Spratly Islands, group of about 100 low islands and coral reefs in the central South China Sea, intersecting busy shipping lanes. The whole group is claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and parts are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. Brunei has established (1984) an exclusive economic zone encompassing Louisa Reef, but it has not claimed the islet. Various islands, valued primarily for the petroleum and gas potential of the surrounding waters and to a lesser degree for their fishing grounds, are occupied by their claimants. China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have forces there. There have been many disputes and some fighting, most notably between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in 1988 and 1992, and the Spratlys remain a source of tension among the claimants. A 2002 agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China called for all claimants to avoid activities that would heighten tensions over the islands, but China, Taiwan, and other claimants have nonetheless improved a number of the islands and reefs so that they can support airstrips and other facilities. A 2016 ruling under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in a case that was initiated by the Philippines against China rejected China's main basis for its claim to the islands, and judged that none of the islands met the criteria required to entitle any claimant to an exclusive economic zone.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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