Spratly Islands

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Not to be confused with Spratly Island.
Spratly Islands
Disputed islands
Other names: South Sand Islands[1]
Spratly Islands-CIA WFB Map.png
The Spratly Islands
Location South China Sea
Coordinates 10°N 114°E / 10°N 114°E / 10; 114Coordinates: 10°N 114°E / 10°N 114°E / 10; 114
Total islands >750 islands, islets, etc.
Major islands Itu Aba Island

Thitu Island
West York Island
Spratly Island
Northeast Cay
Southwest Cay
Sin Cowe Island
Nanshan Island
Sand Cay
Loaita Island
Swallow Reef[2]
Namyit Island
Amboyna Cay

Area ~4 km2 (1.5 sq mi)
Coastline 926 km (575 mi)
Highest point Southwest Cay
4 metres (13 ft)
Claimed by
EEZ Brunei zone
People's Republic of China
Prefecture-level city Sansha, Hainan[4]
State Sabah
Municipality Kalayaan
Municipality Kaohsiung
District Truong Sa
Population No indigenous peoples
Ethnic groups Various ethnicities
Spratly Islands
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 南沙群島
Simplified Chinese 南沙群岛
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Quần Đảo Trường Sa
Hán-Nôm 群島長沙
Malay name
Malay Kepulauan Spratly
Gugusan Semarang Peninjau[5][6][7]
Filipino name
Tagalog Kapuluan ng Kalayaan

The Spratly Islands (Chinese: 南沙群岛; pinyin: Nánshā Qúndǎo, Malay: Kepulauan Spratly, Tagalog: Kapuluan ng Kalayaan,[8] Vietnamese: Quần đảo Trường Sa) are a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea.[9] The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam. Named after the 19th-century British whaling captain Richard Spratly who sighted Spratly Island in 1843, the islands contain approximately 4 km2 (1.5 sq mi) of land area spread over a vast area of more than 425,000 km2 (164,000 sq mi).

The Spratlys are one of the major archipelagos in the South China Sea that comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs, and which complicate governance and economics in this part of Southeast Asia due to their location in strategic shipping lanes. The islands have no indigenous inhabitants, but offer rich fishing grounds and may contain significant oil and natural gas reserves.[10][11] and as such are important to the claimants in their attempts to establish international boundaries.

The northeast of Spratlys is known to mariners as Dangerous Ground and is characterized by its many low islands, sunken reefs, and atolls with coral often rising abruptly from ocean depths greater than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) - all of which makes the area dangerous for navigation.

In addition to various territorial claims, some of the features have civilian settlements, but of the approximately 45 islands, reefs, cays and other features that are occupied all contain structures that are occupied by military forces (from China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia). Additionally, Brunei has claimed (but does not occupy) an exclusive economic zone in the southeastern part of the Spratlys, which includes the Louisa Reef. These claims and occupations have led to escalating tensions between these countries over the status and "ownership" of the islands.

Geographic and economic overview[edit]

The Spratly Islands contain almost no significant arable land, have no indigenous inhabitants, and very few of the islands have a permanent drinkable water supply. Natural resources include fish and guano, as well as the possible potential of oil and natural gas reserves.[12] Economic activity has included commercial fishing, shipping, guano mining, and more recently, tourism.

The Spratlys are located near several primary shipping lanes.


The location of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea

The Spratly Islands consist of reefs, banks and shoals that consist of biogenic carbonate. These accumulations of biogenic carbonate lie upon the higher crests of major submarine ridges that are uplifted fault blocks known by geologists as horsts. These horsts are part of a series of parallel and en echelon, half-grabens and rotated fault-blocks. The long axes of the horsts, rotated fault blocks and half-grabens form well-defined linear trends that lie parallel to magnetic anomalies exhibited by the oceanic crust of the adjacent South China Sea. The horsts, rotated fault blocks, and the rock forming the bottoms of associated grabens consist of stretched and subsided continental crust that is composed of Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous strata that include calc-alkalic extrusive igneous rocks, intermediate to acid intrusive igneous rocks, sandstones, siltstones, dark-green claystones, and metamorphic rocks that include biotite-muscovite-feldspar-quartz migmatites and garnet-mica schists.[13][14][15]

