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Travel Notes: Asia: Spratly Islands

Spratly Islands

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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, north of the Equator.

Disputed Islands

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 Kong.

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.

The Spratly Island Group

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 islands.

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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