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South China Sea Islands

The South China Sea Islands (南海諸島 pinyin: nan2 hai3 zhu1 dao3) is an archipelago of over 250 around 1-kmē islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people. The Islands are subdivided into four sub-archipelagos (listed by area size):

There are minerals, natural gas, and oil deposits on the islands and their nearby seafloor. Because of the economic, military, and transportational importance, the control, especially of the Spratlys, has been in dispute by China and several Southeast Asian countries, especially Vietnam, in the mid-20th century onwards. True occupation and control are shared between the claimants. (See #Claims and control)

Table of contents
1 History
2 Claims and control
3 Geography
4 Life
5 External links


The countries with the most extensive participation and well documented history on the Islands are China and Vietnam.

The South China Sea Islands were collectively named The Tough Heads (above Water) of Zhang Sea (漲海崎頭 zhang4 hai3 qi2 tou2) and Coral Islets (珊瑚洲) since their discovery by the Chinese in the Qin Dynasty. But seafaring did not occur until the next dynasty, the Han. After the Song Dynasty, the Islands had been called The Thousand-Mile Lengthy Sand (千里長沙) and Myriad-Mile Stone Embankment (萬里石塘).

There are houses dated back to the Tang or Song Dynasty on Qanquan Island (甘泉島), which nowadays is under disputed with the Vietnamese. In 1045, Emperor Renzong of Song China sent the Army of the Crown Prince (王師) to the Paracel Islands. The fishermen of Hainan composed various "The Notebooks on the Changing Paths" (更路簿) that recorded over 200 secure routes, and the names of over 100 islands used by the fishermen commonly.

Even though some of the voyages of Zheng He passed by the Islands, they probably did not dock on them. There is an island in the Spratly Islands named after Zheng He though.

Vietnamese fishermen and merchants also have been exploring the South Sea Islands, with a less well-known presence, due to the historically unofficial capacity and shorter records.

In the 19th century, as a part of Occupation of Indochina, France claimed control of the Stralys until the 1930s, exchanging a few with the British. During World War II, the Islands were annexed by Japan.

Claims and control

As soon as their respective Occupations ended, the Japanese and the French renounced their claims.

The People's Republic of China claims all of these islands as part of its Hainan Province, at the administrative level of banshichu (辦事處). On the other hand, Vietnam claims all Spratly Islands belong to a district, first in 1973, of the Phuoc Tuy Province, then, of the Khanh Hoa Province.

In addition to the People's Republic of China and Vietnam, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia and the Philippines also claim and occupy some islands. The Republic of China, claims all islands in the Spratlys, but only occupies one, Itu Aba (Taiping). Malaysia occupies three islands on its continental shelf. The Philippines claims most of the Spratlys and calls it the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and they form a distinct municipality in the province of Palawan. The Philippines, however, only occupies eight islands.

Brunei's and Indonesia's claims are not on any island, but on the sea. (See South China Sea)


The Islands locate on a shallow humite-layer continental shelf with an average of 200 metres deep. However, in the Spratlys, the sea floor drastically change its height in thousands, and near the Philippines, the Palawan Trough is more than 5,000 metres deep. Also, there are some parts that are so shallow that navigation becomes difficult, and prone to accidents.

The sea floor contains Paleozoic and Mezozoic granite and metamorphic rocks. The abysses are caused by the formation of the Himalayas in the Cenozoic.

Except one volcano-island, the islands are made of coral reefs of varying ages and formations.


There are no known native animals, except boobies and seagulls, who are very common residents on the islands. Their feces can build up to a layer from 10-mm to 1-metre annually.

There are around 100-200 plant species on the Islands altogether. For example, the Paracels have 166 species, but later the Chinese and the Vietnamese introduced 47 more species, including corn, peanut, sweet potato, and various vegetables.

External links