The dismemberment and subsidence of continental crust into horsts, rotated fault blocks and half-grabens that underlie the Spratly Islands and surrounding sea bottom occurred in 2 distinct periods. They occurred as the result of the tectonic stretching of continental crust along underlying deeply rooted detachment faults. During the Late Cretaceous and Early Oligocene, the earliest period of tectonic stretching of continental crust and formation of horsts, half-grabens, and rotated fault-blocks occurred in association the rifting and later sea-floor spreading that created the South China Sea. During the Late Oligocene-Early Miocene additional stretching and block faulting of continental crust occurred within the Spratly Islands and adjacent Dangerous Ground. During and after this period of tectonic activity, corals and other marine life colonised the crests of the horsts and other ridges that lay in shallow water. The remains of these organisms accumulated over time as biogenic carbonates that comprise the current day reefs, shoals and cays of the Spratly Islands. Starting with their formation in Late Cretaceous, fine-grained organic-rich marine sediments accumulated within the numerous submarine half-grabens that underlie sea bottom within the Dangerous Ground region.[13][14][15]

The geological surveys show localised areas within the Spratly Islands region are favourable for the accumulation of economic oil and gas reserves. They include thick sequences of Cenozoic sediments east of the Spratly Islands. Southeast and west of them, there also exist thick accumulations of sediments that possibly might contain economic oil and gas reserves lie closer to the Spratly Islands.[10][16]


In some cays in the Spratly Islands, the sand and pebble sediments form the beaches and spits around the island. Under the influence of the dominant wind direction, which changes seasonally, these sediments move around the island to change the shape and size of the island. For example, Spratly Island is larger during the northeast monsoon, (about 700 × 300 meters), and smaller during the southwest monsoon (approximately 650 × 320 meters).[17]

Some islands may contain fresh groundwater fed by rain. Groundwater levels fluctuate during the day with the rhythm of the tides.[18]

Phosphates from bird faeces (guano) are mainly concentrated in the beach rocks by the way of exchange-endosmosis. The principal minerals bearing phosphate are podolite, lewistonite and dehonite.[19]

Coral reefs[edit]

Coral reefs are the predominant structures of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.[9] In April 2015 the New York Times reported that China were using "scores of dredgers" to convert Fiery Cross Reef and several other reefs into military facilities (runways, etc.).[20][21]


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. Taiping Island (Itu Aba) was reportedly covered with shrubs, coconut, and mangroves in 1938; pineapple was also cultivated there when it was profitable. Other accounts mention papaya, banana, palm, and even white peach trees growing on one island. A few islands that have been developed as small tourist resorts had soil and trees brought in and planted where there was none.[9]


A total of 2,927 marine species have been recorded in the Spratly Sea, including 776 benthic species, 382 species of hard coral, 524 species of marine fish, 262 species of algae and sea grass, 35 species of seabirds, 20 species of marine mammals and sea turtles, etc.[22]

Terrestrial vegetation in the islands includes 103 species of vascular plants of magnolia branches (Magnoliophyta) of 39 families and 79 genera.[22]

The islands that do have vegetation provide important habitats for many seabirds and sea turtles.[9]

Both the green turtle (Chelonia mydas, endangered) and the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, critically endangered) 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.[9]

Seabirds use the islands for resting, breeding, and wintering sites. Species found here include: streaked shearwater (Calonectris leucomelas), brown booby (Sula leucogaster), red-footed booby (S. sula), great crested tern (Sterna bergii), and white tern (Gygis alba). Little information is available regarding the current status of the islands' seabird populations, though it is likely that birds may divert nesting sites to smaller, less disturbed islands. Bird eggs cover the majority of Song Tu, a small island in the eastern Danger Zone.[9]

This ecoregion is still largely a mystery. Scientists have focused their research on the marine environment, while the ecology of the terrestrial environment remains relatively unknown.[9]

Ecological hazards[edit]

Political instability, tourism and the increasing industrialisation of neighbouring 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 and/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 culture and at times the military personnel are given orders to protect the turtles.[9]

Heavy commercial fishing in the region incurs other problems. Although it has been outlawed, fishing methods continue to include the use of bottom trawlers fitted with chain rollers. In addition, during a recent[timeframe?] routine patrols[by whom?], more than 200 kg of Potassium cyanide 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.[9]

