Features


Dive deep on the latest maritime issues in AMTI's Features, an interactive and media-rich repository of information.

Vietnam Expands Another Outpost

Vietnam continues modest expansions to its outposts in the Spratly Islands, most recently on Ladd Reef. Satellite imagery from March and June 2018 shows that Hanoi has dredged a new channel, which did not exist in older photos, and is expanding one of its two facilities at the feature.

Philippines Launches Spratly Runway Repairs

The Philippines has begun long-delayed repairs to its crumbling runway at Thitu, or Pag-asa, Island, the largest of its nine outposts in the Spratly Islands and home to upwards of 100 civilians and a small military garrison.

Exercises Bring New Weapons to the Paracels

Satellite imagery from May 12 shows the deployment of several new weapons systems to China’s base on Woody Island in the Paracels. These new military platforms, under blue and red covers in the imagery, have been placed down the beach from the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems, under brown covers, that China originally deployed to the island in early 2016.

China Lands First Bomber on South China Sea Island

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force announced on May 17 that it had landed an H-6K bomber on an outpost in the South China Sea for the first time. The H-6K’s combat radius of nearly 1900 nautical miles means bombers taking off from Woody Island could cover the entire South China Sea and all of Southeast Asia, and future deployments to the Big 3 in the Spratly Islands would bring northern Australia and U.S. defense facilities on Guam within range.

An Accounting of China’s Deployments to the Spratly Islands

With the deployment of a Shaanxi Y-8 to Subi Reef, military aircraft have now verifiably landed on all three of China’s airstrips in the Spratly Islands. AMTI catalogues many of the aircraft, surface combatants, and other military assets China has deployed on its "Big 3" outposts.

A Primer on M503 and Civil Aviation in Asia

China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) in early January announced the expansion of its heavily-trafficked flight route M503. Authorities announced that the route, which previously accommodated only southbound flights over the Taiwan Strait, would be expanded into a north- and south-bound route and accompanied by the establishment of three extension routes servicing the cities of Xiamen, Fuzhou, and Dongshan. Authorities in Taipei quickly condemned the announcement as a unilateral and destabilizing violation of a previous cross-strait agreement, and demanded an immediate halt to air traffic using the route.

Comparing Aerial and Satellite Images of China’s Spratly Outposts

On February 5, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a series of aerial photos of China’s seven outposts in the Spratly Islands. The photos, most of which were taken in late 2017 by an unspecified patrol aircraft from an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), do not reveal any new capabilities on the artificial islands, but they do offer an important new perspective. Comparing the aerial photos with AMTI’s most recently-available satellite imagery offers the best of both worlds, placing the former in context and lending the latter extra weight.

A Constructive Year for Chinese Base Building

International attention has shifted away from the slow-moving crisis in the South China Sea over the course of 2017, but the situation on the water has not remained static. While pursuing diplomatic outreach toward its Southeast Asian neighbors, Beijing continued substantial construction activities on its dual-use outposts in the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Smooth Sailing for East China Sea Fishing

Data collected by AMTI lends credence to the idea that East China Sea fishing vessels have been much less provocative in their operations around the Senkaku Islands—so much so that it might indicate a purposeful effort by the government in China to constrain its fishing fleet and avoid escalating tensions.

CSIS Expert Working Group on the South China Sea

CSIS’s newly-launched working group on the South China Sea seeks consensus on realistic, actionable steps that claimant states and interested parties could take to boost cooperation and manage tensions at sea. The group meets regularly to tackle issues that it considers necessary for the successful management of the South China Sea disputes and produces blueprints for a path forward on each. Through this iterative process, the group hopes to produce a robust model for managing the disputes that would be both legally and politically feasible—in effect, a blueprint for an eventual code of conduct.

Confirming the Chinese Flotilla Near Thitu Island

On August 15, Philippine Congressman Gary Alejano released photographs of Chinese vessels that he claimed had been operating within 1 to 3 nautical miles of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. AMTI imagery of the area from August 13 shines some light on the vessels and what they are doing.

UPDATE: China’s Continuing Reclamation in the Paracels

The Paracel Islands chain plays a key role in China’s goal of establishing surveillance and power projection capabilities throughout the South China Sea, and Beijing has recently undertaken substantial upgrades of its military infrastructure to accomplish that.

