You’ve probably never heard of the Spratly Islands. But these small islands in the South China Sea have been making a big splash in international news lately.
The Spratlys are a group of 35 islands, mostly coral reefs. Nobody even lives on these islands. But they’re at the center of a growing dispute between China and five other countries. China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines all say some or all of the islands belong to them.
So why do so many countries want to own these tiny islands? There may be huge amounts of oil and natural gas under the ocean waters in the area. That fuel could make whoever owns the islands very wealthy.
The islands are also in the middle of the South China Sea, where many ships travel between countries. Whoever controls these islands also controls the rights to passage through this area.
Recently, China has built manmade islands among the Spratlys, and even constructed at least one airstrip there. This has upset many other countries in the area.
Laws that govern how much of the islands belongs to each country can be confusing. And some countries are accusing China of using its wealth and military strength to take control of land that doesn’t belong to it.
A PLEA FOR INTERNATIONAL HELP
Now, some of the smaller countries involved have asked the United States for help in the disagreement with China. In a speech last month, President Barack Obama said he believes the countries can talk through their problems.
But he also said China should not act like a bully. “Just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside,” the president said