Spratly Island chain is made up of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls about 1,000 miles south of Hong Kong and 500 miles east of South Vietnam. The islands are scattered across an area measuring 500 miles by 560 miles in the South China Sea, but the total land area of the islands is less than two square miles. That land area varies during the typhoon season as many of the islands become partially or totally submerged.
In 1883, France claimed the then-unoccupied islands as part of French Indochina despite protests from both China and Japan.
The Japanese seized the islands for use as a submarine base during World War II.
Following the Allied victory, Japan relinquished all claims to the islands, and a land rush commenced with China, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines each claiming from one to all of the islands, and each backing up their claims with troops.