Spratly Islands
Overview
 
The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea
South China Sea
The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around...

. The archipelago
Archipelago
An archipelago , sometimes called an island group, is a chain or cluster of islands. The word archipelago is derived from the Greek ἄρχι- – arkhi- and πέλαγος – pélagos through the Italian arcipelago...

 lies off the coasts of the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 and Malaysia (Sabah
Sabah
Sabah is one of 13 member states of Malaysia. It is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. It is the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its southwest. It also shares a border with the province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south...

), about one third of the way from there to southern Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. They comprise less than four square kilometers of land area spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea. The Spratlys are one of three archipelagos of the South China Sea which comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which complicate governance and economics in that region of Southeast Asia.
Encyclopedia
The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea
South China Sea
The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around...

. The archipelago
Archipelago
An archipelago , sometimes called an island group, is a chain or cluster of islands. The word archipelago is derived from the Greek ἄρχι- – arkhi- and πέλαγος – pélagos through the Italian arcipelago...

 lies off the coasts of the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 and Malaysia (Sabah
Sabah
Sabah is one of 13 member states of Malaysia. It is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. It is the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its southwest. It also shares a border with the province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south...

), about one third of the way from there to southern Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. They comprise less than four square kilometers of land area spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea. The Spratlys are one of three archipelagos of the South China Sea which comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which complicate governance and economics in that region of Southeast Asia. Such small and remote islands have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries. There are no native islanders but there are, at least for now, rich fishing grounds; and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant reserves of oil and natural gas.

About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

, the Republic of China (Taiwan)
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

, Malaysia and the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

. Brunei
Brunei
Brunei , officially the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace , is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia...

 has also claimed an EEZ
Exclusive Economic Zone
Under the law of the sea, an exclusive economic zone is a seazone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including production of energy from water and wind. It stretches from the seaward edge of the state's territorial sea out to 200 nautical...

 in the southeastern part of the Spratlys encompassing just one area of small islands above mean high water (on Louisa Reef.)

Geographic and economic overview

  • Coordinates: 10°N 114°E
  • Area (land based): less than 5 km² - includes 148 or so islets, coral reef
    Coral reef
    Coral reefs are underwater structures made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals. Coral reefs are colonies of tiny living animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, which in turn consist of polyps that cluster in groups. The polyps...

    s, and seamount
    Seamount
    A seamount is a mountain rising from the ocean seafloor that does not reach to the water's surface , and thus is not an island. These are typically formed from extinct volcanoes, that rise abruptly and are usually found rising from a seafloor of depth. They are defined by oceanographers as...

    s.
(sea surface): 410,000 km² of the central South China Sea
  • Coastline: 926 km
  • Political divisions: (in alphabetic order of claimants)
    • Brunei: Part of Brunei's Exclusive Economic Zone
      Exclusive Economic Zone
      Under the law of the sea, an exclusive economic zone is a seazone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources, including production of energy from water and wind. It stretches from the seaward edge of the state's territorial sea out to 200 nautical...

      ;
    • People's Republic of China: Part of Hainan
      Hainan
      Hainan is the smallest province of the People's Republic of China . Although the province comprises some two hundred islands scattered among three archipelagos off the southern coast, of its land mass is Hainan Island , from which the province takes its name...

       province;
    • Malaysia: Part of the state of Sabah
      Sabah
      Sabah is one of 13 member states of Malaysia. It is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo. It is the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its southwest. It also shares a border with the province of East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south...

      ;
    • Philippines: Part of Palawan
      Palawan
      Palawan is an island province of the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA region or Region 4. Its capital is Puerto Princesa City, and it is the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction. The islands of Palawan stretch from Mindoro in the northeast to Borneo in the...

       province;
    • Republic of China (Taiwan): Part of Kaohsiung
      Kaohsiung
      Kaohsiung is a city located in southwestern Taiwan, facing the Taiwan Strait on the west. Kaohsiung, officially named Kaohsiung City, is divided into thirty-eight districts. The city is one of five special municipalities of the Republic of China...

       municipality;
    • Vietnam: Part of Khánh Hòa
      Khánh Hòa
      Khánh Hòa may refer to a number of places in Vietnam:*Khanh Hoa Province*Khánh Hòa, An Giang - a commune of An Giang Province...

       Province.

