Features


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

Update: China Blocks Another Philippine Resupply Mission

Automatic Identification System (AIS) data suggests that a Philippine government vessel was again denied access to Second Thomas Shoal by the China Coast Guard (CCG) in late June, underscoring the vulnerability of the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as a Philippine outpost on the reef. The Philippines’ M/V DA BFAR, a 60-meter research vessel […]

Update: Dredged Pier Constructed at Ream

Construction at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base has accelerated in recent months, especially on the northern end of the facility which is suspected to be set aside for China’s use. A slew of new buildings have gone up alongside major land clearing and, in the latest development, the beginnings of a new pier. In mid-June, what […]

More Island Upgrades Across the South China Sea

Vietnam’s recent dredging efforts have garnered attention from both AMTI and the international press.  But other occupants in the South China Sea have also continued to modestly upgrade their facilities in recent years. As part of a comprehensive update to our Island Tracker, AMTI has surveyed occupied features across the Spratly and Paracel Islands and […]

Delhi Continues Strategic Investment in the Indian Ocean

In the last decade, India has made a concerted effort to enhance its maritime posture in the Indian Ocean. When AMTI last surveyed Indian maritime investments in 2019, many projects were ongoing. While not every planned upgrade has gone through in the years since, India has more than made up for individual setbacks by broadening […]

Castles Made of Sand: Vietnam’s Spratly Upgrades

Updated July 8, 2022 In the last six months, Vietnam has engaged in new dredging and landfill at three of its occupied features in the Spratly Islands. And over the past year, it has continued minor upgrades and construction of new buildings on several bases. Amid these improvements, Vietnam has also had to repair significant […]

Conceptualization of “Maritime Security” in Southeast Asia: Convergence and Divergence

“Maritime Security” has emerged as a central concept in Southeast Asia’s policy lexicon. However, as is the case in much of the world, the term’s precise meaning is not consistently clear. Which challenges and state activities should be categorized as maritime security and which should be considered elements of another domain is generally ambiguous. This […]

What Lies Beneath: Chinese Surveys in the South China Sea

Survey vessels have become important actors in China’s efforts to assert its maritime claims in the South China Sea. Since 2019, China has deployed survey ships four times in direct response to Southeast Asian oil and gas activity as part of widely reported standoffs. But China also conducts a significant number of surveys in the […]

Pulling Back the Curtain on China’s Maritime Militia

Over the past year, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies conducted a study of China’s maritime militia using remote sensing data and open-source Chinese language research. The resulting report, Pulling Back the Curtain on China’s Maritime Militia, features the most comprehensive study to-date of the structure, subsidies, and ownership […]

Nervous Energy: China Targets New Indonesian, Malaysian Drilling

Over the last four months, Chinese vessels have been contesting Indonesian and Malaysian oil and gas activity in the South China Sea in the latest instance of what is now an established pattern. Chinese law enforcement has maintained a continuous presence at the site of new Indonesian drilling north of the Natuna Islands since early […]

There and Back Again: Chinese Militia at Iroquois Reef and Union Banks

On September 30, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. instructed the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to file three new protests with China over recent actions in the South China Sea, including the “continued presence of Chinese fishing vessels in [the] vicinity of Iroquois Reef.” An examination of satellite imagery reveals that Chinese militia vessels […]

Update: China Continues to Transform Ream Naval Base

Construction continues at Ream Naval Base amid concerns that the new facilities are being built to facilitate a Chinese military presence in Cambodia. Over the course of August and September, three new buildings have gone up and a new road has been cleared, among other changes. Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies and Planet Labs shows […]

Update: Who’s Taking Sides on China’s Maritime Claims?

The table within this feature has been updated to include New Zealand, who rejected the majority of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea in its own note verbale to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) on August 3, 2021. An additional update was made to reflect Germany’s July […]

Arbitration Support Tracker

Update, August 2, 2021: Over the last few years, many countries have clarified their positions on the July 2016 South China Sea arbitration ruling and the validity of China’s maritime claims. Based on these developments, AMTI has updated its tracker of official public stances on the arbitration. As a result, we have identified 8 governments that […]

Contest at Kasawari: Another Malaysian Gas Project Faces Pressure

Since early June, China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels have been contesting new Malaysian oil and gas development off the coast of Sarawak. The activity coincides with a patrol by Chinese military planes near Malaysia, which prompted scrambles by Malaysian aircraft and recriminations from Kuala Lumpur.  This is at least the third time since last spring […]

Out in Force: Philippine South China Sea Patrols Are Way Up

On March 20, the Philippines announced that it had monitored over 220 Chinese militia boats at Whitsun Reef in a patrol earlier that month. In the two and a half months since, the Philippines has increased the level of its law enforcement and military patrols in the South China Sea beyond anything seen in recent […]

