The Vietnamese now occupy more than 20 islands, and they have built substantial lighthouses on at least nine of them. Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines also operate one or more lights in the islands. These lights do have navigational value, but they are also intended as assertions of sovereignty, even though international tribunals have ruled several times that building a lighthouse does not establish ownership of an island.
The Philippine government is concerned that China may set up permanent structures on the shoal, similar to the fort-like structures it set up on Mischief Reef in 1995, another outcrop in the Spratlys contested by both countries.
Zhu countered that China has "sufficient historical and legal evidence" to prove that the Island has always been part of Chinese territory.
He said is surrounding waters had long been a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen.
Philippine news media reported this week that China has begun building a military airstrip at a place called Subi Reef, in the Spratly Islands. That’s just 12 miles (20 km) from where the Philippines has its administrative headquarters for what it claims as its part of the Spratlys — altogether a collection of some 750 islets, atolls, reefs and sandbanks spread over some 175,000 sq. mi. (453,000 sq km). That’s about the size of California and Texas combined.
1969 was chosen as the starting point for analysis because it is the year that the manifest conflict started to erupt as oil was first discovered in the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys are invaluable resource in terms of not only oil, gas, seafood and natural resources, but also as a strategic location that all the claimants have been trying to achieve. So far, some efforts of preventing conflict have been tried, but the conflict still exists due to realistic interests of all the claimants, most significantly China. Today, all parties have a vested interest in a peaceful resolution of the dispute however the prospects for resolution seem low, while the potential for conflict remains and could grow.
Securing sovereignty over the Spratly Islands equates to direct control over some of the world’s most important sea-lanes. Furthermore, the islands are set amid some of the world’s most productive fishing grounds and may prove to be rich in undersea oil and gas resources. The exact size of the deposits is not yet known, but according to a frequently cited estimate by China’s Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry, the region around the Spratly Islands holds oil and natural gas reserves of approximately 17.7 billion tons. If this figure is correct, the area would form the fourth largest reserve bed in the world.
On June 21st Vietnam's parliament passed a maritime law that reasserted the country's claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands. China called this a “serious violation” of its sovereignty. It responded by declaring that a county-level government which supposedly governs the two archipelagoes and much of the rest of the South China Sea from one of the Paracel Islands, had been upgraded to the administrative level of a prefecture. Chinese media described this notional jurisdiction, Sansha, as by far the biggest prefecture in the country (though its population of a few hundred people is heavily outnumbered by gulls and its ill-defined territory is mostly water).
The United States irked Beijing last year by asserting that Washington had a national security interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes over the Spratly Islands.
The potentially oil-rich islands are located in the South China Sea, between Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, and straddle some of the world's busiest sea lanes.
Beijing's action puts the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands and Macclesfield Bank under the control of a new city called Sansha, along with a mayor and 45 deputies sitting in a People's Congress. While there are approximately 1,100 Chinese citizens living on these islands, they are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. China has steadfastly refused to have these competing claims addressed in a multilateral setting, such as through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China and South Vietnam fought over the Paracels and the Spratlys in 1974, and a unified Vietnam fought briefly with China in 1988 over the islands. China controls the Paracels and reefs and shoals within the Spratlys, according to the International Crisis Group, a research organization. The Macclesfield Bank comprises a sunken atoll and reefs.
The remote Spratly islands are claimed in whole by China and in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Paracels are claimed entirely by both China and Vietnam.
China wants to negotiate disputes over the potentially resource-rich Spratly and Paracel islands with its neighbours on a series of bilateral talks.