Other Name(s): Xisha Island (China); Hoàng Sa Islands (Vietnam)
The Players: China, Vietnam, Taiwan
The Dispute: The Paracels, a group of 130 mainly uninhabited coral islands and reefs, lie roughly equidistant (around 180 nautical miles) from the coastlines of central Vietnam and southern China. Surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves, both countries claim sovereignty over the outcrops. (Taiwan, which considers itself the Republic of China, mirrors the mainland’s territorial claims.) China and Vietnam fought a brief but deadly battle over them in 1974, when Beijing emerged victorious. It has occupied the territories ever since and recently began moves to solidify its rule. In July, it established Sansha—a new prefecture-level city complete with a legislature—to govern the Paracels and other disputed South China Sea islands. Beijing also approved the deployment of a garrison of People’s Liberation Army soldiers to be based there. Not to be outdone, Vietnam passed a law on the same day as China’s announcement, claiming sovereignty over the Paracels.