146 Monjur Hasan & He Jian
The dispute of the Spratly Island features is a longstanding issue among the six
littoral coastal parties (China, Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia and
Brunei) around the South China Sea. Due to its complex nature, the dispute has been
unresolved for a great many years. The Spratly features are a group of islands, islets
and cays, including more than 100 reefs and sometimes classified in submerged
old atolls, in the South China Sea.
The archipelago is located off the coasts of the
Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam. It was named after British whaling
captain Richard Spratly, who sighted Spratly Island in 1843.
The islands contain less
than 2 km
(490 acres) of naturally occurring land, spreading over an area of more
than 425,000 km
(164,000 sq mi). According to the provision of the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”), only forty of the Spratly features
are considered islands, while the remaining features of the archipelago are either
submerged under water or are above water only during low tide.
The Spratly features are the most important archipelagos in the South China
location on strategic shipping routes. The islands have no indigenous inhabitants, but
These Island features are thus very important to the claimants in their attempts
to establish international maritime boundaries in the South China Sea because
sovereignty over these features will entitle the adjacent countries to an extended
continental shelf. Although some of the islands have civilian settlements, most of the
Spratly features are used for military purposes by China, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Taiwan, and Vietnam. Brunei has only claimed an exclusive economic zone in the
south eastern part of the Spratly features, Louisa Reef, which is uninhabited. No
feature of the Spratly is used for military purpose by Brunei.
China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim the whole of the Spratly island group.
The Philippines claims a number of the features that are included under its Kalayaan
1 See South China Sea, between the Philippines, Borneo, Vietnam, and China, WWF, available at https://www.
worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/im0148 (last visited on Mar. 4, 2019).
2 See Malaysia’s Claim in the Spratlys, BORNEO POST (Sabah), Aug. 23, 2015, available at https://www.pressreader.com/
malaysia/the-borneo-post-sabah/20150823/281835757446751 (last visited on Mar. 4, 2019).
3 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Signed on 10 December 1982; entered into force on 16 November
4 N. Owen & C. Schofield, Disputed South China Sea hydrocarbons in perspective, 36 MARINE POL’Y. 809-22