Some interest has been taken[by whom?] in regard to conservation of these[which?] island ecosystems. J.W. McManus[who?] has explored the possibilities of designating portions of the Spratly Islands as a marine park. One region of the Spratly Archipelago, named Truong Sa, was proposed by Vietnam's Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment (MOSTE) as a future protected area. The site, with an area of 160 km2 (62 sq mi), is currently managed by the Khanh Hoa Provincial People's Committee of Vietnam.[9]

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.[9]


Chinese texts of the 12th century record these islands being a part of Chinese territory and that they had earlier (206 BC) been used as fishing grounds during the Han dynasty.[23] Further records show the islands as inhabited at various times in history by Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen, and during the second world war by troops from French Indochina and Japan.[24][25][26] However, there were no large settlements on these islands until 1956, when Filipino adventurer Tomás Cloma, Sr., decided to "claim" a part of Spratly islands as his own, naming it the "Free Territory of Freedomland".[27]

Early cartography[edit]

An 1801 map of the East Indies delineating the Spratlys' proper placement
An 1838 Unified Dai Nam map marking Trường Sa and Hoàng Sa, which are considered as Spratly and Paracel Islands by Vietnamese scholars; yet they share different latitude, location, shape and distance.
A striking large black and white British chart of the sea in northern Borneo, first issued in 1881 and corrected to 1935.
Territorial monument of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on Southwest Cay, Spratly Islands, defining the cay as part of Vietnamese territory (tp Phước Tuy Province). Used since 22 August 1956 until 1975, when replaced by another one from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (successor state after the Fall of Saigon)
A geographic map of Spratlys (click for a more detailed image)

Evidence of man's presence in the region extends back nearly 50,000 years at Tabon Caves on Palawan. Therefore, it is difficult to say when man first came upon this island group. Within historical times, several groups may have passed through or occupied the islands. Between 600 BCE to 3 BCE there was an East to West migration by members of the seafairing Sa Huỳnh culture. This may have led them through the Spratly Islands on their way to Vietnam. These migrants were the forebears of the Cham people that founded the Old Champa empire that ruled what was known for centuries as the Champa Sea.[28] [29]

In the Song Dynasty work Zhu fan zhi by Zhao Rugua, the name "Thousand Li Stretch of Sands" (Qianli Changsha , 千里長沙) and the "Ten-Thousand Li of Stone Pools/Beds" (Wanli Shitang 萬里石塘, or Wanli Shichuang 萬里) were given, interpreted by some to refer to Paracel and Spratly respectively.[30] Wanli Shitang is also recorded in the History of Yuan to have been explored by the Chinese during the Yuan dynasty and may have been considered by them to have been within their national boundaries.[31][32][33] They are also referenced, sometimes with different names, in the Ming dynasty.[34] When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Qing dynasty continued to include the territory in maps compiled in 1724,[35] 1755,[36] 1767,[37] 1810,[38] and 1817.[39]

A Vietnamese map from 1834 also combines the Spratly and Paracel Islands into one region known as "Vạn Lý Trường Sa"[citation needed], a feature commonly incorporated into maps of the era (萬里長沙) ‒ that is, a combination of half of the 2 aforementioned Chinese island names, "Wanli" and "Changsha".[40] According to Hanoi, Vietnamese maps record Bãi Cát Vàng (Golden Sandbanks, referring to both the Spratly and Paracel Islands), which lay near the coast of the central Vietnam, as early as 1838.[41] In Phủ Biên Tạp Lục (The Frontier Chronicles) by scholar Lê Quý Đôn, both Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa were defined as belonging to the 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 Lê dynasty, 200 years earlier. The Vietnamese government conducted several geographical surveys of the islands in the 18th century.[41]

Despite the fact that China and Vietnam both made a claim to these territories simultaneously, at the time, neither side was aware that its neighbour had already charted and made claims to the same stretch of islands.[41]

The islands were sporadically visited throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries by mariners from different European powers (including Richard Spratly, after whom the island group derives its most recognisable English name).[42] However, these nations showed little interest in the islands.

