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East Asia/Southeast Asia :: Spratly Islands Print
Page last updated on November 24, 2020
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  • Introduction :: Spratly Islands
  • Background field listing
    The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds - and potentially by gas and oil deposits. They are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Since 1985 Brunei has claimed a continental shelf that overlaps a southern reef but has not made any formal claim to the reef. Brunei claims an exclusive economic zone over this area.
  • Geography :: Spratly Islands
  • Location field listing
    Southeastern Asia, group of reefs and islands in the South China Sea, about two-thirds of the way from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines
    Geographic coordinates field listing
    8 38 N, 111 55 E
    Map references field listing
    Southeast Asia
    Area field listing
    total: 5 sq km less than
    land: 5 sq km less than
    water: 0 sq km

    note: includes 100 or so islets, coral reefs, and sea mounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 sq km (158,000 sq mi) of the central South China Sea

    country comparison to the world: 251
    Area - comparative field listing
    land area is about seven times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC
    Land boundaries field listing
    0 km
    Coastline field listing
    926 km
    Maritime claims field listing
    Climate field listing
    Terrain field listing
    small, flat islands, islets, cays, and reefs
    Elevation field listing
    lowest point: South China Sea 0 m
    highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay 6 m
    Natural resources field listing
    fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential
    Land use field listing
    agricultural land: 0% (2011 est.)
    arable land: 0% (2011 est.) / permanent crops: 0% (2011 est.) / permanent pasture: 0% (2011 est.)
    forest: 0% (2011 est.)
    other: 100% (2011 est.)
    Natural hazards field listing
    typhoons; numerous reefs and shoals pose a serious maritime hazard
    Environment - current issues field listing
    China's use of dredged sand and coral to build artificial islands harms reef systems; illegal fishing practices indiscriminately harvest endangered species, including sea turtles and giant clams
    Geography - note field listing
    strategically located near several primary shipping lanes in the central South China Sea; includes numerous small islands, atolls, shoals, and coral reefs
  • People and Society :: Spratly Islands
  • Population field listing
    no indigenous inhabitants

    note: there are scattered garrisons occupied by military personnel of several claimant states

  • Government :: Spratly Islands
  • Country name field listing
    conventional long form: none
    conventional short form: Spratly Islands
    etymology: named after a British whaling captain Richard SPRATLY, who sighted Spratly Island in 1843; the name of the island eventually passed to the entire archipelago
  • Economy :: Spratly Islands
  • Economy - overview field listing
    Economic activity is limited to commercial fishing. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins indicate potential oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored. No reliable estimates of potential reserves are available. Commercial exploitation has yet to be developed.
  • Transportation :: Spratly Islands
  • Airports field listing
    8 (2020)
    country comparison to the world: 162
    Airports - with paved runways field listing
    total: 6 (2020)
    2,438 to 3,047 m: 3
    914 to 1,523 m: 2
    under 914 m: 1
    Airports - with unpaved runways field listing
    total: 2 (2020)
    914 to 1,523 m: 2
    Heliports field listing
    5 (2020)
    Ports and terminals field listing
    none; offshore anchorage only
  • Military and Security :: Spratly Islands
  • Military - note field listing
    Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs of which about 45 are claimed and occupied by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam

    China: assessed to have 7 outposts (Fiery Cross, Mischief, Subi, Cuarteron, Gavin, Hughes, and Johnson reefs); the outposts on Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi include air bases with helipads and dozens of fighter jet hangers, naval port facilities, surveillance radars, air defense sites, anti-ship cruise missiles, and other military infrastructure such as communications, barracks, maintenance facilities, and ammunition and fuel bunkers

    Malaysia:  assessed to have 5 outposts in the southern portion of the archipelago, closest to the Malaysian state of Sabah (Ardasier Reef, Eric Reef, Mariveles Reef, Shallow Reef, and Investigator Shoal); all the outposts have helicopter landing pads, while Shallow Reef also has an airstrip

    Philippines: assessed to occupy 9 features (Commodore Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, Flat Island, Loaita Cay, Loaita Island, Nanshan Island, Northeast Cay, Thitu Island, and West York Island); Thitu Island has the only Philippine airstrip in the Spratlys

    Taiwan: maintains an outpost with an airstrip on Itu Aba Island

    Vietnam: assessed to occupy about 49 outposts spread across 27 features, including facilities on 21 rocks and reefs in the Spratlys, plus 14 platforms known as “economic, scientific, and technological service stations,” or Dịch vụ-Khoa (DK1), on six underwater banks to the southeast that Vietnam does not consider part of the disputed island chain, although China and Taiwan disagree; Spratly Islands outposts are on Alison Reef, Amboyna Cay, Barque Canada Reef, Central Reef, Collins Reef, Cornwallis South Reef, Discovery Great Reef, East Reef, Grierson Reef, Ladd Reef, Landsdowne Reef, Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, Petley Reef, Sand Cay, Sin Cowe Island, South Reef, Southwest Cay, Spratly Island, Tennent Reef, West Reef; Spratly Island includes an airstrip with aircraft hangers; the six underwater banks with outposts include Vanguard, Rifleman, Prince of Wales, Prince Consort, Grainger, and Alexandra

  • Transnational Issues :: Spratly Islands
  • Disputes - international field listing

    all of the Spratly Islands are claimed by China (including Taiwan) and Vietnam; parts of them are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines; despite no public territorial claim to Louisa Reef, Brunei implicitly lays claim by including it within the natural prolongation of its continental shelf and basis for a seabed median with Vietnam; claimants in November 2002 signed the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," which has eased tensions but falls short of a legally binding "code of conduct"; in March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord to conduct marine seismic activities in the Spratly Islands