Other Names: Nansha Islands (China); Kapuluan ng Kalayaan (Philippines)
The Players: China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei
The Dispute: This mostly uninhabited archipelago has long been prized for its strategic location, good fishing, and possible oil and gas reserves. Vietnam claims to have originally ruled over the islands since the 17th Century, but the governments of both Taiwan and China also assert historical rights to the islands. Japan occupied the region during World War II, and the Republic of China forces moved in after the surrender. When the communists came to power in the mainland, Taiwan retained its claims to the area, establishing a base on Taiping Island (the largest and most habitable bit of the archipelago). China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam have restated their claims to all or some of the area over the last decade based on both history and geography, and Malaysia and Brunei have also asserted ownership over some of the southeastern islands. The most recent flare-up in the Spratly Islands occurred in May 2011, when Hanoi accused Chinese ships of attacking Vietnamese oil exploration vessels in the area. A month later, Beijing claimed Vietnamese military vessels chased away Chinese fishing boats. Both incidents resulted in protests and escalating tensions.