In the 1950s, a group of individuals claimed sovereignty over the islands in the name of Morton F. Meads, supposedly an American descendant of a British naval capital who gave his name to Meads Island (Itu Aba) in the 1870s. In an affidavit made in 1971, the group claimed to represent the Kingdom of Humanity/Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads,[43] which they asserted was in turn the successor entity for a supposed Kingdom of Humanity established between the two world wars on Meads Island, allegedly by the son of the British captain. This claim to this would-be micronation fell dormant after 1972, when several members of the group drowned in a typhoon.[44][45][46][47]

In 1883, German boats surveyed the Spratly and the Paracel Islands but eventually withdrew the survey, after receiving protests from the Guangdong government representing the Qing dynasty. Many European maps before the 20th century do not even mention this region.[48]

Military conflict and diplomatic dialogues[edit]

Further information: Spratly Islands dispute

The following are political divisions for the Spratly Islands claimed by various area nations (in alphabetical order):

In the 19th century, Europeans found that Chinese fishermen from Hainan annually sojourned on the Spratly islands for part of the year, while in 1877 it was the British who launched the first modern legal claims to the Spratlys.[51][52]

When the Spratlys and Paracels were being surveyed by Germany in 1883, China issued protests against them. The 1887 Chinese-Vietnamese Boundary convention signed between France and China after the Sino-French War said that China was the owner of the Spratly and Paracel islands.[53][54] China sent naval forces on inspection tours in 1902 and 1907 and placed flags and markers on the islands. The Qing dynasty's successor state, the Republic of China, claimed the Spratly and Paracel islands under the jurisdiction of Hainan.[54]

In 1933, France asserted its claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands[55] on behalf of its then-colony Vietnam.[56] It occupied a number of the Spratly Islands, including Taiping Island, built weather stations on two of the islands, and administered them as part of French Indochina. This occupation was protested by the Republic of China (ROC) government because France admitted finding Chinese fishermen there when French warships visited nine of the islands.[57] 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, and it used the islands as a submarine base for the occupation of Southeast Asia. During the Japanese occupation, these islands were called Shinnan Shoto (新南諸島), literally the New Southern Islands, and together with the Paracel Islands (西沙群岛), they were put under the governance of the Japanese colonial authority in Taiwan.

Japan occupied the Paracels and the Spratlys from February 1939 to August 1945.[58] Japan administered the Spratlys via Taiwan's jurisdiction and the Paracels via Hainan's jurisdiction.[51] Parts of the Paracels and Spratlys were occupied by Republic of China after the 1945 surrender of Japan,[59] since the Allied powers assigned the Republic of China to receive Japanese surrenders in that area,[54] however no successor was named to the islands.[59]

In November 1946, the ROC sent naval ships to take control of the islands after the surrender of Japan.[58] It had chosen the largest and perhaps the only inhabitable island, Taiping Island, as its base, and it renamed the island under the name of the naval vessel as Taiping. Also following the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II, the ROC re-claimed the entirety of the Spratly Islands (including Taiping Island) after accepting the Japanese surrender of the islands based on the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations. The Republic of China then garrisoned Itu Aba (Taiping) island in 1946 and posted Chinese flags and markers on it along with Woody island in the Paracels. France tried, but failed, to make them leave Woody island.[51] The aim of the Republic of China was to block the French claims.[54][60] The Republic of China drew up the map showing the U-shaped claim on the entire South China Sea, showing the Spratly and Paracels in Chinese territory, in 1947.[54] Japan had renounced all claims to the islands in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty together with the Paracels, Pratas and other islands captured from the Chinese, and upon these declarations, the government of the Republic of China reasserted its claim to the islands. The KMT force of the ROC government withdrew from most of the Spratly and Paracel Islands after they retreated to Taiwan from the opposing Communist Party of China due to their losses in the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949.[56] The ROC quietly withdrew troops from Taiping Island in 1950, but then reinstated them in 1956 in response to Tomás Cloma's sudden claim to the island as part of Freedomland.[61] As of 2013, Taiping Island is administered by the ROC.[62]

After pulling out its garrison in 1950 when the Republic of China evacuated to Taiwan, when the Filipino Tomas Cloma uprooted an ROC flag on Itu Aba laid claim to the Spratlys and, the Republic of China (now Taiwan) again regarrisoned Itu Aba on 1956.[63] In 1946, the Americans reminded the Philippines at its independence that the Spratlys was not Philippine territory, both to not anger Chiang Kai-shek in China and because the Spratlys were not part of the Philippines per the 1898 treaty Spain signed with America.[51] The Philippines then claimed the Spratlys in 1971 under President Marcos, after Taiwanese troops attacked and shot at a Philippine fishing boat on Itu Aba.[64]

