The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 sq km in the South China Sea, about two-thirds of the way from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines.
They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially by gas and oil deposits. (See Energy profile of South China Sea)
They are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes in the central South China Sea.
There are no indigenous inhabitants. But there are scattered garrisons occupied by military personnel of several claimant states.
About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Since 1985 Brunei has claimed a continental shelf that overlaps a southern reef but has not made any formal claim to the reef. Brunei claims an exclusive economic zone over this area.
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
Economic activity is limited to commercial fishing. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins suggests the potential for oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored. There are no reliable estimates of potential reserves. Commercial exploitation has yet to be developed.
Location: Southeastern Asia, group of reefs and islands in the South China Sea, about two-thirds of the way from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines
Geographic Coordinates: 8 38 N, 111 55 E
Area: less than 5 sq km Note: includes 100 or so islets, coral reefs, and sea mounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 sq km of the central South China Sea
Terrain: flat. The highest point is an unnamed location on Southwest Cay (4 m).
Natural Resources: fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential
Spratly and Paracel Islands. Source: NASA World Wind/Wikimedia Commons