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    History of the Spratly Island

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    Spratly Islands
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    The location of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
    The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays, and islands in the South China Sea.[5] The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia (Sabah), and southern Vietnam. They contain less than 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) of land area spread over more than 425,000 square kilometers (164,100 square miles) of sea. The Spratlys are one of 3 archipelagos of the South China Sea which comprise more than 30,000 islands and reefs and which complicate governance and economics in that region of Southeast Asia. Such small and remote islands have little economic value in themselves but are important in establishing international boundaries. No native islanders inhabit the islands which offer rich fishing grounds and may contain significant oil and natural gas reserves.
    About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan (ROC), Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Brunei has also claimed an exclusive economic zone in the southeastern part of the Spratlys encompassing just one area of small islands on Louisa Reef. This has led to escalating tensions between numerous countries over the disputed status of the islands.
     
    Coordinates: 10°N 114°E


    Area (land based): less than 5 km2 (1.9 sq mi) – includes 148 or so islets, coral reefs, and seamounts.
    (sea surface): 410,000 km2 (160,000 sq mi) of the central South China Sea
    Coastline: 926 km (575 mi)
    Climate: tropical
    Terrain: flat
    Elevation extremes:
    lowest point: South China Sea (0 m)
    highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay (4 m)
    Natural hazards: serious maritime hazards because of numerous banks, reefs and shoals
    The islands are most likely volcanic in origin.[7] The islands themselves contain almost no significant arable land and have no indigenous inhabitants, although twenty of the islands, including Taiping Island, the largest, are considered to be able to sustain human life. Natural resources include fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential. Economic activity includes commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins suggests the potential for oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored and no reliable estimates of potential oil and natural gas reserves are publicly available. Commercial exploitation of hydrocarbons has yet to be developed. The Hydrocarbon deposits have been valued at 26.3 Trillion US dollars as of 2012.[8] The Spratly Islands have at least three fishing ports, several docks and harbors, at least three heliports, at least four fortified platforms and six to eight airstrips.[citation needed] These islands are strategically located near several primary shipping lanes.


    Coral reefs are the predominant structure of these islands; the Spratly group contains over 600 coral reefs in total.[5]
    Little vegetation grows on these islands, which are subject to intense monsoons.[5] Larger islands are capable of supporting tropical forest, scrub forest, coastal scrub and grasses.[5] It is difficult to determine which species have been introduced or cultivated by humans.[5] Taiping Island was reportedly covered with shrubs, coconut, and mangroves in 1938; pineapple was also cultivated here when it was profitable.[5] Other accounts mention papaya, banana, palm, and even white peach trees growing on one island.[5] A few islands which have been developed as small tourist resorts had soil and trees brought in and planted where there were none.[5]
    Wildlife[edit source | editbeta]
    The islands that do have vegetation provide important habitats for many seabirds and sea turtles.[5]
    Both the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, endangered) and the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, critically endangered) formerly occurred in numbers sufficient to support commercial exploitation.[5] These species reportedly continue to nest even on islands inhabited by military personnel (such as Pratas) to some extent, though it is believed that their numbers have declined.[5]
    Seabirds use the islands for resting, breeding, and wintering sites.[5] Species found here include Streaked Shearwater (Calonectris leucomelas), Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), Red-Footed Booby (S. sula), Great Crested Tern (Sterna bergii), and White Tern (Gygis alba).[5] Little information is available regarding current status of the islands’ seabird populations, though it is likely that birds may divert nesting site to smaller, less disturbed islands. Bird eggs cover the majority of Song Tu, a small island in the eastern Danger Zone.[5]
    Unfortunately, this ecoregion is still largely a mystery.[5] Scientists have focused their research on the marine environment, while the ecology of the terrestrial environment remains relatively unknown.[5]
    Ecological hazards[edit source | editbeta]
    Political instability, tourism and the increasing industrialization of neighboring countries has led to serious disruption of native flora and fauna, over-exploitation of natural resources, and environmental pollution.[5] Disruption of nesting areas by human activity or by introduced animals, such as dogs, has reduced the number of turtles nesting on the islands.[5] Sea turtles are also slaughtered for food on a significant scale.[5] The sea turtle is a symbol of longevity in Chinese customs and at times the military personnel are given orders to protect the turtles.[5]
    Heavy commercial fishing in the region incurs other problems. Though it has been outlawed, fishing methods continue to include the use of bottom trawls fitted with chain rollers.[5] In addition, during a recent[timeframe?] routine patrol, more than 200 kg of Potassium cyanide solution was confiscated from fishermen who had been using it for fish poisoning.[not in citation given] These activities have a devastating impact on local marine organisms and coral reefs.[5]
    Some interest has been taken in regard to conservation of these island ecosystems.[5] J.W. McManus has explored the possibilities of designating portions of the Spratly Islands as a marine park.[5] One region of the Spratly Archipelago named Truong Sa was proposed by Vietnam’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment (MOSTE) as a future protected area.[5] The 160 km2 site is currently managed by the Khanh Hoa Provincial People’s Committee of Vietnam.[5]
    Military groups in the Spratlys have engaged in environmentally damaging activities such as shooting turtles and seabirds, raiding nests, and fishing with explosives.[5] The collection of rare medicinal plants, collecting of wood and hunting for the wildlife trade are common threats to the biodiversity of the entire region, including these islands.[5] Coral habitats are threatened by pollution, over-exploitation of fish and invertebrates, and the use of explosives and poisons as fishing techniques.[5]


