treated as features of Hoàng Sa.[32][33] It was not until the reign of Emperor Minh Mạng (1820–1841) that the Spratlys were distinctly delineated and officially named Vạn Lý Trường Sa (萬里長沙), the Ten-thousand-league Long Sandbank.[34][35]

Chinese researcher Li Jinming, however, claims that the original "Hoang Sa" in historic Vietnamese documents is along the coast of the Vietnamese shore, and not the modern Paracel or Spratly Islands.[36][37][38]

Pracel and Paracel

Main article: Placer (geography)

The name 'Paracel' is found in the first Portuguese maps of the region. The Portuguese, whose vessels frequented the South China Sea as early as at the beginning of the 16th century, were the first to refer to these islands as 'Ilhas do Pracel' in the 16th century.

Regarding the likely origin of the term Paracel, the word is a variant of the more common form pracel or parcel, from the Spanish:placer,[39] which was used by the Portuguese and Spanish navigators to designate shallow sandy seas or submerged banks, such asPlacer de los Roques.[40]

Paracel Islands as shown in Zheng He Voyage Map (suggested by some to be the islands to the left at the bottom).[21]

Pracel is a moderately elevated chain of islets, sandbanks, and reefs. These features are continuously distributed and stretched over a noticeable distance of tens or hundreds of kilometers in length. Pracel may not be a suitable place for human residents, but its irregular depth creates an ideal environment inhabited by fish. Pracel often forms a natural bulwark as an outer line of defense for a coast or a land.[41]

18th century European map showing the Paracel Islands as part of Cochinchina (Vietnam)

The Portuguese were later followed by the Dutch, the English, the Spanish, and the French in the waters of the island group. On the "Map of the coast of Tonquin and Cochinchina", made in 1747 by Pierre d'Hondt, the dangerous band of rugged rocks was labeled "Le Paracel", a French phonetic notation. Because of their location on an important seaborne route the Paracel Islands drew much attention from navigators and hydrographersin the Age of Exploration. Disputes in the area since the Second World War have again drawn attention to the islands.

On the "Map of Europe, Africa and Asia" published in 1598 by Cornelis Claesz, an unnamed band of rocks and sandbanks are shown near the present-day location of the Paracel and Spratly Islands. About two decades later, the names Pracel and Costa de Pracel (Coast of Pracel) appeared on the Chart of Asia and eight city maps published in 1617 byWillem Jansz Blaeu, a Dutch map maker. The coast belonged to the Kingdom of Cauchi China.[41][42]

East India Company

The islands were first scientifically surveyed by Daniel Ross of the English East India Company in 1808.[43] The names of Duncan, Drummond, Money, Pattle and Roberts islands were all chosen in honour of senior figures in the East India Company.

Infrastructure and natural resources

The PRC is investing "millions" in infrastructure and development to support its territorial claims over the Archipelago, and as a result there has been, and continues to be, a lot of construction activity. In recent years Woody Island has acquired an upgraded airport, an upgraded sea port, and a city hall. A primary school for children of construction workers and troops stationed there is planned.[44]


Fresh water

There is limited supply of fresh water on the islands. In 2012, it was reported that China (PRC) planned to build a solar-energy-powered desalination plant on the islands.[45]


Both wind and solar powered facilities exist to supply electricity on the islands.[citation needed]


There is a post office, hospital, bank and hostel on Woody Island.[citation needed] The Chinese postal zip code of the island is 572000, and the telephone area code is +86 (898).


There is an airport on Woody Island with a 2,400 metres (7,900 ft) long runway, which can handle take-offs and landings of Boeing-737s or planes of similar size. Flight services operate on the HaikouXisha route. There are three main roads on Woody Island as well as an 800 metres (2,600 ft) long cement causeway that connects Woody Island and Rocky Island. Extensive port facilities have been constructed on Duncan Island.

