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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
India has begun to invest heavily, albeit quietly, in expanding its naval and air power across the Indian Ocean. The effort is driven by two factors: a desire to improve maritime domain awareness and maritime security throughout the vast region, and New Delhi’s growing anxieties about Chinese inroads in its strategic backyard. As Chinese naval […]
In the middle of the night on June 9, Chinese fishing vessel Yuemaobinyu 42212 collided with Philippine fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver, which was riding at anchor near Reed Bank in the South China Sea. The Chinese ship fled the scene, leaving 22 Filipino fishers aboard a sinking Gem-Ver in peril until they were rescued by […]
China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels have been harassing a drilling rig operating in a Vietnamese oil and gas block near Vanguard Bank, an underwater feature in the South China Sea, since June. Meanwhile, a large contingent of CCG ships have since July been escorting the Chinese state-owned survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 operating off the […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.