Satellite view of the western Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea shows the location of the Spratly Islands between Vietnam and the Philippines. Image courtesy of NASA.
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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.

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



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

8 38 N, 111 55 E

Map references

Southeast Asia


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: 250

Area - comparative

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

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


926 km




small, flat islands, islets, cays, and reefs


highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay 6 m

lowest point: South China Sea 0 m

Natural resources

fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential

Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Natural hazards

typhoons; numerous reefs and shoals pose a serious maritime hazard

Geography - note

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


(July 2021 est.) no indigenous inhabitants

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

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

Death rate

(2021 est.) NA

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; illegal fishing practices indiscriminately harvest endangered species, including sea turtles and giant clams



Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)


Country name

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


Economic overview

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.


Airports - with paved runways

total: 6

2,438 to 3,047 m: 3

914 to 1,523 m: 2

under 914 m: 1 (2021)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 2

914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2021)


5 (2021)

Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Military and Security

Military - note

the 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: occupies 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 aircraft hangers, naval port facilities, surveillance radars, air defense and anti-ship missile sites, and other military infrastructure such as communications, barracks, maintenance facilities, and ammunition and fuel bunkers

Malaysia:  occupies 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

occupies 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 a coast guard outpost with an airstrip on Itu Aba Island

Vietnam: occupies about 50 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; over the past few years, Vietnam has continued to make modest improvements to its outposts, including defensive positions and infrastructure (2022)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Taiwan-Brunei-China-Malaysia-Philippines-Vietnam: 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; the islands are strategically located in the South China Sea and are surrounded by rich fishing groups and potential oil and natural gas deposits; claimants in November 2002 signed the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," which eased tensions but fell 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; China’s island-building and military presence in the archipelago remain controversial