Taiwan's garrison from 1946–1950 and 1956-now on Itu Aba represents an "effective occupation" of the Spratlys.[64][65] China established a coastal defence system against Japanese pirates or smugglers.[66]

North Vietnam recognised China's claims on the Paracels and Spratlys during the Vietnam War as it was being supported by China. Only after winning the war and conquering South Vietnam did North Vietnam retract its recognition and admitted it recognised them as part of China to receive aid from China in fighting the Americans.[67]

In 1988, the Vietnamese and Chinese navies engaged in a skirmish in the area of Johnson South Reef (also called Yongshu reef in China and Mabini reef in Philippines).[68]

Under President Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan stated that "legally, historically, geographically, or in reality", all of the South China Sea and Spratly islands were Taiwan's territory and under Taiwanese sovereignty, and denounced actions undertaken there by Malaysia and the Philippines, in a statement on 13 July 1999 released by the foreign ministry of Taiwan.[69] Taiwan and China's claims "mirror" each other; during international talks involving the Spratly islands, China and Taiwan have cooperated with each other since both have the same claims.[64][70]

It was unclear whether France continued its claim to the islands after WWII, since none of the islands, other than Taiping Island, was 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. In 1958, the PRC issued a declaration defining its territorial waters that encompassed the Spratly Islands. North Vietnam's prime minister, Phạm Văn Đồng, sent a formal note to Zhou Enlai, stating that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) respected the Chinese decision regarding the 12 nmi (22 km; 14 mi) limit of territorial waters.[71] While accepting the 12-nmi principal with respect to territorial waters, the letter did not actually address the issue of defining actual territorial boundaries.

In 1999, a Philippine navy ship (Number 57 - BRP Sierra Madre) was purposely run aground near Second Thomas Shoal to enable establishment of an outpost. As of 2014 it had not been removed, and Filipino troops have been stationed aboard since the grounding.[72][73]

Taiwan and China are largely strategically aligned on the Spratly islands issue, since they both claim exactly the same area, so Taiwan's control of Itu Aba (Taiping) island is viewed as an extension of China's claim.[53] Taiwan and China both claim the entire island chain, while all the other claimaints only claim portions of them. China has proposed co-operation with Taiwan against all the other countries claiming the islands. Taiwanese lawmakers have demanded that Taiwan fortify Itu Aba (Taiping) island with weapons to defend against the Vietnamese, and both China and Taiwanese NGOs have pressured Taiwan to expand Taiwan's military capabilities on the island, which played a role in Taiwan expanding the island's runway in 2012.[74] China has urged Taiwan to co-operate and offered Taiwan a share in oil and gas resources while shutting out all the other rival claimaints. Taiwanese lawmakers have complained about repeated Vietnamese aggression and trespassing on Taiwan's Itu Aba (Taiping), and Taiwan has started viewing Vietnam as an enemy over the Spratly Islands, not China.[75] Taiwan's state run oil company CPC Corp's board director Chiu Yi has called Vietnam as the "greatest threat" to Taiwan.[74] Taiwan's airstrip on Taiping has irritated Vietnam.[76] China views Taiwan's expansion of its military and airstrip on Taiping as benefiting China's position against the other rival claimaints from southeast Asian countries.[65] China's claims to the Spratlys benefit from legal weight because of Taiwan's presence on Itu Aba, while America on the other hand has regularly ignored Taiwan's claims in the South China Sea and does not include Taiwan in any talks on dispute resolution for the area.[77]

Taiwan performed live fire military exercises on Taiping island in September 2012; reports said that Vietnam was explicitly named by the Taiwanese military as the "imaginary enemy" in the drill. Vietnam protested against the exercises as violation of its territory and "voiced anger", demanding that Taiwan stop the drill. Among the inspectors of the live fire drill were Taiwanese national legislators, adding to the tensions.[78]

