Vietnam territory: throughout history and in the new era

Dr. Tran Cong Truc, with 30 years of experience in border works, including 10 years being the Head of State Border Committee, has directly participated in border delimitation negotiation with other countries as a Vietnam delegate. Vietnam Times proudly introduces Dr. Truc and his colleagues’ series of articles about the process of forming and managing Vietnam territorial borders.
August 03, 2020 | 07:27
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Territorial sovereignty has been the top priority throughout history

In January 1077, national hero Ly Thuong Kiet led the fight against invaders along the bank of the Cau River. Legend has it that every night, he sent a confidant to sneak into Truong Hong and Truong Hat temple, which located on the battleground on Nhu Nguyet river's bank (the present Cau river) to read out loud the following poem:

“Nam quốc sơn hà Nam Đế cư

Tiệt nhiên định phận tại thiên thư.

Như hà nghịch lỗ lai xâm phạm.

Nhữ đẳng hành khan thủ bại hư.”


The mountains and rivers that carved the southern empire, dwelled by the Southern Emperor.

Its sovereignty is of nature's will and is allotted in the script from heaven.

What gives these invaders the right to trespass it,

They shall, in doing that, see themselves be defeated and shamed!

This poem is considered the first Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, affirming that the land, the river and the borders of the Southern Emperor are written in the book of Heaven, if any enemies violate what was not theirs, they will suffer a humiliating defeat!

1359 1740 ly thuong kiet

A statue of Ly Thuong Kiet.

In 1428, Nguyen Trai, on behalf of Le Loi, proclaimed the total pacification of the Ming Dynasty to its people through the "Great proclamation upon the pacification of the Wu", in which he declared the independence of Dai Viet to the people, as well as to the neighbouring country China:

“Núi sông bờ cõi đã chia.

Phong tục Bắc Nam cũng khác

Từ Triệu, Đinh, Lý, Trần bao đời xây nền độc lập

Cùng Hán, Đường, Tống, Nguyên mỗi bên hùng cứ một phương.

Tuy mạnh yếu có lúc khác nhau

Song hào kiệt thời nào cũng có...”

(English translation by Vu Dinh Dinh PhD)

“As to Đại Việt, a country of great culture with a long tradition, its mountains

and rivers are lawfully delineated.

In addition, our customs are different from those in the North.

For hundreds of years, the dynasties of Triệu, Đinh, Lý and Trần had firmly established their independence.

Like the Han, Tang, Song and Yuan of China, they proudly governed their lands.

Although their strength, their weakness and ours at times differed, men of noble character in our country were never in short supply.”

In 1473, King Le Thanh Tong decreed the Minister of War Le Canh Huy when a border dispute with the Ming emerged: “One meter of my country's mountain, one inch of my country's river, should they be thrown away? You must resolutely argue not for them to encroach. If they do not listen, you can send our envoys to the North to clarify what is right. If you dare to let them take even one metre of our ancestors' land, then your three lines of ancestry will be exterminated”.

The poems which were written by predecessors from the Ly and Le dynasties clearly expressed that preserving territorial integrity, protecting national independence and sovereignty had always been the top priority of Vietnamese kings' foreign policy in the past. At the same time, they also passed on to the descendants the indomitable and tenacious tradition of Vietnamese generations in the history of building and defending the country.

Awareness of national territory in the new era

After the victory of the war against the French colonialists, according to the 1954 Geneva Conference, President Ho Chi Minh and the Party's Central Committee, Government, National Assembly, Vietnam Fatherland Front and other organizations from Viet Bac returned to take over the capital city of Hanoi. On the way back to Hanoi, 308th Infantry Division - the first main unit of our army, was honoured to take the first task assigned by Uncle Ho. The meeting took place in the morning of 19th September 1954, at Hung Temple, a symbol of Vietnam's origin, where President Ho Chi Minh made his legendary saying: “Hung Kings established our country, now it's our mission to protect it”.

1656 1737 le hoi den hung ngay non song toan dan1585742636
The Hung Kings Festival has become one of the national cultural traditions.

Vietnamese patriots' tradition of ceaseless sacrifice to protect the country's sovereignty remains intact in the consciousness and actions of descendants. However, the perception of the national territory in the new era has changed a lot. Therefore, on March 15, 1961, on his second visit to the Navy, President Ho Chi Minh stated: “In the past, we only knew about nights and forests. Today, we have daylight with sunshine and our own sea. Our coast is long and beautiful, thus we must protect it”.

President Ho Chi Minh's above ideology was codified by the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (amended), passed by the 13th National Assembly’s 6th Session, November 28, 2013:

Article 1:

“The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an independent and sovereign country enjoying unity and integrity of territory, including the mainland, islands, seas and airspace.”

According to the Constitution, Vietnam’s territory includes:

- S-shaped curved land area.

- Islands, including the Paracel Islands- Hoang Sa and the Spratly Islands - Truong Sa in the Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea).

- Maritime areas: including territorial waters, internal waters, the territorial sea that belong to national sovereignty and the territorial water contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, continental shelf under the sovereignty right and the jurisdiction.

- The airspace above the mainland, islands and sea territory (waters under national sovereignty).

Protecting sovereignty and preserving national territorial integrity have always been a prioritised and very heavy yet extremely glorious and sacred responsibility of all classes of people, from military personnel to every citizen, through the history of national establishment and defence. However, how the territory of a country is formed and defined is a very complicated historical and legal issue, not only depending on the development of science and technology, but also with many generations' sacrifice.

In order to contribute to raising the awareness of the country that every Vietnamese person, no matter where he lives, what he does or his political point of view, desires to contribute to its prosperity and integrity, we would like to provide readers with basic information that will be posted in the next articles.

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Amy Nguyen translated
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