A rare find in the British National Archives may provide another piece of evidence discrediting China’s claim of historic rights to the disputed Paracel archipelago in the South China Sea.
After months of scouring the archives, British journalist-turned-scholar Bill Hayton came across a semi-official document indicating that until the late Qing Dynasty, Chinese authorities still didn’t consider the Paracel Islands part of China’s territory.
Hayton, author of “The Invention of China” (2020) and “South China Sea” (2014), discovered an 1899 translation of a letter in which the Zongli Yamen — equivalent to the foreign ministry — of the Qing Empire informed British officials that Chinese authorities could not accept liability for the looting of a ship’s cargo in the late 1890s in the Paracels.
The letter refers to the so-called “Bellona copper case” where the German ship Bellona was wrecked in the archipelago a few years earlier and the copper cargo it was transporting was stolen by Chinese fishermen.
The Chinese government “refused compensation” for the British-insured copper because the islands were “high seas” and were not Chinese territory.