Spratly Islands Dispute

Spratly Islands Dispute (SPRATLY Case)

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     CASE NUMBER:        325
     CASE NAME:          Spratly Islands Dispute


1.   The Issue

The Philippines made their first claim in the area--which they
refer to as the Kalayaan islands--in 1975 and has been developing
oil in the region between the Spratlys and the island of Palawan
since 1976. The Philippines real history in the region began in May
1956 when a private Philippine expedition surveyed and occupied
some of the islands. The Philippines were a trusteeship of the
Allied powers at the time and the guarantee of Allied protection
kept the Philippines from garrisoning troops on its islands.
However, as that guarantee weakened the Philippines decided to beef
up its defense. In 1976, it set up a garrison on Palawan and in
1978 it established more soldiers on seven of the islands. There
are currently about 1,000 Marines stationed on the islands. In
1979, the Philippines stated that it only wanted control of the
seven islands under its control and administration and not the rest
of the archipelago.

2.   Description

Malaysia has been involved in the dispute since 1979. It currently
has control over three of the islands but claims the whole chain.
Malaysiaws case is based on the fact that the islands are part of
its continental shelf. This gives it right to the islands under the
Law of the Sea Convention. Brunei's claims to the island also rest
on the Law of the Sea. It states that the southern part of the
Spratly chain is actually a part of its continental shelf and
therefore its territory and resources.

Taiwan has maintained a garrison on the biggest of the islands
since 1956. Its claims to the island are based on its assertion
that Taiwan and its Kuomintang government are the true China. Both
Taiwan and the People's Republic of China say that the islands were
discovered by Chinese navigators, used by Chinese fishermen for
centuries, and under the administration of China since the 15th
century. Further, the Kuomintang sent a naval expedition to the
islands and took formal possession in 1946. It left a garrison on
the largest island of Itu Aba. However, since Taiwan claims to be
the true China, it believes the islands belong to it and not to the
PRC. Its main concern is that China alone or China and Vietnam will
gain control and thus, have a monopoly on the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam are the main protagonists in the dispute.
Vietnam claims to the islands--which they call the Truong Sa
islands--are part of the empire of Annam, Vietnam's ancestor, in
the l9th century. In 1815, an expedition sent by king Gia Long to
chart sea lanes occupied and settled the islands. The French, who
were Vietnamws colonial rulers, annexed the Spratlys in 1933, so
Vietnam says the islands are theirs as the inheritors of the French
possessions. In September 1973, Vietnam declared that the Spratlys
were part of the Phuoc Tuy province. It has since stated that the
Philippines are occupying part of its territory. Vietnam currently
holds three islands.

China's claims to the island are based on the same history as
Taiwan's claim. The PRC government maintains that it is the
legitimate Chinese government and that, therefore, the
islands--which they call the Nansha islands--are their territory.
They have been the most belligerent in pursuing their claim. The
dispute between China and Vietnam picked up in 1988. Chinese naval
vessels sailed into the Spratlys in January 1988 and Chinese
marines started building defenses on one of the largest
islands--the first time China has settled soldiers on the islands.
In March, fighting broke out between Vietnam and China and China
sunk two Vietnamese ships. While they have moved to more political
means of dealing with the dispute, tensions remain high in the
area. Confrontation surfaced again when China contracted with a US
firm to begin testing for oil sights, even though the territorial
issue remains far from solved. Occassional harassment of fishermen
by all sides continues as well. Each of the six countries maintain
its claim to all the islands. The protagonists have been discussing
the possibility of shelving the sovereignty issue to undertake
joint development of its resources and have sent a joint scientific
team to run tests on resource potential.

The dispute has not been taken to any official forum as of this
date. Indonesia tried to start talks among the disputants. Jakarta
believed that as a non-involved Asian country, it could be an
impartial mediator. No decisions on sovereignty were reached at the
meetings but the disputants did agree to send a scientific team to
the islands to assess their resource potential and the
environmental condition.

3.   Related Cases

     SHETLAND case
     MINAMATA case
     DOOSAN case
     BALTIC case
     BLACKSEA case
     MEDIT case
     BOLSEA case

     Keyword Clusters    

     (1): Forum                    = Philippines
     (2): Bio-geography            = TROPical
     (3): Environmental Problem    = OIL/GAS

4.   Draft Author: Leigh Powell (May, 1994)

B.   LEGAL Cluster

5.   Discourse and Status:  DISagreement and INPROGress

So far no measures have been instituted but the territorial dispute
has proven to be the most effective ban because it has prevented
exploitation of the oil and natural resources completely.

6.   Forum and Scope:  CHINA and REGION

7.   Decision Breath:  4 (Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and

8.   Legal Standing:  TREATY

The Law of the Sea Convention -- an international law/standard
agreed to by the countries of the world -- is involved in the
claims of Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. These three
countries claim that all or part of the islands are a part of their
continental shelf. According to the Law of the Sea, the countries
have legal right over the area of their continental shelf.

In 1987 China claimed that the Hainan Island--the closest
recognized Chinese territory to the islands--was a separate
province that would be developed as a special economic zone and
declared a new law on its territorial waters in 1992. These laws
gave China a greater basis for claiming control over the Spratlys
as a "contiguous zones" for territory.


9.   Geographic Locations

     a.   Geographic Domain : Asia
     b.   Geographic Site   : East Asia
     c.   Geographic Impact : Philippines

10.  Sub-National Factors:  NO

11.  Type of Habitat:  TROPical

D.   TRADE Cluster

12.  Type of Measure:  Regulatory Standard [REGSTD]

13.  Direct vs. Indirect Impacts:  INDirect

14.  Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact

     a.  Directly Related     : YES  OIL/GAS
     b.  Indirectly Related   : NO
     c.  Not Related          : NO
     d.  Process Related      : YES  Pollution Sea [POLS]

15.  Trade Product Identification:  OIL

16.  Economic Data

17.  Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness:  LOW

18.  Industry Sector:  OIL/GAS

China estimates the natural reserves to be in the billions of US
dollars to $1 trillion. US estimates are much lower given the deep
water conditions and geology of the ocean floor.

19.  Exporter and Importer:  PHILippines and MANY


20.  Environmental Problem Type:  Pollution Sea [POLS]

21.  Name, Type, and Diversity of Species 

          Name:          Many

          Type:          Many

          Diversity:     PHILippines

22.  Impact and Effect:  LOW and PRODuct

23.  Urgency and Lifetime:  MEDIUM and 100s years

24.  Substitutes:  Biodegradable products

VI.  OTHER Factors

25.  Culture:  NO

26.  Trans-Border:  NO

27.  Rights:  YES

28.  Relevant Literature

Cushing, Jerry. Far Eastern Economic Review.  17 March 1988 

Day, Alan J. Borders and Territorial Disputes. Gale Research
Center. Detroit. 1982.

Heinzig, Dieter, Disputed islands in the South China Sea: the
Paracels, Spratlys, and Pratas. Wiesbaden, 1976.

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April 30, 1996