On 23 May 2011, the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, warned visiting Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie of a possible arms race in the region if tensions worsened over disputes in the South China Sea. Aquino said he told Liang in their meeting that this could happen if there were more encounters in the disputed and potentially oil-rich Spratly Islands.[79]

In May 2011, Chinese patrol boats attacked 2 Vietnamese oil exploration ships near the Spratly Islands.[80] Also in May 2011, Chinese naval vessels opened fire on Vietnamese fishing vessels operating off East London Reef (Da Dong). The 3 Chinese military vessels were numbered 989, 27 and 28, and they showed up with a small group of Chinese fishing vessels. Another Vietnamese fishing vessel was fired on near Fiery Cross Reef (Chu Thap). The Chief Commander of Border Guards in Phu Yen Province, Vietnam reported that a total of 4 Vietnamese vessels were fired upon by Chinese naval vessels.[verification needed] These incidents involving Chinese forces sparked mass protests in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City,[81] and in various Vietnamese communities in the West (namely in the US state of California and in Paris) over attacks on Vietnamese citizens and the intrusion into what Vietnam claimed was part of its territory.[82]

In June 2011, the Philippines began officially referring to the South China Sea as the "West Philippine Sea" and the Reed Bank as "Recto Bank".[83][84]

In July 2012, the National Assembly of Vietnam passed a law demarcating Vietnamese sea borders to include the Spratly and Paracel Islands.[85][86]

In 2010, it was reported that the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad believed Malaysia could profit from China's economic growth through co-operation with China,[87] and said that China "was not a threat to anyone and was not worried about aggression from China", as well accusing the United States of provoking China and trying to turn China's neighbours against China.[88] Malaysia displayed no concern over China conducting a military exercise at James Shoal in March 2013.[89] Malaysia also suggested that it might work with China with Malaysian Defence Minister Hishamuddin Hussein saying that Malaysia had no problem with China patrolling the South China Sea, and telling ASEAN, America, and Japan that "Just because you have enemies, doesn't mean your enemies are my enemies".[90] However, until present Malaysia still maintained a balance relations with the countries involved in this dispute.[91] But since China has start enroaching its territorial waters,[92] Malaysia has become active in condemning China.[93][94]

The editorial of the Taiwanese news website "Want China Times" accused America for being behind the May 2014 flareup in the South China Sea, saying that Vietnam rammed a Chinese vessel on 2 May over an oil rig drilling platform and the Philippines detained 11 Chinese fishermens occurred because of Obama's visit to the region and that they were incited by America "behind the scenes". "Want China Times" claimed America ordered Vietnam on 7 May to complain about the drilling platform, and noted that a joint military exercise was happening at this time between the Philippines and America, and also noted that the American "New York Times" newspaper supported Vietnam.[95]

In a series of news stories on 16 April 2015, it was revealed, through photos taken by Airbus Group, that China had been building an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, one of the southern islands. The 10,000-foot-long (3,048 m) runway covers a significant portion of the island, and is viewed as a possible strategic threat to other countries with claims to the islands, such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

Various factions of the Muslim Moro people are waging a war for independence against the Philippines. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari declared its support for China against the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, calling both China and the Moro people as victims of Philippine colonialism, and noting China's history of friendly relations with the Sultanate of Sulu in the region.[96] The MNLF also denounced America's assistance to the Philippines in their colonization of the Moro people in addition to denouncing the Philippines claims to the islands disputed with China, and denouncing America for siding with the Philippines in the dispute, noting that in 1988 China "punished" Vietnam for attempting to set up a military presence on the disputed islands, and noting that the Moros and China maintained peaceful relations, while on the other hand the Moros had to resist other colonial powers, having to fight the Spanish, fight the Americans, and fight the Japanese, in addition to fighting the Philippines.[97]

