Sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands
Background Information on The Paracels and Spratlys
In order to clarify the vexed question of international law, the central issues
of which have just been outlined, it is essential to provide a geographical
description of the territories, a breakdown of the various elements
comprising the legal issues and the main strands of the chronology of events
on which the legal argument may be based.
The island territories of the South China Sea are not all concerned by the
current disputes, which relate to only two archipelagos, now easily identi-
fiable on nautical charts.
The factual information collated here will be set forth separately for the
Paracels and for the Spratlys.
The enormous difficulty of precisely identifying all the elements
comprising these complex geographical configurations must be underlined.
In addition to the main islands, there are any number of rocks, sandbanks,
atolls, and coral reefs, some of them tiny. The topography is obscured by the
coexistence of different systems for naming the islands. Chinese, Filipino,
Vietnamese, French and English names have been superimposed on each
other, without any clear correspondence between them. Referring to one
system of names rather than another is not without symbolic significance. In
this book we shall therefore use the English names, the least suspect since
they do no not correspond to any particular claim.
Both archipelagos form part of four groups of coral islands scattered over the
South China Sea.1
The use in this book of this name, still widely used in geography textbooks although
nowadays contested by Vietnam, obviously does not imply any support for Chinese
claims regarding delimitation.