  • Climate: tropical
  • Terrain: flat
  • Elevation extremes:
    • lowest point: South China Sea (0 m)
    • highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay
      Southwest Cay
      Southwest Cay or Song Tu Tay Island is an islet in the Spratly Islands. With an area of 12 hectares, it is the sixth largest Spratly island and the second largest among the Vietnamese-occupied Spratly islands. It holds the archipelago's highest point, at 4 meters above sea level. It is about 1.75...

       (4 m)
  • Natural hazards: serious maritime hazards because of numerous banks, reefs and shoals


The islands are most likely volcanic in origin. The islands themselves contain almost no significant arable land
Arable land
In geography and agriculture, arable land is land that can be used for growing crops. It includes all land under temporary crops , temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow...

 and have no indigenous inhabitants, although twenty of the islands, including Itu Aba, the largest, are considered to be able to sustain human life. Natural resources include fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

, guano
Guano
Guano is the excrement of seabirds, cave dwelling bats, and seals. Guano manure is an effective fertilizer due to its high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen and also its lack of odor. It was an important source of nitrates for gunpowder...

, undetermined oil
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 and natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

 potential. Economic
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 activity includes commercial fishing
Fishing
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....

, shipping
Shipping
Shipping has multiple meanings. It can be a physical process of transporting commodities and merchandise goods and cargo, by land, air, and sea. It also can describe the movement of objects by ship.Land or "ground" shipping can be by train or by truck...

, and tourism
Tourism
Tourism is travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people "traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes".Tourism has become a...

. The proximity to nearby oil
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

- and gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

-producing sediment
Sediment
Sediment is naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of fluids such as wind, water, or ice, and/or by the force of gravity acting on the particle itself....

ary basins suggests the potential for oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored, and there are no reliable estimates of potential reserves. Commercial exploitation of hydrocarbons has yet to be developed. The Spratly Islands have at least three fishing ports, several docks and harbors, at least three heliports, at least four territorial rigging style outposts (especially due west of Namyit Island
Namyit Island
Namyit Island or Nam Yet Island is one of the islands of Spratly Islands in South China Sea. With an area of 5.3 hectares, it is the twelfth largest Spratly island and the fifth largest among the Vietnamese-occupied Spratly islands. It is covered with small trees, bushes and grass, has a fringing...

), and six to eight airstrips.These islands are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes.

Coral reefs

Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.

Vegetation

Little vegetation grows on these islands, which are subject to intense monsoons. Larger islands are capable of supporting tropical forest, scrub forest, coastal scrub and grasses. It is difficult to determine which species have been introduced or cultivated by humans. Itu Aba Island was reportedly covered with shrubs, coconut
Coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

, and mangroves in 1938; pineapple
Pineapple
Pineapple is the common name for a tropical plant and its edible fruit, which is actually a multiple fruit consisting of coalesced berries. It was given the name pineapple due to its resemblance to a pine cone. The pineapple is by far the most economically important plant in the Bromeliaceae...

 was also cultivated here when it was profitable. Other accounts mention papaya
Papaya
The papaya , papaw, or pawpaw is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya, the sole species in the genus Carica of the plant family Caricaceae...

, banana
Banana
Banana is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa and for the fruit they produce. Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red....

, palm, and even white peach trees growing on one island. A few islands which have been developed as small tourist resorts have had soil and trees brought in and planted where there were none.

Wildlife

The islands that do have vegetation provide important habitats for many seabirds and sea turtles.

Both the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, endangered) and the Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill turtle
The hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in its genus. The species has a worldwide distribution, with Atlantic and Pacific subspecies. E. imbricata imbricata is the Atlantic subspecies, while E...

 (Eretmochelys imbricata, critically endangered
Critically endangered
Version 2010.3 of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species identified 3744 Critically Endangered species, subspecies and varieties, stocks and subpopulations.Critically Endangered by kingdom:*1993 Animalia*2 Fungi*1745 Plantae*4 Protista-References:...

) formerly occurred in numbers sufficient to support commercial exploitation. These species reportedly continue to nest even on islands inhabited by military personnel (such as Pratas) to some extent, though it is believed that their numbers have declined.

Seabirds use the islands for resting, breeding, and wintering sites. Species found here include Streaked Shearwater
Streaked Shearwater
The Streaked Shearwater, Calonectris leucomelas is a species of seabird. The bird is 48 cm in size, with a 122 cm wingspan. This species is pelagic, but also occurs in inshore waters. It occurs in the Pacific Ocean, nesting in Japan and many of its offshore islands. After breeding, the Streaked...

