Seeing the Forest through the SAMs on Woody Island

The recent deployment of Chinese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Woody Island is a notable tactical development, but a far more significant strategic signal. Tactically, the HQ-9 batteries deployed to Woody Island could target aircraft at ranges up to 125 miles (200 kilometers), covering much of the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and […]

South China Sea FONOP 2.0: A Step in the Right Direction

The Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur passed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, the southernmost of the Paracel Islands, on January 30 in the second operation in the South China Sea in recent months under the Department of Defense’s Freedom of Navigation Program. And despite significant disappointment in some quarters, the operation was a […]

Getting the Balance Right: Singapore and Sino-U.S. Rivalry in the South China Sea

In November, Singapore hosted a visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping. Notwithstanding the conclusion of several bilateral agreements, the spotlight invariably focused on Xi’s comments on the South China Sea, where he reiterated China’s commitment to freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes.  Xi’s assurances were timely given regional […]

Time is of the Essence in South China Sea Arbitration Case

The timing of the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the Philippines’ case against China’s nine-dash-line claims has critical geopolitical implications for Asia’s security. Specifically, a decision delivered well before the Philippine presidential election this May would allow the administration of President Benigno Aquino to respond strategically and with continuity, […]

Possible Consequences of the Philippines’ South China Sea Arbitration Case

The Philippines’ arbitration case against China has created significant new dynamics in the South China Sea disputes. With the prospect of a ruling from the tribunal in the coming months, it is time to ponder the case’s possible consequences. The tribunal will likely reach a decision on at least the seven submissions by the Philippines […]

An Interview with Paul Reichler, Lead Counsel for the Philippines in its Case against China

Paul Reicher, partner at Foley Hoag and lead counsel for Manila in its arbitration case against Beijing’s South China Sea claims, sits down with AMTI director Gregory Poling to discuss why Manila is pursuing arbitration, the proceedings to-date, and what comes next. You can listen to the entire interview or skip to individual sections by […]

Implications of the Philippines v. China Award on Jurisdiction

The Philippines scored a procedural victory on October 29, successfully dodging the jurisdiction and admissibility objections posed by China’s position paper released last December regarding Manila’s case against Beijing’s South China Sea claims. In a 151-page decision, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague affirmed the primacy of the United Nations […]

An Interview with Gregory Poling on FONOPS, Arbitration, and South China Sea Strategy

AMTI director Gregory Poling sits down with Colm Quinn to discuss the the U.S. Navy’s recent freedom of navigation operation, U.S. policy in the South China Sea, the ongoing Philippine-China arbitration case, and what a long-term solution to the dispute might look like. This interview was originally recorded for the October 31 CSIS Podcast.

Can Japan Join U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea?

The United States has started long overdue freedom of navigation (FON) operations in the South China Sea. Washington launched the FON program in 1979 to challenge coastal states’ excessive maritime claims through diplomatic engagement and operational assertion. During the Cold War the United States conducted FON operations in Soviet territorial seas, where Moscow did not […]

How the U.S. FON Program Is Lawful and Legitimate

The U.S. Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program has recently drawn significant attention in the United States and abroad. An argument could be made that the program has received more attention in 2015 than in its preceding 35 years combined. This recent focus arose as the world witnessed China engage in reclamation (enhancement of naturally-formed areas […]

How Will China Respond to Future U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations?

On October 27, the USS Lassen carried out the first freedom of navigation (FON) patrol to challenge China’s territorial claims over the 12-nautical-mile region surrounding its artificial islands in the South China Sea. Chinese authorities responded angrily but cautiously, publicly condemning the act and sending two naval ships to trail the Lassen, but stopping short […]

The U.S. Asserts Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea

After months of internal debate within the Obama administration, the guided missile destroyer USS Lassentransited within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of China’s artificially-built features in the South China Sea, on October 27 in what is termed a “freedom of navigation” (FON) operation. It was accompanied by two maritime surveillance aircraft, a P-8A […]

The Other Gulf of Tonkin Incident: China’s Forgotten Maritime Compromise

China has nine maritime neighbors (including Taiwan) but no settled maritime boundaries, due in part to China’s unwillingness to specify its maritime claims. Only one partial exception to this imprecision exists: a boundary agreement with Vietnam to delimit the northern part of the Gulf of Tonkin and a fishery agreement establishing a joint fishing regime […]

China’s Navy Lobby and its Impact on PRC Maritime Sovereignty Policies

Introduction This paper assesses the influence of the PLA Navy (PLAN) and its affiliated individuals and organizations (referred to as the “PLAN Lobby” or “Navy Lobby”) on specific policies related to China’s “maritime sovereignty”.[1]  A lobby is a group of individuals who use direct or indirect means to collectively or individually advocate policy positions to […]

The Enabling Role of UNCLOS III in PRC Maritime Policy

To what extent does the law of the sea influence PRC decisions about maritime policy? If there is any influence, does it on balance play a constraining or enabling role in Beijing’s decisionmaking in this domain? This brief, mostly conceptual article argues that the enabling effects are more significant. For Beijing, UNCLOS III functions to […]

China’s Maritime Rights Protection Leading Small Group—Shrouded in Secrecy

  Foreign policy decisionmaking in China has always been opaque, but under Chinese Communist Party General Secretary and President Xi Jinping, it has become even more cryptic. The strongest leader to come to power in more than two decades, Xi has concentrated power in his own hands and rarely vets foreign policy initiatives with the […]

Directing China’s “Little Blue Men”: Uncovering the Maritime Militia Command Structure

While Russia has employed “Little Green Men” surreptitiously in Crimea, China uses its own “Little Blue Men” to support Near Seas claims. As the U.S. military operates near Beijing’s artificially-built South China Sea (SCS) features and seeks to prevent Beijing from ejecting foreign claimants from places like Second Thomas Shoal, it may well face surveillance and […]

Xi in Command: Downsizing and Reorganizing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)

While many eyes were focused on China’s massive military parade in Beijing last week, which displayed a number of types of advanced military hardware, such as missiles, tanks, and fighter jets, another potentially much more important story about the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appeared to be unfolding, albeit largely behind the scenes. According to recent […]

Anatomy of a Strategy

On August 20, The Department of Defense released its Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy.  Mandated by Section 1259 of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, the report outlines DOD’s strategy for maritime security in the region. On August 21, Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear briefed the press on the new document. Team AMTI commends […]

August 1945: A Snapshot of American Maritime Strategy in the Pacific

When Japan surrendered 70 years ago this month, the United States stood supreme in the Pacific.  Only the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy had surface combatants that could roam freely from the Indian Ocean to the East China Sea and these remained a fraction of the massive “Big Blue Fleet” the U.S. Navy had […]

Platforms of Mistrust: Natural Resource Development in the East China Sea

On July 22, 2015, the Government of Japan (GOJ) released photographs[1] and a map[2] of offshore drilling platforms constructed by China in the East China Sea and issued a statement[3] calling on China to cease what Japan considers unilateral resource development in violation of a bilateral agreement concerning the joint exploration of natural resources.  The […]

Beijing’s Assurances Unpersuasive: A COC Can’t Wait

At regional meetings in Kuala Lumpur this week, China attempted to reassure regional nations of its peaceful intentions and deflect attention from its destabilizing activities in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea. Speaking to reporters, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing had halted dredging sand to build artificial islands. “China […]

China’s Airfield Construction at Fiery Cross Reef in Context: Catch-Up or Coercion?

Although China is not the first state to build an airstrip in the South China Sea, it is the first state to employ island-building technologies to transform a contested maritime feature into a military base that extends the reach of offensive military capabilities. Other countries have worked to project power to contested South China Sea […]