    HistoryThe first possible human interaction with the Spratly Islands dates back between 600 BCE to 3 BCE. This is based on the theoretical migration patterns of the people of Nanyue (southern China and northern Vietnam) and Old Champa kingdom who may have migrated from Borneo, which may have led them through the Spratly Islands.[9]


    Ancient Chinese maps record the "Thousand Li Stretch of Sands"; Qianli Changsha (????) and the "Ten-Thousand Li of Stone Pools"; Wanli Shitang (????),[10] which China today claims refers to the Spratly Islands. The Wanli Shitang have been explored by the Chinese since the Yuan Dynasty and may have been considered by them to have been within their national boundaries. [11][12] They are also referenced in the 13th century,[13][source needs translation] followed by the Ming Dynasty.[14][source needs translation] When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Qing Dynasty continued to include the territory in maps compiled in 1724,[15][source needs translation] 1755,[16][source needs translation] 1767,[17][source needs translation] 1810,[18][source needs translation] and 1817.[19][source needs translation] But in 1904, Shanghai Publishing House printed the map named Map of all Chinese provinces, revealing that China stretched as far south as Hainan Island, and that the Paracel and Spratly Islands did not belong to China.[20]
    A Vietnamese map from 1834 also includes the Spratly Islands clumped in with the Paracels (a common occurrence on maps of that time) labeled as V?n Lý Tr??ng Sa (????).[21] According to Hanoi, old Vietnamese maps record Bãi Cát Vàng (Golden Sandbanks, referring to both Paracels and the Spratly Islands) which lay near the Coast of the central Vietnam as early as 1838.[22] In Ph? Biên T?p L?c (Frontier Chronicles) by the scholar Le Quy Don, Hoàng Sa and Tr??ng Sa were defined as belonging to Qu?ng Ngãi District. He described it as where sea products and shipwrecked cargoes were available to be collected. Vietnamese text written in the 17th century referenced government-sponsored economic activities during the Le Dynasty, 200 years earlier. The Vietnamese government conducted several geographical surveys of the islands in the 18th century.[22]
    Despite the fact that China and Vietnam both made a claim to these territories simultaneously, at the time, neither side was aware that their neighbor had already charted and made claims to the same stretch of islands.[22]
    The islands were sporadically visited throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by mariners from different European powers (including Richard Spratly, after whom the island group derives its most recognizable English name).[23] However, these nations showed little interest in the islands.
    British naval captain James George Meads in the 1870s laid claim to the islands proclaiming a micronation called Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads. Descendants of Meads have continued to claim legitimacy over the islands, and continue to attempt to claim ownership of the island's resources.[24][25][26]
    In 1883, German boats surveyed the Spratly and Paracel Islands but withdrew the survey eventually after receiving protests from Guangdong government representing Qing Dynasty. Many European maps before the 20th century do not even make mention of this region.[27]
    Military conflict and diplomatic dialogues[edit source | editbeta]
    Further information: Spratly Islands dispute
    In 1904, a Chinese map entitled Map of all Chinese provinces from the Shanghai Publishing House showed that China stretched as far south as Hainan Island and that Paracel and Spratly Islands did not belong to China.
    In 1933, France asserted its claims from 1887[28] to the Spratly and Paracel Islands on behalf of its then-colony Vietnam.[29] It occupied a number of the Spratly Islands, including Taiping Island, built weather stations on two of the islands, and administered them as part of French Indochina. This occupation was protested by the Republic of China (ROC) government because France admitted finding Chinese fishermen there when French warships visited nine of the islands.[30] In 1935, the ROC government also announced a sovereignty claim on the Spratly Islands. Japan occupied some of the islands in 1939 during World War II, and it used the islands as a submarine base for the occupation of Southeast Asia. During the Japanese occupation, these islands were called Shinnan Shoto (????), literally the New Southern Islands, and together with the Paracel Islands (????), they were put under the governance of the Japanese colonial authority in Taiwan.
    Japan occupied the Paracels and the Spratleys from February 1939 to August 1945.[31]
    In November 1946, the ROC sent naval ships to take control of the islands after the surrender of Japan.[31] It had chosen the largest and perhaps the only inhabitable island, Taiping Island, as its base, and it renamed the island under the name of the naval vessel as Taiping. Also following the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II, the ROC re-claimed the entirety of the Spratly Islands (including Taiping Island) after accepting the Japanese surrender of the islands based on the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations.[citation needed] Japan had renounced all claims to the islands in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty together with the Paracels, Pratas and other islands captured from the Chinese, and upon these declarations, China[clarification needed] reasserted its claim to the islands. The KMT force of the ROC government withdrew from most of the Spratly and Paracel Islands after they retreated to Taiwan from the opposing Communist Party of China due to their losses in the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949.[29] The ROC quietly withdrew troops from Taiping Island in 1950, but then reinstated them in 1956 in response to Tomas Cloma's sudden claim to the island as part of Freedomland.[32] As of 2013, Taiping Island is administered by the ROC.[citation needed]
