September 2003
South China Sea Tables
Table 1

Territorial claims in the Spratly and Paracel Islands

Country Claim
Brunei Does not occupy any of the islands, but claims part of the South China Seas nearest to it as part of its continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The boundary lines are drawn perpendicularly from 2 outermost points on the Brunei coastline. In 1984, Brunei declared an EEZ that includes Louisa Reef.
China Refers to the Spratly Islands as the Nansha islands, and claims all of the islands and most of the South China Sea for historical reasons. These claims are not marked by coordinates or otherwise clearly defined. China also claims the Paracel Islands (referred to as the Xisha Islands), and includes them as part of its Hainan Island province.

Chinese claims are based on a number of historical events, including the naval expeditions to the Spratly Islands by the Han Dynasty in 110 AD and the Ming Dynasty from 1403-1433 AD. Chinese fishermen and merchants have worked the region over time, and China is using archaeological evidence to bolster its claims of sovereignty. 

In the 19th and early 20th century, China asserted claims to the Spratly and Paracel islands. During World War II, the islands were claimed by the Japanese. In 1947, China produced a map with 9 undefined dotted lines, and claimed all of the islands within those lines. A 1992 Chinese law restated its claims in the region.

China has occupied 8 of those islands to enforce its claims. In 1974, China seized the Paracel Islands from Vietnam. 

Indonesia Not a claimant to any of the Spratly Islands. However, Chinese and Taiwanese claims in the South China Sea may extend into Indonesia's EEZ and continental shelf, including Indonesia's Natuna gas field.
Malaysia Its Spratly claims are based upon the continental shelf principle, and have clearly defined coordinates. Malaysia has occupied 3 islands that it considers to be within its continental shelf. Malaysia has tried to build up one atoll by bringing soil from the mainland and has built a hotel.
Philippines Its Spratly claims have clearly defined coordinates, based both upon the proximity principle as well as on the explorations of a Philippine explorer in 1956. In 1971, the Philippines officially claimed 8 islands that it refers to as the Kalayaan, partly on the basis of this exploration, arguing that the islands: 1) were not part of the Spratly Islands; and 2) had not belonged to anyone and were open to being claimed. In 1972, they were designated as part of Palawan Province, and have been occupied. 
Taiwan Taiwan's claims are similar to those of China, and are based upon the same principles. As with China, Taiwan's claims are also not clearly defined. Occupies Pratas Island in the Spratlys.
Vietnam Vietnamese claims are based on history and the continental shelf principle. Vietnam claims the entire Spratly Islands (Truong Sa in Vietnamese) as an offshore district of the province of Khanh Hoa. Vietnamese claims also cover an extensive area of the South China Sea, although they are not clearly defined. In addition, Vietnam claims the Paracel Islands (the Hoang Sa in Vietnamese), although they were seized by the Chinese in 1974.

The Vietnamese have followed the Chinese example of using archaeological evidence to bolster sovereignty claims. In the 1930's, France claimed the Spratly and Paracel Islands on behalf of its then-colony Vietnam. Vietnam has since occupied 20 of the Spratly Islands to enforce its claims. 

EEZ = Exclusive Economic Zone

* The South China Sea is defined by the International Hydrographic Bureau as the body of water stretching in a Southwest to Northeast direction, whose southern border is 3 degrees South latitude between South Sumatra and Kalimantan (Karimata Straits), and whose northern border is the Strait of Taiwan from the northern tip of Taiwan to the Fujian coast of China.



Table 2

Military Clashes in the South China Sea over the Past Two Decades*

Date Countries  Military Action
1974 China, Vietnam Chinese seized the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, with 18 of its troops killed in clashes on one of the islands.
1988 China, Vietnam Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands. Several Vietnamese boats were sunk and over 70 sailors killed.
1992 China, Vietnam Vietnam accused China of landing troops on Da Luc Reef. China seized almost 20 Vietnamese cargo ships transporting goods from Hong Kong from June - September.
1994 China, Vietnam China and Vietnam had naval confrontations within Vietnam's internationally recognized territorial waters over Vietnam's Tu Chinh oil exploration blocks 133, 134, and 135. Chinese claim the area as part of their Wan' Bei-21 (WAB-21) block. 
1995 China, Philippines China occupied Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef. Philippine military evicted the Chinese in March and destroyed Chinese markers.
1995 Taiwan, Vietnam Taiwanese artillery fired on a Vietnamese supply ship.
1996 China, Philippines In January, Chinese vessels engaged in a 90-minute gun battle with a Philippine navy gunboat near Capones Island.
1997 China, Philippines  The Philippine navy ordered a Chinese speedboat and two fishing boats to leave Scarborough Shoal in April; the Philippine navy later removed Chinese markers and raised its flag. China sent three warships to survey Philippine-occupied Panata and Kota Islands
1998 Philippines, Vietnam In January, Vietnamese soldiers fired on a Philippine fishing boat near Tennent (Pigeon) Reef.
1999 China, Philippines In May, a Chinese fishing boat was sunk in a collision with Philippine warship. In July, another Chinese fishing boat was sunk in a collision with a Philippine warship.
1999 China, Philippines In May, Chinese warships were accused of harassing a Philippine navy vessel after it ran aground near the Spratly Islands.
1999 Philippines, Vietnam In October, Vietnamese troops fired upon a Philippine air force plane on reconnaissance in the Spratly Islands.
1999 Malaysia, Philippines  In October, Philippine defense sources reported that 2 Malaysian fighter planes and 2 Philippine air force surveillance planes nearly engaged over a Malaysian-occupied reef in the Spratly Islands. The Malaysian Defense Ministry stated that it was not a stand-off.


