Spratly Islands

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The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds - and potentially by gas and oil deposits. They are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. 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.



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 249/257

total: less than 5 sq km

land: less than 5 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: includes 100 or so islets, coral reefs, and sea mounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 sq km (158,000 sq mi) of the central South China Sea

Area - comparative


Land boundaries

0 km


926 km

Maritime claims







mean elevation:

elevation extremes:

lowest point: South China Sea 0 m

highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay 4 m

Natural resources

fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential

Land use

agricultural land: 0%

arable land 0%; permanent crops 0%; permanent pasture 0%

forest: 0%

other: 100% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land

5,700 sq km (2006)

Natural hazards

typhoons; numerous reefs and shoals pose a serious maritime hazard

Environment - current issues


Geography - note

strategically located near several primary shipping lanes in the central South China Sea; includes numerous small islands, atolls, shoals, and coral reefs

People and Society


no indigenous inhabitants

note: there are scattered garrisons occupied by military personnel of several claimant states


Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Spratly Islands


Economy - overview

Economic activity is limited to commercial fishing. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins indicate potential oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored. No reliable estimates of potential reserves are available. Commercial exploitation has yet to be developed.


Airports 189/236

4 (2013)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 3

914 to 1,523 m: 2

under 914 m: 1 (2013)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 1

914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2013)


3 (2013)

Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

all of the Spratly Islands are claimed by China (including Taiwan) and Vietnam; parts of them are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines; despite no public territorial claim to Louisa Reef, Brunei implicitly lays claim by including it within the natural prolongation of its continental shelf and basis for a seabed median with Vietnam; 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