Features


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

Hanoi in High Gear: Vietnam’s Spratly Expansion Accelerates

Vietnam has significantly accelerated the expansion of its outposts in the Spratly Islands over the last six months, creating almost as much new land as it had in the previous two years combined and putting Hanoi on pace for a record year of island building in 2024. Since AMTI’s last update in November of 2023, […]

First Among Piers: Chinese Ships Settle in at Cambodia’s Ream

Two Chinese navy ships have now spent over four months at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, the first and only two ships to have docked at a new pier built at the base with Chinese funding. This extended and exclusive access to the new pier comes after years of concerns expressed by the United States and […]

Control by Patrol: The China Coast Guard in 2023

The China Coast Guard (CCG) remains the dominant state actor in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Analysis of AIS data from commercial providers MarineTraffic and Starboard Maritime Analytics show that the CCG continued to maintain daily patrols at key features across the South China Sea in 2023.  Taken together with the CCG’s leadership […]

Wherever They May Roam: China’s Militia in 2023

China’s maritime militia, once a shadowy and ill-understood actor in the South China Sea disputes, has become visible to international observers in a very tangible way over the last year. Increasing numbers of militia vessels have been involved in collisions and tensions with the Philippines at Second Thomas Shoal, and their close coordination with the […]

Tracking Tensions at Second Thomas Shoal

Over the last two years, tensions between China and the Philippines at Second Thomas Shoal have emerged as the focal point of frictions in the South China Sea. The Philippines maintains a detachment of marines at Second Thomas Shoal stationed aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine navy ship intentionally grounded there in 1999. Ever […]

Deep Blue Scars: Environmental Threats to the South China Sea

A hidden crisis is unfolding across the South China Sea. While regional powers work to strengthen their claims to disputed waters and territories there, the marine environment in which they maneuver has been declining to critical levels. In recent decades, increased fishing, dredging, and land fill, along with giant clam harvesting, have taken a devastating […]

Assessing Southeast Asia’s Maritime Governance Capacity

Southeast Asia is a distinctly maritime region. Nine out of ten Southeast Asian states are coastal states, with two of them (Indonesia and the Philippines) being the world’s largest archipelagic states. Southeast Asian waters host major sea lines of communication between the Indian and Pacific oceans, and most Southeast Asian states are either major flag […]

Vietnam Ramps Up Spratly Island Dredging

Over the last year, Vietnam has continued with a substantial program of dredging and landfill work in the Spratly Islands which began in 2021. Since AMTI last surveyed these efforts in December 2022, Vietnam has created another 330 acres of land, bringing its total during the current spate of building to 750 acres. By contrast, […]

More Than Meets the Eye: Philippine Upgrades at EDCA Sites

To better understand the potential utility of U.S.-funded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites at Philippine military bases, AMTI has combined public reporting on official EDCA projects with satellite imagery analysis of all nine sites. The resulting catalogue of completed, in-progress, and planned facility upgrades provides a more robust picture of the capabilities that the […]

A New Chinese Runway in the Paracels? Probably Not

China has in the last month or so launched a new construction project on Triton Island in the Paracels. Triton is the southwestern-most of the Paracels and therefore the closest to Vietnam, which makes the waters and airspace around it particularly tense. For instance, Triton, and competing claims from it, played an important role in […]

Arbitration Support Tracker

  Update 11/7/2023: In light of a statement of support made by Portugal’s Foreign Minister on July 28, 2023, Portugal has been moved from the “Positively Acknowledging Ruling” category to “Supporting Ruling” category. Update 09/14/2023: In light of the joint statement issued by the United States, Japan, and South Korea on August 18, 2023, South […]

Buoy Battle in the Spratly Islands

In May, the Philippines and China took turns installing buoys in the disputed Spratly Islands. The deployment of buoys and other sovereignty markers in the South China Sea has a long history. But amid a flurry of new activity by the Philippines, including publicized patrols and surveillance missions, it is noteworthy that the buoy deployment […]

Strategic Upgrades in the Pacific

Since AMTI’s last 2019 feature on Chinese strategic inroads in the Pacific Islands, the region has seen marked political shifts as well as continued strategic attention from China and the resident powers of Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States. While Beijing has yet to realize a basing agreement in the Pacific Islands, it […]

Perilous Prospects: Tensions Flare at Malaysian, Vietnamese Oil and Gas Fields

China Coast Guard patrols near oil and gas projects in the South China Sea have triggered responses from Vietnamese law enforcement and the Malaysian navy in two separate incidents over the last month. Contested Patrols at Nam Con Son and Vanguard Bank Chinese and Vietnamese law enforcement vessels had an extremely close encounter on March […]

(Almost) Everyone is Drilling Inside the Nine-Dash Line

China’s military, law enforcement, and militia engaged in regular standoffs between 2018 and 2021 with Southeast Asian neighbors over oil and gas exploration inside Beijing’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea. By contrast, 2022 was comparatively quiet when it came to tensions over hydrocarbons, aside from one encounter involving the Philippines. But as […]

Flooding the Zone: China Coast Guard Patrols in 2022

China’s coast guard presence in the South China Sea is more robust than ever. An analysis of automatic identification system (AIS) data from commercial provider MarineTraffic shows that the China Coast Guard (CCG) maintained near-daily patrols at key features across the South China Sea in 2022. Together with the ubiquitous presence of its maritime militia, […]

Vietnam’s Major Spratly Expansion

Vietnam has accelerated and expanded dredging and landfill work at several of its outposts in the Spratly Islands in the second half of 2022, creating roughly 420 acres of new land this year and bringing its total in the last ten years to 540 acres. The work includes expanded landfill work at four features identified […]

Evolving Threats to Southeast Asia’s Maritime Security

Southeast Asia’s maritime security environment is growing more complex. States are improving their capacity, cooperation is at an all-time high, and a broadening set of stakeholders are contributing to the provision of maritime security. These changes have helped roll back some threats, while others seem to have become more dangerous. New threats are emerging while […]

The Ebb and Flow of Beijing’s South China Sea Militia

Analysis of satellite imagery from the past year shows that hundreds of Chinese militia vessels continue to operate in the Spratly Islands on a daily basis. The data confirms the massive scale of militia force in the Spratlys. It also shows a marked consistency in their movement and behavior patterns despite outcries from other claimants: […]

Construction at Cambodia’s Ream Picks Up Pace

Chinese-funded construction continues to transform Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base at a rapid pace, with major land clearing, a new pier, and several new structures completed in the last three months. Twenty-eight acres of land, over 15 percent of Ream’s total land area, have been cleared in the center of the base since July. Construction is […]

China Installs A New Hydrocarbon Platform in the East China Sea

China has installed a new production platform near the median line with Japan in the East China Sea. The platform is the first new permanent platform to be installed in the area since 2015, and its construction has drawn protest from Tokyo, which believes the two countries should share the area’s hydrocarbons under international law. […]

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 […]