Ecology and Tourism

Historical perspectives

Paracel Islands' geographical and ecological traits are often likened as "China’s Maldives", however, controversial conflicts between environment conservation and human activities including military operations, developments, and tourism on Paracel Islands have become public concerns in recent years.[46] Local ecosystem include endangered ocean and bird species such as critically endangered green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles, however, direct damaging on ecosystem by military group and tourists have been documented .[47]Governmental actions to cease illegal tourism are ongoing.[48]

The islands have been open for tourists since 1997.Chinese tourists can take a 20-hour ferry to the Islands, paying up to US$2,000 for a 5-day cruise, and are placed on a long waitlist before being accepted.[49] The BBC article states that "Chinese tourism has strong political implications, as the Chinese tourists are being used as 'foot soldiers of China' by Beijing to further China's territorial claims there". The video also states "Vietnam is considered unlikely to send military vessels to stop them".[49]

There are two museums on Woody Island; a Naval Museum and a Maritime Museum. In April 2012, the Vice-Mayor and officials from the Haikou Municipal Government made several announcements about developing new docking facilities and hotels within the Crescent Group - on Duncan and Drummond Islands specifically.[50] Promotion of the naturally unspoilt reef system was cited as the driver for new tourism potential with other such reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, now placed under threat of extinction due to human activities.[51] However, according to The China Post, this was denied by a PRC Government official in April 2012, due to sensitivities surrounding the islands.[52]

Territorial disputes and their historical background

Main article: Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

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 1884–1885 Sino-French war. After the war, France recognized the Paracel's and Spratly's islands as Chinese territories, 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 dotted line.[53] Between 1881 and 1883 the German navy surveyed the islands continuously for three months each year without seeking the permission of either France or China. No protest was issued by either government and the German government published the results of the survey in 1885.[54] In 1932, France nonetheless formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly Islands. China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France seized the Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included them in French Indochina, and built a couple of weather stations on them, but did not disturb the numerous Chinese fishermen it 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.

After the communists gained control of China in 1949, they occupied Woody Island, the main island of the Amphitrite group and the only island that was occupied at the time. Pattle Island in the Crescent group, on the other hand, was later taken by French Indochina and then controlled by South Vietnam following independence in 1956. Tensions over the islands have continued to rise unceasingly since then.


Most of the Paracel Islands are within China's 200 nautical-mile EEZ as defined by UNCLOS.[55]

Military engagement

Main article: Battle of the Paracel Islands

In 1974, the political and diplomatic dispute over the islands became an armed conflict between China and South Vietnam. On January 16, South Vietnamese naval officers and an American observer reported to Saigon some suspected military activities of the Chinese navyon the Drummond and Duncan islands. After receiving the report, the government of South Vietnam decided to counter the Chinese forces, to defend the South Vietnamese-controlled section (the western half of the Paracels) from Chinese occupation,[56] and sent a unit of frigates to the area. On January 19, there were sea and land battles between the Chinese and Vietnamese forces with casualties on both sides. At the end, the Chinese fleet defeated the naval force of South Vietnam. With the ongoing civil war with the Viet Congembroiling South Vietnam's attention and the absence of the USA's support, no military attempt was made to re-engage the PRC over the islands. After the military engagement and the subsequent victory, the PRC gained the entire archipelago and has taken control of Paracel Islands ever since. It was a significant turning point for the PRC but the sovereignty dispute on the islands remains unresolved withVietnam.

Harbour developments between the Duncan Islands (December 2012)

Letter from South Vietnam's General Staff of the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces, dated 02-18-74, concerning the Battle of the Paracel Islands

The Route through Quảng Nammap depicting Bãi Cát Vàng – the Golden Sandbank – off the coast ofQuảng Nam, 1634.

Atlas produced by Belgian geographer Philippe Vandermaelen (1795-1869), published in 1827 in Belgium, showing Paracel Islands is a part of Vietnam



20th-century events 

21st-century events

In response to the Vietnamese move, Beijing announced the establishment of the prefecture-level city of Sansha covering the Paracel and Spratly Islands.[citation needed]

The Philippines and Vietnam promptly lodged diplomatic protests strongly opposing the establishment of the Sansha City under Chinese jurisdiction.[102][103]

According to reports, at the beginning of May 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese naval vessels collided near the islands as Hanoi sought to prevent a Chinese oil rig from setting up in the area.[105] On May 26, a Vietnamese fishing boat sank near the oil rig, after colliding with a Chinese vessel. As both sides imputed the blame to each other, Vietnam released a video footage in a week later, showing a Chinese vessel ramming into its ship before it sank; the Chinese said they were on the defensive while Vietnamese vessels were attacking the Chinese fishing boats.[106]

In January 2016, photographs emerged that indicate that China is reclaiming land and expanding military facilities in the Paracels, including at Duncan Island, North Island, and Tree Island. Commentators have likened this work to the initial stages of China's large-scale construction in the Spratly Islands.[108]

FIPS country code 

The FIPS 10-4 country code for the Paracel Islands is PF.



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