Caught on Camera: Two Dozen Militia Boats at Whitsun Reef Identified

Last month, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, an interagency body housed within the Presidential Office in Manila, reported that more than 200 Chinese militia vessels were anchored at Whitsun Reef. The task force released photos of some of those vessels, collected during a patrol by the Philippine Coast Guard on March […]

Force Majeure: China’s Coast Guard Law in Context

China’s new Coast Guard Law has drawn concern and criticism from the United States, Japan, the Philippines, and other regional governments, as well as academics. Passed by the National People’s Congress on January 22, the law contains strong language regarding the China Coast Guard’s (CCG) authority to prevent infringement of China’s sovereignty and maritime rights. […]

Vietnam Shores Up Its Spratly Defenses

Vietnam continues to make modest improvements to its facilities in the Spratly Islands. In cooperation with Simularity, AMTI has reviewed satellite imagery from the last two years to catalog upgrades to Vietnam’s island outposts since the initiative last surveyed them. This exercise underscores Hanoi’s continuing focus on making its bases more resilient to invasion or […]

How Covid-19 Affected U.S.-China Military Signaling

Since the global outbreak of Covid-19, the U.S. and Chinese governments have accused each other of using the pandemic as cover to increase military operations in the Indo-Pacific. The United States, for example, has pointed to China’s deployment of coastguard forces to challenge the oil and gas activities of other claimants in the South China […]

Still on the Beat: China Coast Guard Patrols in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has had no discernible effect on the presence of the China Coast Guard (CCG) in the South China Sea. An analysis of Automatic Identification System (AIS) data collected by MarineTraffic demonstrates that Beijing has continued to deploy its coastguard around symbolically important features at the edges of the nine-dash line on an […]

China and Malaysia in Another Staredown Over Offshore Drilling

The China Coast Guard (CCG) and Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) are involved in another standoff over hydrocarbon exploration in the South China Sea. China Coast Guard ship 5402 harassed a drilling rig and its supply ships operating just 44 nautical miles from Malaysia’s Sarawak State on November 19. Malaysia deployed a naval vessel in response, […]

Chinese Investment in the Maldives: Appraising the String of Pearls

Chinese investment in the Maldives is a frequent subject of concern. The archipelagic nation is strategically located along major Indian Ocean shipping routes. Its former president has very publicly speculated that China is being allowed to buy up whole islands and extend loans that the government cannot afford. And media articles in India, long the […]

Remote Control: Japan’s Evolving Senkakus Strategy

The East China Sea disputes had settled into an uneasy status quo over the last few years, but tensions persist. Recent events suggest that the risk of violence is again growing. China’s maritime forces deployed around the contested Senkaku Islands have become more capable and more determined. In response, Japan is upgrading its ability to […]

Exploring China’s Unmanned Ocean Network

China has deployed a network of sensors and communications capabilities between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands in the northern South China Sea. These capabilities are part of a “Blue Ocean Information Network” (蓝海信息网络) developed by China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), a state-owned company, to aid in the exploration and control of the maritime […]

Update: Chinese Survey Ship Escalates Three-Way Standoff

Updated 5/18/2020: Haiyang Dizhi 8 during survey operations off of Malaysia, May 4, 2020 The three-country standoff that began last December over Malaysian oil and gas exploration has escalated dramatically with the deployment of a Chinese survey ship and its escorts earlier this month. The game of chicken now playing out between Chinese and Malaysian […]

A Survey of Marine Research Vessels in the Indo-Pacific

Marine research vessels have been making waves in the Indo-Pacific recently. This is especially true of China’s large fleet. State-owned Chinese vessels have engaged in oil and gas surveys on the continental shelves of its neighbors, as the Haiyang Dizhi 8 did off the coast of Vietnam for four months last year. Others have conducted […]

The Long Patrol: Staredown at Thitu Island Enters its Sixteenth Month

China has maintained an almost constant militia presence around Thitu Island, the largest of the Spratly Islands occupied by the Philippines, for over 450 days according to satellite imagery analyzed by AMTI. China first deployed militia vessels around Thitu in December 2018 in response to Philippine efforts to repair the island’s runway and undertake other […]

Malaysia Picks a Three-Way Fight in the South China Sea

A months-long standoff over oil and gas operations in the South China Sea is playing out between Malaysian, Chinese, and a small number of Vietnamese vessels, though all three governments are keeping the episode out of the public eye. At issue are two oil and gas fields that Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas is exploring on the […]

Gone Fishing: Tracking China’s Flotilla from Brunei to Indonesia

For several weeks starting in late December, Indonesian media was dominated by reports of a flotilla of Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels operating without permission in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The situation strained bilateral relations, presented President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo with the first foreign policy crisis of his second term, and forced […]

UPDATE: China Risks Flare-Up Over Malaysian, Vietnamese Gas Resources

Updated December 13, 2019 The Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 along with its coast guard and paramilitary escorts left Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone on October 23, ending a standoff with Vietnamese ships that began more than four months earlier. The de-escalation seems to have been in response to the departure a day earlier of […]