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.
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 […]
Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels maintain a near-constant presence at Luconia Shoals off the coast of Malaysia’s Sarawak State. That uncomfortable fact does not garner much attention, either in the Malaysian or international press, but it speaks to Beijing’s determination to establish administrative control throughout the nine-dash line.
China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands. AMTI began tracking the construction of identical, hexagon-shaped structures at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in June and July. It now seems that these […]
Vietnam is responding to China’s construction of military facilities in the Spratly Islands by modestly expanding its own capabilities in the disputed chain. New imagery shows that Hanoi is significantly upgrading its sole runway in the South China Sea—at Spratly Island—and constructing new hangars at that feature. This is a familiar pattern for Hanoi. Even amid reduced diplomatic tensions, Vietnam continues to modernize its military and seek closer security ties with Japan, the United States, and India in preparation for future Chinese assertiveness in disputed waters. Reuters recently reported that Vietnam had deployed surface to air missile platforms to the Spratlys. Hanoi has not confirmed those reports, but such countermeasures should not be surprising in light of the significant air power that China will soon project over the Spratlys.
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s recent trip to Beijing yielded a number of agreements, including a vaguely-worded commitment to peacefully resolve the South China Sea disputes. But there was no public breakthrough on one closely-watched topic: the ability of Filipino fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal. An international tribunal ruled on July 12 that China’s closure of the shoal to Philippine fishing was illegal. But in the lead-up to Duterte’s visit, Filipino fishermen complained that it was becoming more, not less, difficult for them to approach Scarborough. Recent satellite imagery supports this conclusion.
On July 12, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its long-awaited ruling on Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. How many countries recognize the decision as legally binding on both parties and call for it to be respected will determine its ultimate value, as international […]