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

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 […]

Ports and Partnerships: Delhi Invests in Indian Ocean Leadership

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 […]

Seeking Clues in the Case of the Yuemaobinyu 42212

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 […]

Signaling Sovereignty: Chinese Patrols at Contested Reefs

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 […]

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.