Satellite view of the western Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea shows the location of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Image courtesy of NASA.
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The Paracel Islands are surrounded by productive fishing grounds and by potential oil and gas reserves. In 1932, French Indochina annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island; maintenance was continued by its successor, Vietnam. China has occupied all the Paracel Islands since 1974, when its troops seized a South Vietnamese garrison occupying the western islands. China built a military installation on Woody Island with an airfield and artificial harbor, and has scattered garrisons on some of the other islands. The Paracel islands also are claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Southeastern Asia, group of small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, about one-third of the way from central Vietnam to the northern Philippines

Geographic coordinates

16 30 N, 112 00 E

Map references

Southeast Asia


total: 8 sq km ca.

land: 7.75 sq km ca.

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 243

Area - comparative

land area is about 13 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


518 km




mostly low and flat


highest point: unnamed location on Rocky Island 14 m

lowest point: South China Sea 0 m

Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2022)

Population distribution

a population of over 1,000 Chinese resides on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels; there are scattered Chinese garrisons on some other islands

Geography - note

composed of 130 small coral islands and reefs divided into the northeast Amphitrite Group and the western Crescent Group

People and Society


1,440 (July 2014 est.)

note: Chinese activity has increased in recent years, particularly on Woody Island, where the population exceeds 1,000; there are scattered Chinese garrisons on some other islands

country comparison to the world: 234

Age structure

0-14 years: NA

15-24 years: NA

25-54 years: NA

55-64 years: NA

65 years and over: NA

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Net migration rate

-0.66 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 130

Population distribution

a population of over 1,000 Chinese resides on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels; there are scattered Chinese garrisons on some other islands

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA


Environment - current issues

China's use of dredged sand and coral to build artificial islands harms reef systems; ongoing human activities, including military operations, infrastructure construction, and tourism endangers local ecosystem including birds, fish, marine mammals, and marine reptiles



Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Paracel Islands

etymology: Portuguese navigators began to refer to the "Ilhas do Pracel" in the 16th century as a designation of low lying islets, sandbanks, and reefs scattered over a wide area; over time the name changed to "parcel" and then "paracel"


Economic overview

The islands have the potential for oil and gas development. Waters around the islands support commercial fishing, but the islands themselves are not populated on a permanent basis.


Airports - with paved runways

total: 1

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2021)

Ports and terminals

small Chinese port facilities on Woody Island and Duncan Island

Military and Security

Military - note

occupied by China, which is assessed to maintain 20 outposts in the Paracels (Antelope, Bombay, and North reefs; Drummond, Duncan, Lincoln, Middle, Money, North, Pattle, Quanfu, Robert, South, Tree, Triton, Woody, and Yagong islands; South Sand and West Sand; Observation Bank); the outposts range in size from one or two buildings to bases with significant military infrastructure; Woody Island is the main base in the Paracels and includes an airstrip with fighter aircraft hangers, naval facilities, surveillance radars, and defenses such as surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles; fighter aircraft have deployed to the island (2022)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Paracel Islands-China-Taiwan-Vietnam: occupied by China, also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam