The Spratly Islands or Scarborough Shoal are controversial islands of more than 100 reefs, islets and islands in the South China Sea between the Philippines and Vietnam, the group is claimed variously by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The island occupies a total less than five square kilometers and spread over more than 400,000 square kilometers of sea. The South China Sea region is the world’s second busiest international sea lane. More than half of the world’s supertanker traffic passes through the region’s waters. In addition, the South China Sea region contains oil and gas resources strategically located near large energy-consuming countries.
South China Sea encompasses a portion of the Pacific Ocean stretching roughly from Singapore and the Strait of Malacca in the southwest, to the Strait of Taiwan (between Taiwan and China) in the northeast. The area includes more than 200 small islands, rocks, and reefs, with the majority located in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains. The Spratlys connects the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. All its islands are coral, low and small, about 5 to 6 meters above water, spread over 160,000 to 180,000 square kilometers of sea zone (or 12 times that of the Paracels).
The Spratlys are part of the great sweep of archipelago Southeast Asia of more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which so complicates geography, governance and economics in the region. As these are so small and remote, there would not be much interest in the area – however, Spratlys are more significant as territorial markers than as places of habitation. There are no native islanders but there are rich fishing grounds and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant oil and gas.
As a result, a number of different nations have sought to claim some or all of the islands. Taiwan, Vietnam and China each claim the islands in their entirety.
Malaysia and the Philippines claim some but not all of the islands, as also does Brunei. In 1984, Brunei established an exclusive fishing zone that encompasses Louisa Reef in the southern Spratly Islands but has not publicly claimed the reef; 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. To support their claims, states have placed troops on some of the islands that they have claimed.