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.GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND
The island territories of the South China Sea are not all concerned by the current disputes, which relate to only two archipelagos, now easily identifiable 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.