Interesting subject, which I have been interested in for many years. In my early days sailing in these waters, the entire area around the Spratleys, and most of the South China Sea outside the normal shipping lanes, were marked as “Uncharted”.
The Spratleys and other islands and atolls in the South China Sea has been disputed for a long time. Here is the time line: http://www.spratlys.org/history/spratly-islands-history-timeline.htm
The Chinese “nine-dash line” claim has been discredited in the ICJ in Den Haag, but any settlement of the various claims are not on the card in the foreseeable future.
Here is Reuters’ short version of the background for the dispute: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debat…-five-minutes/
China keeps on reminding everybody that they were not the first to create islands out of submerged coral reef, which reminded me of a story I heard while working for Datuk Harris in Labuan back in the early 1990s:
One of my colleagues there had been the Commander of the Navy Station at Labuan in the early 1980s and was responsible for patrolling the waters of the South China Sea claimed by Malaysia.
To strengthen the claim he was order to survey the reefs to see if it was possible to find any dry land within their EEZ that could be claimed as an island. He went out there with a survey team to chart the nearest reef, known as Swallow Reef.
He claimed that they found a small coral head that was actually above water at Highest High Tide, which is the definition of an “island” under UNCLOS. They placed a plaque on it to claim it for Malaysia.
He then went back to Labuan and arranged for dredging equipment to be secretively brought out to start creating the first small piece of land, enough to establish a “naval base” there, consisting of a few tents and some anti-aircraft guns, before Malaysia declared the existence of an island called Layang-Layang, around which they claimed 12 n.miles territorial waters and 200 n.miles EEZ.
The size of the island was increased to where it today has an airstrip and a Dive Resort: http://www.avillion.com/avillionlayanglayang/
The Navy still maintain a station on the island, with a couple of CB-90 Fighting boats and still some anti-aircraft guns, or at least they did until a few years ago.
What may be less well known is the history of claims by various nations over the centuries, incl. some enterprising individuals who declared their own Republics on the few islands that is natural.
Here is the Wikipedia page about one of the Republics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republi...onghrati-Meads
The family has not entirely given up on their claim, but they don’t stand much of a change against the big boys now claiming sovereignty over all or part of the area.
Unfortunately there are some inaccuracy in the Wiki report, so here is a more detailed article about this and other claims made over the last 150 years or so: http://www.insights-philippines.de/states.htm
As always, the truth is somewhat between the “facts” presented by the various parties who have interest here.