    In 1988, the Vietnamese and Chinese navies engaged in a skirmish in the area of Johnson South Reef.
    It was unclear whether France continued its claim to the islands after WWII, since none of the islands, other than Taiping Island, was habitable. The South Vietnamese government took over the Tr??ng Sa administration after the defeat of the French at the end of the First Indochina War. In 1958, the PRC issued a declaration defining its territorial waters, which encompassed the Spratly Islands. North Vietnam's prime minister, Pham Van Dong, sent a formal note to Zhou Enlai, stating that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) respected the Chinese decision regarding the 12 nmi (22 km; 14 mi) limit of territorial waters.[citation needed] While accepting the 12-nmi principal with respect to territorial waters, the letter did not actually address the issue of defining actual territorial boundaries.
    In an interview with BBC, Dr. Balazs Szalontai provided the following insight:
    "The general context of the Chinese declaration was the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, held in 1956, and the resulting treaties signed in 1958, such as the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. Understandably, the PRC government, though not being a member of the U.N., also wanted to have a say in how these issues were dealt with. Hence the Chinese declaration of September 1958. In these years, North Vietnam could hardly afford to alienate Communist comrad China. The Soviet Union did not give any substantial support to Vietnamese reunification, and neither South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem nor the United States government showed readiness to give consent to the holding of all-Vietnamese elections as stipulated by the Geneva Agreements. On the contrary, Diem did his best to suppress the Communist movement in the South. This is why Pham Van Dong felt it necessary to take sides with China, whose tough attitude toward the Asian policies of the US offered some hope. And yet he seems to have been cautious enough to make a statement that supported only the principle that China was entitled for 12-mile (19 km) territorial seas along its territory but evaded the issue of defining this territory. While the preceding Chinese statement was very specific, enumerating all the islands (including the Paracels and the Spratlys) for which the PRC laid claim, the DRV statement did not say a word about the concrete territories to which this rule was applicable. Still, it is true that in this bilateral territorial dispute between Chinese and Vietnamese interests, the DRV standpoint, more in a diplomatic than a legal sense, was incomparably closer to that of China than to that of South Vietnam".[33][unreliable source?]
    On May 23, 2011, the President of the Philippines, His Excellency Benigno Aquino III, warned visiting Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie of a possible arms race in the region if tensions worsened over disputes in the South China Sea. Aquino said he told Liang in their meeting that this could happen if there were more encounters in the disputed and potentially oil-rich Spratly Islands.[34]
    In May 2011, Chinese patrol boats attacked two Vietnamese oil exploration ships near the Spratly Islands.[35] Also in May 2011, Chinese naval vessels opened fire on Vietnamese fishing vessels operating off East London Reef (Da Dong). The three Chinese military vessels were numbered 989, 27 and 28, and they showed up with a small group of Chinese fishing vessels. Another Vietnamese fishing vessel was fired on near Fiery Cross Reef (Chu Thap). The Chief Commander of Border Guards in Phu Yen Province, Vietnam reported that a total of four Vietnamese vessels were fired upon by Chinese naval vessels.[verification needed] These incidents involving Chinese forces sparked mass protests in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City,[36] and in various Vietnamese communities in the West (namely in the U.S. state of California and in Paris) over attacks on Vietnamese citizens and the intrusion into what Vietnam claimed was part of its territory.[37]
    In June 2011, the Philippines began officially referring to the South China Sea as the "West Philippine Sea" and the Reed Bank as "Recto Bank".[38][39]
    In July 2012, the National Assembly of Vietnam passed a law demarcating Vietnamese sea borders to include the Spratly and Paracel Islands.[40][41]
    Telecommunications[edit source | editbeta]
    In 2005, a cellular phone base station was erected by the Philippines' Smart Communications on Pag-asa Island.[42]
    On May 18, 2011, China Mobile announced that its mobile phone coverage has expanded to the Spratly Islands. The extended coverage would allow soldiers stationed on the islands, fishermen, and merchant vessels within the area to use mobile services, and can also provide assistance during storms and sea rescues. The service network deployment over the islands took nearly one year.[43]

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