While the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal with the Philippines, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) did not and renewed armed resistance against Philippine rule in Zamboanga; on September 15, 2013, in response to the MNLF's fighting against the Philippine Army, the New York Times published an article crediting every Philippine government for having struggled to bring peace to the Muslims of Mindanao since 1946 when it became independent and claimed that it is the belief of the Muslims that they are being subjected to oppression and exploitation by the Christians that is the problem which is causing the conflict and the newspaper also claimed that the conflict stretched back to 1899 when Moro insurrectionists were quelled by the American army.[98] On January 26, 2014 the New York Times published another article claiming that "every Philippine government" has "struggled to bring peace to Mindanao" and claimed that reports of exploitation and oppression by the Filipino Christians originated from what Muslims "say" and the newspaper also praised President Benigno S. Aquino III's "landmark peace deal" with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).[99] The New York Times labelled Moro fighters as "Muslim-led groups" and as "violent".[100] The New York Times blamed "Islamic extremist groups" for carrying out attacks in the Philippines.[101] The New York Times editorial board endorsed Philippine President Benigno Aquino's planned peace deal and the passage of "Bangsamoro Basic Law", blaming the "Muslim insurgency" for causing trouble to the "largely Catholic country".[102] The New York Times claimed that "Islamic militants" were fighting the Philippine military.[103]

The New York Times claimed the peace deal between the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) "seeks to bring prosperity to the restive south and weaken the appeal of the extremist groups", and linked the winding down of an American military counterterrorism operation to increased American military cooperation with the Philippines against China.[104] The New York Times hailed Mr Aquino's "peace agreement" as an "accomplishment" as it reported on Aquino raising the "alarm" on China in the South China Sea.[105] The New York Times editorial board published an article siding with the Philippines against China in the South China Sea dispute and supporting the Philippines actions against China.[106][107] The New York Times editorial board endorsed aggressive American military action against China in the South China Sea.[108][109]

American and Filipino forces launched a joint operation against the Moros in the Mamasapano clash, in which Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters manage to kill 44 Filipino police commandos and caused massive blow back for the botched raid, putting a decisive halt to American plans for its Asia military "pivot" in the Philippines.[110] Moros have reported that “4 caucasian-looking (American) soldiers” were killed in the Mamasapano clash along with the 44 Filipinos.[111]

The Moro National Liberation Front published an open letter to the United States President Barack Hussein Obama and demanded to know why America is supporting Philippine colonialism against the Moro Muslim people and the Filipino "war of genocide" and atrocities against Moros, reminding Obama that the Moro people have resisted and fought against the atrocities of Filipino, Japanese, American, and Spanish invaders, and reminding Obama of past war crimes also committed by American troops against Moro women and children like the Moro Crater massacre at Bud Dajo.[112]

The Moro National Liberation Front accused the Philippines, Japan, America, and Spain of conspiring against the Moros and recounted their invasions, imperialism, and atrocities against the Moros and demanded that they end the current colonization against the Moro people, the MNLF recounted that the Spanish were greedy colonizers, that the Americans committed massacres of Moro children and women at Mount Bagsak and Bud Dajo, and that the Japanese "exhibited tyranny, cruelty and inhumanity at its lowest level", and "had to suffer their worst defeat and highest death mortality at the hands of the Bangsamoro freedom fighters", demanding an apology from Japan for crimes committed against the Moros.[113]

The Moro National Liberation Front questioned the humanity and morality of the Philippines, Japan, America, and Spain, noting that they have done nothing to end the colonialism and war inflicted upon the Moros and reminded them that they have resisted and fought against Japanese, American, and Spanish atrocities and war crimes while the Filipinos bent over, capitulated and submitted to the invaders, the MNLF brought up the massacre committed by American troops at Bud Dajo against Moro women and children and boasted that compared to the Japanese casualty rate in the Visayas and Luzon, the amount of Japanese imperialists slaughtered by the Moro freedom fighters was greater by the thousands and that there was no capitulation like the "Fall of Bataan" to the Japanese by the Moros while the Luzon Filipinos submitted.[114] The MNLF said that the Japanese, American, and Spanish cruelty has been continued by Filipino rule.[115]

Japanese scholar Taoka Shunji criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for trying to falsely portray China as a threat to Japan and that it was invading its neighbors like the Philippines, and pointed out that the Spratly islands were not part of the Philippines when the US acquired the Philippines from Spain in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and the Japanese ruled Taiwan itself had annexed the Spratly islands in 1938 and the US ruled Philippines did not challenge the move and never asserted that it was their territory, he also pointed out that other countries did not need to do full land reclamation since they already control islands and that the reason China engaged in extensive land reclamation is because they needed it to build airfields since China only has control over reefs.[116]

