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The Spratly Islands are a group of over 600 small islets, coral
reefs, sand bars, and atolls in the South China Sea, about 10° north of the Equator.
The Spratly Islands are some 800 km east of Ho Chi Minh City, 560 km
north of Brunei, 900km south-west of Manila, and an even greater 1,300 km south of Hong
Ownership of some or all of the Spratly Islands is disputed between China, Taiwan, Vietnam,
Brunei, Malaysia, and The Philippines.
While no commercial oil or gas deposits have been found, countries are
reluctant to give up their claims.
The political importance of the Spratlys, as well as their strategic
value regarding the major shipping lanes, fuels the military presence in the islands.
Of the 12 main islets in the Spratly Island group, Itu Aba is the
largest. The islands are not permanently inhabited, although all of the competing
claimants, except Brunei, have installations on one or more of
The Spratly Islands are regarded as a potential flash-point for
regional conflict; China and Vietnam
came to blows in 1988, resulting in over 70 casualties.
The Spratly Islands were a part of French Indochina between 1933 to
1939, until Japan came along during World War II.
After the war, China garrisoned Itu Aba, which Taiwan has retained as
mainland China have so far resisted taking the claims to international tribunal.
See also Paracel Islands.
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