Introduction to Dongsha (Pratas) Island

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Introduction to Dongsha (Pratas) Island

Chin-Long Lin

Dept. of Marine Environmental Informatics National Taiwan Ocean University. Keelung Taiwan

Planning Department Coastguard Administration Taipei Taiwan R.O.C.

Abstract

Dongsha Island is at the western side of Dongsha atoll (also named Pratas Islands). The shape of Dongsha atoll is like a full moon, therefore it is also called the Moon Island. It is located in a strategically important position along the major sea route connecting the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Dongsha Island is the biggest island in the South China Sea and is one of the earliest islands to be developed. The coral atoll features a rich marine life and has been designated as a national park by the Taiwan’s government because of its unique geographical and ecological features. park by Republic of China (R.O.C.)

1. A Brief History

Dongsha history can be traced back to Jin Dynasty’s Guangzhou Ji by Pei Yuan 裴淵《廣州記》over a thousand years ago: “The Shanhujhou (Coral Sandbar) is 500 li south of the county (Dongguan, Guangdong). People catch fish and harvest coral from the seas there”. Here “Shanhujhou” refers to Dongsha Island and its surrounding reef. According to Ching Dynasty fisherman Liang Sheng, by the 1860’s (Tungchih era of the Ching Dynasty) large numbers of fishermen from Guangdong and Hainan were sailing to the area to catch fish, harvest kelp and catch sea turtles. Factories built from wood were also built on Dongsha Island to process the catch such as salting or drying fish and kelp. Dongsha Island’s small size and isolation however meant there were no long-term inhabitants. It was instead served as a stopover during fishing trips.

Despite their long association and involvement in the South China Sea since ancient times, the Chinese people paid little official attention to the issue of sovereignty. It was not until vice-admiral Wu Sheng between 1710~1712 and admiral Li Chun in 1907 each surveyed the Paracel islands and Dongsha islands respectively that sovereignty was asserted and the islands formally declared a part of China. Legend has it that the Englishman Pratas sought to ride out a storm here in 1866. The island was named Pratas in his honor and this became the origin of Dongsha Island’s English name today.

In August 1907 the Japanese trader Nishizawa Yoshizi led an expedition to occupy Dongsha Island. He raised his flag on the island, named it “Nishizawa Island” then destroyed the ancestral temples, desecrated graves, burnt remains and drove off the Chinese fishermen working in the area. He went on to build a dock and railway on the island for the purpose of mining the guano for its phosphates, red alga as well as harvesting fish, shells and sea turtles. Other buildings included twenty or so wooden houses, a desalination plant, a cistern for storing fresh water and the turtle farm. He also set up phone lines and water pipes. The incident went unnoticed by the Ching imperial court and it was not until next year when Great Britain desired to build a lighthouse on the island that the imperial government was forced to deal with the question of its occupation by the Japanese. An official protest was lodged in 1909 with the Japanese consulate in Guangzhou and books such as “Map of China’s Rivers and Seas” were used to prove that the Dongsha Islands were indeed part of China’s territories. Reparation of 160,000 dollars was paid to Nishizawa as compensation for his development costs (30,000 dollars deducted to compensate fishermen for their loss, so actual payment was 130,000 dollars) and a treaty officially signed. Personnel were then dispatched in October of the same year and Dongsha Island was formally occupied again. In 1947 the National Government also declared the South China Sea islands to be part of Chinese boundary and this was published in domestic and foreign periodicals with a stone marker built on the island as well. There is...
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