 (Calonectris Leucomelas), Brown Booby
Brown Booby
The Brown Booby is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. The adult brown booby reaches about in length. Its head and upper body are covered in dark brown, with the remainder being a contrasting white. The juvenile form is gray-brown with darkening on the head, wings and tail...

 (Sula Leucogaster), Red-Footed Booby
Red-footed Booby
The Red-footed Booby, Sula sula, is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. As suggested by the name, adults always have red feet, but the colour of the plumage varies. They are powerful and agile fliers, but they are clumsy in takeoffs and landings...

 (S. sula), Great Crested Tern (Sterna bergii), and White Tern
White Tern
The White Tern is a small seabird found across the tropical oceans of the world. It is sometimes known as the Fairy Tern although this name is potentially confusing as it is the common name of the Fairy Tern Sternula nereis...

 (Gygis Alba). Little information is available regarding current status of the islands’ seabird populations, though it is likely that birds may divert nesting site to smaller, less disturbed islands. Bird eggs cover the majority of Song Tu, a small island in the eastern Danger Zone.

Unfortunately, this ecoregion
Ecoregion
An ecoregion , sometimes called a bioregion, is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone and larger than an ecosystem. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural...

 is still largely a mystery. Scientists have focused their research on the marine environment, while the ecology of the terrestrial environment remains relatively unknown.

Ecological hazards

Political instability, tourism and the increasing industrialization of neighboring countries has led to serious disruption of native flora and fauna, over-exploitation of natural resources, and environmental pollution. Disruption of nesting areas by human activity or by introduced animals, such as dogs, has reduced the number of turtles nesting on the islands. Sea turtles are also slaughtered for food on a significant scale. The sea turtle is a symbol of longevity in Chinese customs and at times the military personnel are given orders to protect the turtles.

Heavy commercial fishing in the region incurs other problems. Though it has been outlawed, fishing methods continue to include the use of bottom trawls fitted with chain rollers. In addition, during a recent routine patrol, more than 200 kg of Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula KCN. This colorless crystalline compound, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and...

 solution was confiscated from fishermen who had been using it for fish poisoning. These activities have a devastating impact on local marine organisms and coral reefs.

Some interest has been taken in regard to conservation of these island ecosystems. J.W. McManus has explored the possibilities of designating portions of the Spratly Islands as a marine park
Marine park
A marine park is a park consisting of an area of sea sometimes protected for recreational use, but more often set aside to preserve a specific habitat and ensure the ecosystem is sustained for the organisms that exist there...

. One region of the Spratly Archipelago, called Truong Sa, was proposed by Vietnam’s Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (MOSTE
Moste
The Moste District or simply Moste is a city district in the eastern part of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. BTC City, the largest business, shopping, recreational, entertainment, and arts center in Slovenia, is located in Moste....

) as a future protected area. The 160 km2 site is currently managed by the Khanh Hoa
Khánh Hòa
Khánh Hòa may refer to a number of places in Vietnam:*Khanh Hoa Province*Khánh Hòa, An Giang - a commune of An Giang Province...

 Provincial People’s Committee of Vietnam.

Military groups in the Spratlys have engaged in environmentally damaging activities such as shooting turtles and seabirds, raiding nests, and fishing with explosives.
The collection of rare medicinal plants, collecting of wood and hunting for the wildlife trade are common threats to the biodiversity of the entire region, including these islands.
Coral habitats are threatened by pollution, over-exploitation of fish and invertebrates, and the use of explosives and poisons as fishing techniques.

Early cartography

The first possible human interaction with the Spratly Islands dates back between 600 BCE to 3 BCE. This is based on the theoretical migration patterns of the people of Nanyue
Nanyue
Nanyue was an ancient kingdom that consisted of parts of the modern Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan and northern Vietnam. Nanyue was established in 204 BC at the final collapse of the Qin Dynasty by Zhao Tuo, who was the military commander of Nanhai Commandery at the time, and...

 (southern China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and northern Vietnam) and Old Champa
Champa
The kingdom of Champa was an Indianized kingdom that controlled what is now southern and central Vietnam from approximately the 7th century through to 1832.The Cham people are remnants...

 kingdom who may have migrated from Borneo, which may have led them through the Spratly Islands.

Ancient Chinese maps record the "Thousand Li
Li (unit)
The li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer...