Vietnam Builds Up Its Remote Outposts

Reports suggest that Hanoi recently halted oil and gas drilling in Block 136-03 on Vanguard Bank in response to a Chinese threat of force against Vietnamese outposts in the area. That claim is impossible to verify, but the story highlights the vulnerability of Vietnam’s many smaller installations in and around the Spratly Islands. AMTI has […]

Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference

The CSIS Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) are pleased to present the Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference. Tuesday, July 18, 2017, 9:00 am–4:30 pm.

Fishing in Troubled Waters

Each year, the Chinese-imposed fishing moratorium sparks anger among China’s neighbors and feeds into the cycle of tensions between regional law enforcement and fishing fleets.

UPDATED: China’s Big Three Near Completion

Just over a year ago, former director of national intelligence James Clapper wrote a letter to Senator John McCain predicting that China would complete its offensive and defensive facilities in the Spratly Islands in late 2016 or early 2017. He wasn’t far off the mark.

Playing Chicken in the East China Sea

With each passing year, the frequency of dangerous interactions between Chinese and Japanese maritime and air forces in the East China Sea grows.

Tracking China’s Coast Guard off Borneo

Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels maintain a near-constant presence at Luconia Shoals off the coast of Malaysia’s Sarawak State. That uncomfortable fact does not garner much attention, either in the Malaysian or international press, but it speaks to Beijing’s determination to establish administrative control throughout the nine-dash line.

A Look at China’s SAM Shelters in the Spratlys

A February 21 Reuters report said China has nearly completed structures that could house surface-to-air missile batteries on the Spratly Islands. AMTI has images of the shelters under construction.

China’s New Spratly Island Defenses

China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands. AMTI began tracking the construction of identical, hexagon-shaped structures at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in June and July. It now seems that these […]

UPDATED: Vietnam Responds with Spratly Air Upgrades

Vietnam is responding to China’s construction of military facilities in the Spratly Islands by modestly expanding its own capabilities in the disputed chain. New imagery shows that Hanoi is significantly upgrading its sole runway in the South China Sea—at Spratly Island—and constructing new hangars at that feature. This is a familiar pattern for Hanoi. Even amid reduced diplomatic tensions, Vietnam continues to modernize its military and seek closer security ties with Japan, the United States, and India in preparation for future Chinese assertiveness in disputed waters. Reuters recently reported that Vietnam had deployed surface to air missile platforms to the Spratlys. Hanoi has not confirmed those reports, but such countermeasures should not be surprising in light of the significant air power that China will soon project over the Spratlys.

UPDATED: Imagery Suggests Philippine Fishermen Still Not Entering Scarborough Shoal

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s recent trip to Beijing yielded a number of agreements, including a vaguely-worded commitment to peacefully resolve the South China Sea disputes. But there was no public breakthrough on one closely-watched topic: the ability of Filipino fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal. An international tribunal ruled on July 12 that China’s closure of the shoal to Philippine fishing was illegal. But in the lead-up to Duterte’s visit, Filipino fishermen complained that it was becoming more, not less, difficult for them to approach Scarborough. Recent satellite imagery supports this conclusion.

Who Is Taking Sides After the South China Sea Ruling?

On July 12, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its long-awaited ruling on Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. How many countries recognize the decision as legally binding on both parties and call for it to be respected will determine its ultimate value, as international […]

Build It and They Will Come

Civilian planes landed on Subi and Mischief reefs for the first time on July 12, giving China three operational runways in the disputed Spratly Islands. Except for a brief visit by a military transport plane to Fiery Cross Reef earlier this year, there is no evidence that Beijing has deployed military aircraft to these outposts. […]

Vietnam’s Island Building: Double-Standard or Drop in the Bucket?

China has sought to deflect criticism of its island building in the South China Sea by accusing other claimants, especially Vietnam, of doing the same. AMTI has examined each of the islets and reefs Vietnam occupies in the Spratly Islands and found evidence of reclamation at 10 of them. The images below suggest Vietnam has […]

East China Sea Tensions: Approaching a Slow Boil

Mounting tensions over the disputed Senkaku Islands have been a constant in Sino-Japanese relations since Tokyo purchased three of the five islands in 2012. For the last four years, Chinese coast guard vessels have regularly patrolled in the vicinity of the East China Sea islands and have often entered within the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea around […]

Exploring Itu Aba: A Virtual Tour of a South China Sea Islet

On January 23, AMTI Director Gregory Poling and Ambassador José Abeto Zaide, now with the Manila Bulletin, became the first foreigners in 15 years to visit Itu Aba (Taiping Dao in Chinese)—the only feature in the Spratly Islands occupied by Taiwan. They accompanied a delegation of Taiwanese experts and officials, including the ministers of foreign […]