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Definition: Spratly Islands from Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary

Group of small islands, actually reefs, in cen. part of South China Sea, ab. 280 mi. (450 km.) SE of Camranh Bay and 775 mi. (1247 km.) NE of Singapore; seized by Japan in WWII and made submarine base; rights to islands renounced by Japan 1951; claims of all or part of group made by China, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia.

Summary Article: Spratly Islands
from The Politics of Maritime Power: A Survey

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of approximately 100 reefs and islets in the South China Sea. The Spratly Islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and gas and oil deposits, though their true extent is unknown and disputed. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Viet Nam each claim sovereignty over the entire group of islands, while Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines each claim various parts. Several of the nations involved have soldiers stationed in the Spratlys and control various installations on different islands and reefs. Taiwan occupies one of the largest islands, Taiping (Itu Aba Island). In February 1995, the PRC occupied Mischief Reef, which is claimed by the Philippines, causing a political crisis in South-East Asia. In early 1999, these disputes escalated as the Philippines claimed that the PRC was building military installations on the reef. In the early 21st century, as part of foreign policy initiatives known as the ‘new security concept’ and ‘China’s peaceful rise’, the PRC became much less confrontational about the Spratly Islands. The PRC recently held talks with ASEAN countries aimed at realizing a proposal for a free-trade area between the 10 countries involved. The PRC and ASEAN have also been engaged in talks to create a code of conduct aimed at easing tensions in the disputed islands. On 5 March 2002, an agreement was reached, setting forth the desire of the claimant nations to resolve the problem of sovereignty without further use of force. In November 2002, a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed, easing tensions but falling short of a legally-binding code of conduct.

© Routledge 2007, 2011

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