Features


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

China Risks Flare-Up Over Malaysian, Vietnamese Gas Resources

Twice in the last six weeks, the same China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel has harassed oil and gas operations by its neighbors in contested waters on opposite sides of the South China Sea. A Chinese state-owned vessel, meanwhile, has been undertaking a seismic survey of oil and gas blocks off the Vietnamese coast. This risks […]

Failing or Incomplete? Grading the South China Sea Arbitration

On July 12, 2016, an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its ruling in Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. Convened under the compulsory dispute settlement provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the tribunal’s five arbitrators ruled overwhelmingly […]

China’s Most Destructive Boats Return to the South China Sea

After a sharp drop-off in activity from 2016 to late 2018, Chinese clam harvesting fleets have returned to the South China Sea in force over the last six months. These fleets, which typically include dozens of small fishing vessels accompanied by a handful of larger “motherships,” destroy vast swaths of coral reef in order to […]

Still Under Pressure: Manila Versus the Militia

AMTI explains the role of China’s Maritime Militia in this short explainer video featuring high-resolution imagery from Thitu Island and Loaita Cay:  Since early March, Chinese fishing vessels—apparently part of the country’s maritime militia force—have been operating near two Philippine-held features in the disputed Spratly Islands: Loaita Island and Loaita Cay, called Kota and […]

Slow and Steady: Vietnam’s Spratly Upgrades

Vietnam continues to quietly upgrade its facilities in the Spratly Islands, though apparently without facing the same reaction from China’s maritime militia forces as the Philippines recently has. Vietnam occupies 49 outposts spread across 27 features in the vicinity of the Spratly Islands. Of those 27 features, only 10 can be called islets while the […]

Reading Between the Lines: The Next Spratly Legal Dispute

The steady pace of U.S. and now UK operations challenging China’s declared baselines around the Paracel Islands warrants just as much attention as other FONOPs, both because of the egregiousness of that claim and because of a fear that Beijing will soon declare similar baselines around the Spratlys.

Under Pressure: Philippine Construction Provokes a Paramilitary Response

China has responded to new Philippine construction on Thitu Island by deploying a large fleet of ships from Subi Reef, just over 12 nautical miles away. These include several People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) and China Coast Guard (CCG) ships, along with dozens of fishing vessels ranging in size from 30 to 70 meters.

Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets

The security implications of the South China Sea receive significant attention, but too little attention has focused on a key set of actors in the South China Sea—the fishers who serve on the front lines of this contest. Those fishers face a dire threat to their livelihoods and food security as the South China Sea fisheries teeter on the brink of collapse. A six-month-long project undertaken by CSIS and Vulcan, Inc. tells a worrying story about the scale of unseen fishing activity in the region, massive overcapacity in the Spratlys, and the stunning scale and expense of China's maritime militia.

China Quietly Upgrades a Remote Reef

Recent satellite imagery of Bombay Reef in the Paracel Islands shows that China has installed a new platform at the largely untouched South China Sea feature. The development is interesting, given Bombay Reef’s strategic location and the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea.

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.

Watch: Eighth Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference

This full-day conference will provide opportunities for in-depth discussion and analysis of developments in the South China Sea over the past year and potential paths forward. The event will feature speakers from throughout the region, including claimant countries. Panels will address recent developments, legal and environmental issues, the strategic balance, and U.S. policy.

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.

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.