The Spratly Islands are a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines and Malaysia (Sabah), about one third of the way from there to southern Vietnam. They comprise less than four square kilometers of land area spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers of sea. The Spratlys are one of three archipelagos of the South China Sea which comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which complicate governance and economics in that region of Southeast Asia. Such small and remote islands have little economic value in themselves, but are important in establishing international boundaries. There are no native islanders but there are rich fishing grounds and initial surveys indicate the islands may contain significant reserves of oil and natural gas. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from Vietnam, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia and the Philippines. Brunei has also claimed an EEZ in the southeastern part of the Spratlys encompassing just one area of small islands above mean high water (on Louisa Reef.) History
Geographic map of Spratlys. Click for more detailed image. For a satellite images of the islands, tagged by occupying country, see here. The first possible human interaction with the Spratly Islands dates back between 600 BCE to 3 BCE. This is based on the theoretical migration patterns of the people of Nanyue (southern China and northern Vietnam) and Old Champa kingdom who may have migrated from Borneo, which may have led them through the Spratly Islands. Ancient Chinese maps record the "Thousand Li Stretch of Sands"; Qianli Changsha (千里長沙) and the "Ten-Thousand Li of Stone Pools"; Wanli Shitang (萬里石塘), which China today claims refers to the Spratly Islands. The Wanli Shitang have been explored by the Chinese since the Yuan Dynasty and may have been considered by them to have been within their national boundaries. They are also referenced in the 13th century, followed by the Ming Dynasty. When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Qing Dynasty continued to include the territory in maps compiled in 1724, 1755, 1767, 1810, and 1817. A Vietnamese map from 1834 also includes the Spratly Islands clumped in with the Paracels (a common occurrence on maps of that time) labeled as "Wanli Changsha". According to Hanoi, old Vietnamese maps record Bãi Cát Vàng (Golden Sandbanks, referring to both Paracels and the Spratly Islands) which lay near the Coast of the central Vietnam as early as 1838. In Phủ Biên Tạp Lục (Frontier Chronicles) by the scholar Le Quy Don, Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa were defined as belonging to 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 Le Dynasty, 200 years earlier. The Vietnamese government conducted several geographical surveys of the islands in the 18th century. Despite the fact that China and Vietnam both made a claim to these territories simultaneously, at the time, neither side was aware that their neighbor had already charted and made claims to the same stretch of islands. The islands were sporadically visited throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by mariners from different European powers (including Richard Spratly, after whom the island group derives its most recognizable English name). However, these nations showed little interest in the islands. In 1883, German boats surveyed the Spratly and Paracel Islands but withdrew the survey eventually after receiving protests from the Nguyen Dynasty. Many European maps before the 20th century do not even make mention of this region. Military conflict and diplomatic dialogues
Main article: Spratly Islands dispute
In 1933, France asserted its claims from...