 Stretch of Sands"; Qianli Changsha (千里長沙) and the "Ten-Thousand Li
Li (unit)
The li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer...

 of Stone Pools"; Wanli Shitang (萬里石塘), which China today claims refers to the Spratly Islands. The Wanli Shitang have been explored by the Chinese since the Yuan Dynasty
Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan Dynasty , or Great Yuan Empire was a ruling dynasty founded by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who ruled most of present-day China, all of modern Mongolia and its surrounding areas, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368. It is considered both as a division of the Mongol Empire and as an...

 and may have been considered by them to have been within their national boundaries.
They are also referenced in the 13th century, followed by the Ming Dynasty. When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Qing Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....

 continued to include the territory in maps compiled in 1724, 1755, 1767, 1810, and 1817. A Vietnamese map from 1834 also includes the Spratly Islands clumped in with the Paracels (a common occurrence on maps of that time) labeled as "Wanli Changsha".

According to Hanoi
Hanoi
Hanoi , is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city. Its population in 2009 was estimated at 2.6 million for urban districts, 6.5 million for the metropolitan jurisdiction. From 1010 until 1802, it was the most important political centre of Vietnam...

, old Vietnamese maps record Bãi Cát Vàng (Golden Sandbanks, referring to both Paracels and the Spratly Islands) which lay near the Coast of the central Vietnam as early as 1838. In Phủ Biên Tạp Lục (Frontier Chronicles) by the scholar Le Quy Don
Le Quy Don
Lê Quý Đôn was an 18th-century Vietnamese philosopher, poet, encyclopedist, and government official. His pseudonym was Quế Đường. He was a native of Duyen Ha village in present-day Thai Binh Province...

, Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa were defined as belonging to Quảng Ngãi District. He described it as where sea products and shipwrecked cargoes were available to be collected. Vietnamese text written in the 17th century referenced government-sponsored economic activities during the Le Dynasty
Lê Dynasty
The Later Lê Dynasty , sometimes referred to as the Lê Dynasty was the longest-ruling dynasty of Vietnam, ruling the country from 1428 to 1788, with a brief interruption....

, 200 years earlier. The Vietnamese government conducted several geographical surveys of the islands in the 18th century.

Despite the fact that China and Vietnam both made a claim to these territories simultaneously, at the time, neither side was aware that their neighbor had already charted and made claims to the same stretch of islands.

The islands were sporadically visited throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by mariners from different European powers (including Richard Spratly
Richard Spratly
Captain Richard Spratly was master of the British whaler, the Cyrus South Seaman. from at least 1836 until 1844. He is notable for being the namesake of Spratly Island and the group of islands and reefs in the area known as the Spratly Islands.-Early life:...

, after whom the island group derives its most recognizable English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 name). However, these nations showed little interest in the islands. In 1883, German boats surveyed the Spratly and Paracel Islands but withdrew the survey eventually after receiving protests from the Nguyen Dynasty. Many European maps before the 20th century do not even make mention of this region.

Military conflict and diplomatic dialogues

In 1933, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 asserted its claims from 1887 to the Spratly and Paracel Islands on behalf of its then-colony Vietnam. It occupied a number of the Spratly Islands, including Itu Aba, built weather stations on two, and administered them as part of French Indochina
French Indochina
French Indochina was part of the French colonial empire in southeast Asia. A federation of the three Vietnamese regions, Tonkin , Annam , and Cochinchina , as well as Cambodia, was formed in 1887....

. This occupation was protested by the Republic of China government because France admitted finding Chinese fishermen there when French warships visited the nine islands. In 1935, the ROC government also announced a sovereignty claim on the Spratly Islands. Japan occupied some of the islands in 1939 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and used the islands as a submarine
Submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

 base for the occupation of Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

. During the occupation, these islands were called Shinnan Shoto (新南諸島), literally the New Southern Islands, and put under the governance of Taiwan together with the Paracel Islands (西沙群岛). In 1945, The Republic of China sent its Naval ships to take control of the islands after the surrender of Japan. It had chosen the largest and perhaps the only inhabitable island, Itu Aba Island, as its base, and renamed the island under the name of the naval vessel as Taiping. The KMT force of Republic Of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

 briefly abandoned the islands after its defeat in China's civil war in 1949, but re-established the base in 1956. Today, Itu Aba Island is still administrated by the Republic of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

.