Champa historically had a large presence in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese broke Champa's power in an invasion of Champa in 1471, and then finally conquered the last remnants of the Cham people in an invasion in 1832. A Cham named Katip Suma who received Islamic education in Kelantan declared a Jihad against the Vietnamese, and fighting continued until the Vietnamese crushed the remnants of the resistance in 1835. The Cham organisation Front de Libération du Champa was part of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races, which waged war against the Vietnamese for independence in the Vietnam War along with the Montagnard and Khmer Krom minorities. The last remaining FULRO insurgents surrendered to the United Nations in 1992. Vietnam has settled over a million ethnic Vietnamese on Montagnard lands in the Central Highlands. The Montagnard staged a massive protest against the Vietnamese in 2001, which led to the Vietnamese to forcefully crush the uprising and seal the entire area off to foreigners.

The Vietnamese government fears that evidence of Champa's influence over the disputed area in the South China Sea would bring attention to human rights violations and killings of ethnic minorities in Vietnam such as in the 2001 and 2004 uprisings, and lead to the issue of Cham autonomy being brought into the dispute, since the Vietnamese conquered the Hindu and Muslim Cham people in a war in 1832, and the Vietnamese continue to destroy evidence of Cham culture and artefacts left behind, plundering or building on top of Cham temples, building farms over them, banning Cham religious practices, and omitting references to the destroyed Cham capital of Song Luy in the 1832 invasion in history books and tourist guides. The situation of Cham compared to ethnic Vietnamese is substandard, lacking water and electricity and living in houses made out of mud.[117]

The Cham in Vietnam are only recognised as a minority, and not as an indigenous people by the Vietnamese government despite being indigenous to the region. Both Hindu and Muslim Chams have experienced religious and ethnic persecution and restrictions on their faith under the current Vietnamese government, with the Vietnamese state confisticating Cham property and forbidding Cham from observing their religious beliefs. Hindu temples were turned into tourist sites against the wishes of the Cham Hindus. In 2010 and 2013 several incidents occurred in Thành Tín and Phươc Nhơn villages where Cham were murdered by Vietnamese. In 2012, Vietnamese police in Chau Giang village stormed into a Cham Mosque, stole the electric generator, and also raped Cham girls.[118] Cham Muslims in the Mekong Delta have also been economically marginalised and pushed into poverty by Vietnamese policies, with ethnic Vietnamese Kinh settling on majority Cham land with state support, and religious practices of minorities have been targeted for elimination by the Vietnamese government.[119]

Transportation and communication[edit]


Location Occupied by Name Code Built Length Notes
Taiping Island
(Itu Aba)
Taiwan Taiwan (Republic of China) Taiping Island Airport RCSP 2007 1,200m Military use only. No refueling facilities. [120]
Swallow Reef Malaysia Malaysia Layang-Layang Airport LAC 1995 1,367m Dual-use concrete airport.
Thitu Island
Philippines Philippines Rancudo Airfield RPPN 1975 1,300m Unpaved.[citation needed] Repairs.[121]
Spratly Island Vietnam Vietnam Truong Sa Airport 1976-77 600m Military use only


In 2005, a cellular phone base station was erected by the Philippines' Smart Communications on Pag-asa Island.[122]

On 18 May 2011, China Mobile announced that its mobile phone coverage has expanded to the Spratly Islands. The extended coverage would 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 service network deployment over the islands took nearly one year.[123]


See also[edit]


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  2. ^ With reclaimed land, Swallow Reef was probably the third largest "island" in the Spratlys. Reclamation activities by the PRC in 2014 have added significant land areas to a number of submerged reefs and atolls like Johnson South Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and the Gaven Reefs.
  3. ^ See List of maritime features in the Spratly Islands for information about individual islands.
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  120. ^ The Taiping Island Airport was completed in December 2007, ("MND admits strategic value of Spratly airstrip." Taipei Times. 6 January 2006. p. 2 (MND is the ROC Ministry of National Defense)), and a C-130 Hercules transporter airplane first landed on the island on 21 January 2008.
  121. ^ Thitu Island:
  122. ^ Kalayaan Islands of Palawan Province (video part 1 of 2), 14 November 2009
  123. ^ Ian Mansfield, 18 May 2011, China Mobile Expands Coverage to the Spratly Islands, Cellular News

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]