Group of about 130 small coral islands and reefs, South China Sea, east of central Vietnam and southeast of Hainan Island, China. The low, barren islands, none of which exceeds 1 sq mi (2.5 sq km) in area, lack fresh water, and there are no permanent human residents. In 1932 the islands were claimed by French Indochina, and Japan occupied some of them during World War II. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim them. In 1974 China assumed control, and they have remained a matter of contention.
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