Following the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II, China re-claimed the entirety of the Spratly Islands (including Itu Aba), accepting the Japanese surrender on the islands based on the Cairo
Cairo Declaration
The Cairo Declaration was the outcome of the Cairo Conference in Cairo, Egypt, on November 27, 1943. President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China were present...

 and Potsdam Declaration
Potsdam Declaration
The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement calling for the Surrender of Japan in World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S...

s. The ROC government withdrew from most of the Spratly and Paracel Islands after they retreated to Taiwan from the opposing Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

, which founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. ROC quietly withdrew troops from Itu Aba in 1950, but reinstated them in 1956 in response to Tomas Cloma
Tomas Cloma
Tomás Cloma was a Filipino lawyer and businessman from the province of Bohol. Cloma was born in Panglao to Ciriaco Cloma, a Spanish settler, and Irena Arbolente, a native of Bohol....

's sudden claim to the island as part of Freedomland.

Japan renounced all claims to the islands in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, together with the Paracels, Pratas & other islands captured from China, upon which China reasserted its claim to the islands.

It was unclear whether France continued its claim to the islands after WWII, since none of the islands other than Itu Aba is habitable. The South Vietnamese government took over the Trường Sa administration after the defeat of the French at the end of the First Indochina War
First Indochina War
The First Indochina War was fought in French Indochina from December 19, 1946, until August 1, 1954, between the French Union's French Far East...

. In 1958, the People's Republic of China issued a declaration defining its territorial waters, which encompassed the Spratly Islands. North Vietnam's prime minister, Pham Van Dong, sent a formal note to Zhou Enlai, stating that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam respects the decision by China regarding the 12 nautical mile limit of territorial waters. Regarding this letter, there have been many arguments on its true meaning and the reason why Phạm Văn Đồng decided to send it to Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

. One important fact is that the letter while accepting the 12 nautical mile principal for the limit of territorial waters of China, has never mentioned a word about how the territorial boundary was defined and thus leaving the dispute on South China Sea islands as its status quo for later settlement. In an interview with BBC, Dr. Balazs Szalontai provided an insight into this issue: "The general context of the Chinese declaration was the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, held in 1956, and the resulting treaties signed in 1958, such as the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. Understandably, the PRC government, though not being a member of the U.N., also wanted to have a say in how these issues were dealt with. Hence the Chinese declaration of September 1958. In these years, North Vietnam could hardly afford to alienate Communist comrad China. The Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 did not give any substantial support to Vietnamese reunification, and neither South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngô Đình Diệm was the first president of South Vietnam . In the wake of the French withdrawal from Indochina as a result of the 1954 Geneva Accords, Diệm led the effort to create the Republic of Vietnam. Accruing considerable U.S. support due to his staunch anti-Communism, he achieved victory in a...

 nor the U.S. government showed readiness to give consent to the holding of all-Vietnamese elections as stipulated by the Geneva Agreements. On the contrary, Diem did his best to suppress the Communist movement in the South. This is why Pham Van Dong felt it necessary to take sides with China, whose tough attitude toward the Asian policies of the U.S. offered some hope. And yet he seems to have been cautious enough to make a statement that supported only the principle that China was entitled for 12-mile territorial seas along its territory but evaded the issue of defining this territory. While the preceding Chinese statement was very specific, enumerating all the islands (including the Paracels and the Spratlys) for which the PRC laid claim, the DRV statement did not say a word about the concrete territories to which this rule was applicable. Still, it is true that in this bilateral territorial dispute between Chinese and Vietnamese interests, the DRV standpoint, more in a diplomatic than a legal sense, was incomparably closer to that of China than to that of South Vietnam". Some international scholars argued that, Pham Van Dong
Pham Van Dong
Phạm Văn Đồng was an associate of Ho Chi Minh. He served as prime minister of North Vietnam from 1955 through 1976, and was prime minister of a unified Vietnam from 1976 until he retired in 1987.- Early life :...

 who represented North Vietnam at that time has no legal right to comment on a territorial part which belonged to the South Vietnam represented by Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngô Đình Diệm was the first president of South Vietnam . In the wake of the French withdrawal from Indochina as a result of the 1954 Geneva Accords, Diệm led the effort to create the Republic of Vietnam. Accruing considerable U.S. support due to his staunch anti-Communism, he achieved victory in a...