 

Table 3

Disputes over Drilling and Exploration in the South China Sea

Date Countries  Disputes
1992 China, Vietnam In May, China signed a contract with U.S. firm Crestone to explore for oil near the Spratly Islands in an area that Vietnam says is located on its continental shelf, over 600 miles south of China's Hainan Island. In September, Vietnam accused China of drilling for oil in Vietnamese waters in the Gulf of Tonkin.
1993 China, Vietnam In May, Vietnam accused a Chinese seismic survey ship of interfering with British Petroleum's exploration work in Vietnamese waters. The Chinese ship left Vietnamese block 06 following the appearance of 2 Vietnamese naval ships.
1993 China, Vietnam In December, Vietnam demanded that Crestone cancel offshore oil development in nearby waters.
1994 China, Vietnam Crestone joined with a Chinese partner to explore China's Wan' Bei-21 (WAB-21 block. Vietnam protested that the exploration was in Vietnamese waters in their blocks 133, 134, and 135. China offered to split Wan' Bei production with Vietnam, as long as China retained all sovereignty.
1994 China, Vietnam In August, Vietnamese gunboats forced a Chinese exploration ship to leave an oilfield in a region claimed by the Vietnamese.
1996 China, Vietnam In April, Vietnam leased exploration blocks to U.S. firm Conoco, and ruled out cooperation with U.S. oil firms that signed Chinese exploration contracts in disputed waters. Vietnamese blocks 133 and 134 cover half the zone leased to Crestone by China. China protested, and reaffirmed a national law claiming the South China Sea as its own in May.
1997 China, Vietnam In March, Vietnamese issued a protest after the Chinese Kantan-3 oil rig drills near Spratly Islands in March. The drilling occurred offshore Da Nang, in an area Vietnam calls Block 113. The block is located 64 nautical miles off Chan May cape in Vietnam, and 71 nautical miles off China's Hainan Island. The diplomatic protests were followed by the departure of the Chinese rig.
1997 China, Vietnam In December, Vietnamese protested after the Exploration Ship No. 8 and two supply ships entered the Wan' Bei exploration block. All 3 vessels were escorted away by the Vietnamese navy.
1998 China, Vietnam In September, Vietnamese protested after a Chinese report stated that Crestone and China were continuing their survey of the Spratly Islands and the Tu Chinh region (Wan' Bei in Chinese).  (The dispute over this area was resolved by an agreement between China and Vietnam concluded in December 2000.)
2003 Malaysia, Brunei In May 2003, a patrol boat from Brunei acted to prevent TotalFinaElf from undertaking exploration activities in an area offshore from Northern Borneo disputed by the two countries.

Table 4

Oil and Gas in the South China Sea Region

Proven Oil Reserves (Billion Barrels) 
Proven Gas Reserves (Trillion Cubic Feet)
Oil Production (Barrels/Day) 
Gas Production (Billion Cubic Feet) 
Brunei
1.4
 13.8
189,000
366
Cambodia
0
0
0
0
China*
1 (est.)
5.0 (est.)
~350,000 (est.)
~200 (est.)
Indonesia*
0.1 (est.)
32.0 (est.)
~323,000 (est.)
~50 (est.)
Malaysia
3.0
75.0
751,973
1,895
Philippines
0.2
3.8
24,512
<1
Singapore
0
0
0
0
Taiwan
<0.01
2.7
3,300
26
Thailand
0.6
13.3
193,162
661
Vietnam
0.6
6.8
339,595
46
Total
Est. 7.0
Est. 150.3
2,174,542
3,244
*Only the regions around the South China Sea are included. Note: There are no proved reserves for the Spratly and Paracel Islands.  Proved oil and natural gas reserves are as of 1/1/2003.  Oil production is a 2002 average. Oil supply includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, and other liquids. Natural gas production is the 2001 average. All figures cited for China and Indonesia are estimates of offshore reserves and production in the South China Sea only.

Table 5

Oil and Gas in the South China Sea - Comparison with other Regions

Proven Oil Reserves (Billion Barrels) 
Proven Gas Reserves (Trillion Cubic Feet)
Oil Production (Million Barrels/Day) 
Gas Production (Trillion Cubic Feet/Year) 
Caspian Sea Region
17.2-32.8
232
1.6
4.5
North Sea Region
16.8
178.7
6.4
9.4
Persian Gulf
674.0
1,923.0
19.3
8.0
South China Sea
Est. 7.0
Est. 150.3
2.2
3.2
Proved reserves as of 1/1/2003.  Oil production as of 2002. Oil supply includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, and other liquids.  Natural gas production as of 2001.