. Therefore, the letter has no legal value and is considered as a diplomatic document to show the support of the government of North Vietnam to the PRC at that time. In 2004, Vietnam issued a white paper
White paper
A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions, and are often requested and used in politics, policy, business, and technical fields. In commercial use, the term has also come to refer to...

 saying, in part,
On May 23, 2011, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III
Benigno Aquino III
Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III , also known as Noynoy Aquino or PNoy, is a Filipino politician who has been the 15th and current President of the Philippines since June 2010....

 warned the Chinese defense minister of a possible arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

 in the region if tensions worsened over disputes in the South China Sea.
Aquino said he told visiting Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie
Liang Guanglie
Liang Guanglie is the current Minister for National Defense in the People's Republic of China and serves as a general in the People's Liberation Army of China.-Biography:...

 in their meeting that such an arms race could result if there were more encounters in the disputed and potentially oil-rich Spratly islands.

In May 2011, Chinese naval vessels opened fire on Vietnamese fishing vessels operating off East London Reef (Da Dong Island). Three military vessels were numbered 989, 27 and 28. They showed up with a small group of Chinese fishing vessels. Another Vietnamese fishing vessel was fired on near Cross (Chu Thap) Island. The Chief Commander of Border Guards in Phu Yen Province, Vietnam reports that a total of four Vietnamese vessels were fired upon by Chinese naval vessels.

In June 2011, the Philippines renamed the South China Sea and the Reed Bank as the West Philippine Sea and the Recto Bank.

Telecommunications

In 2005, a cellular phone base station was erected by the Philippines' Smart Communications
Smart Communications
Smart Communications is a wholly owned mobile phone and Internet service subsidiary of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company .On June 30, 2010 the company reported that it had over 45 million cellular subscribers.-Brands:...

 on Pag-asa Island.

On 18 May 2011, China Mobile
China Mobile
China Mobile Limited is a Chinese state-owned telecommunication company that provides mobile voice and multimedia services through its nationwide mobile telecommunications network, the largest of its kind in the world...

 announced that its mobile phone coverage has expanded to the Spratly Islands, under the rationale that it can allow soldiers stationed on the islands, fishermen and merchant vessels within the area to use mobile services, and can also provide assistance during storms and sea rescues. The deployment of China Mobile's support over the islands took roughly one year to fulfil.

Gallery


File:Cây phong ba.JPG|An ancient Heliotropium foertherianum on Spratly Island
File:Truong Sa lon.JPG|Spratly Island
File:Truong Sa Đông.JPG|Military cemetery on Central London Reef
File:Đảo An Bang.JPG|View from Amboyna Cay
File:Đảo Phan Vinh.JPG|The dock on Pearson Reef

See also

  • Kingdom of Humanity
  • South China Sea Islands
    South China Sea Islands
    The South China Sea Islands consist of over 250 around 1-km² islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars in the South China Sea, most of which have no indigenous people, many of which are naturally under water at high tide, some of which are permanently submerged...

  • Paracel Islands
    Paracel Islands
    The Paracel Islands, also called Xisha Islands in Chinese and Hoàng Sa Islands in Vietnamese, is a group of islands under the administration of Hainan Province, The People's Republic of China. Vietnam and the Republic of China also claim sovereignty of these islands...

  • Junk Keying
    Junk Keying
    Keying was a three-masted, 800-ton Foochow Chinese trading junk which sailed from China around the Cape of Good Hope to the United States and Britain between 1846 and 1848....

  • Policies, activities and history of the Philippines in Spratly Islands
    Policies, activities and history of the Philippines in Spratly Islands
    -Overview:The Philippines, along with Vietnam, People's Republic of China, Republic of China , Malaysia and Brunei, is a claimant country in the disputed Spratly Islands group. Currently the Philippines is occupying nine features :As a comparison, Vietnam occupies six islands, seventeen reefs and...

  • Kalayaan, Palawan, Philippines
    Kalayaan, Palawan
    Kalayaan is a 6th class municipality in the province of Palawan, Philippines. According to the latest census, it has a population of 114 people in 12 households....

  • Zheng He
    Zheng He
    Zheng He , also known as Ma Sanbao and Hajji Mahmud Shamsuddin was a Hui-Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, who commanded voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, collectively referred to as the Voyages of Zheng He or Voyages of Cheng Ho from...

  • Crysis
    Crysis
    Crysis is a science fiction first-person shooter video game developed by Crytek , published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows, and released in November 2007. It is the first game of a trilogy. A separate game entitled Crysis Warhead was released on September 12, 2008, and follows similar...

    , a computer game set on the Spratly Islands.
  • SSN, a computer game set during a conflict over the Spratly Islands.
  • List of islands in the South China Sea
  • Administration Office for Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands and Nansha Islands

Further reading


External links

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