Features


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

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.

Tracking China’s Coast Guard off Borneo

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.

A Look at China’s SAM Shelters in the Spratlys

A February 21 Reuters report said China has nearly completed structures that could house surface-to-air missile batteries on the Spratly Islands. AMTI has images of the shelters under construction.

China’s New Spratly Island Defenses

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 […]

UPDATED: Vietnam Responds with Spratly Air Upgrades

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.

UPDATED: Imagery Suggests Philippine Fishermen Still Not Entering Scarborough Shoal

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.

Who Is Taking Sides After the South China Sea Ruling?

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 […]

Build It and They Will Come

Civilian planes landed on Subi and Mischief reefs for the first time on July 12, giving China three operational runways in the disputed Spratly Islands. Except for a brief visit by a military transport plane to Fiery Cross Reef earlier this year, there is no evidence that Beijing has deployed military aircraft to these outposts. […]

Vietnam’s Island Building: Double-Standard or Drop in the Bucket?

China has sought to deflect criticism of its island building in the South China Sea by accusing other claimants, especially Vietnam, of doing the same. AMTI has examined each of the islets and reefs Vietnam occupies in the Spratly Islands and found evidence of reclamation at 10 of them. The images below suggest Vietnam has […]

East China Sea Tensions: Approaching a Slow Boil

Mounting tensions over the disputed Senkaku Islands have been a constant in Sino-Japanese relations since Tokyo purchased three of the five islands in 2012. For the last four years, Chinese coast guard vessels have regularly patrolled in the vicinity of the East China Sea islands and have often entered within the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea around […]

Exploring Itu Aba: A Virtual Tour of a South China Sea Islet

On January 23, AMTI Director Gregory Poling and Ambassador José Abeto Zaide, now with the Manila Bulletin, became the first foreigners in 15 years to visit Itu Aba (Taiping Dao in Chinese)—the only feature in the Spratly Islands occupied by Taiwan. They accompanied a delegation of Taiwanese experts and officials, including the ministers of foreign […]

Another Piece of the Puzzle

China’s airstrip construction at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi reefs, and more recently developments in the Paracel Islands, have dominated the South China Sea discussion. But capabilities being developed at its smaller Spratly Island outposts—Gaven, Hughes, Johnson South, and especially Cuarteron reefs—will prove equally important to Beijing’s long-term strategy. This month’s deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air […]

Washed Away

Earlier this month Chinese media reported that Typhoon Melor, which devastated parts of the Philippines from December 12 to 17, also washed away Vietnamese reclamation work underway at Cornwallis South Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. Those reports were correct, but lacked important context. The attention drawn by the typhoon highlights the significant differences between […]

Evaluating the Rebalance

Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025 The Center for Strategic and International Studies last month completed an independent review of the defense portion of the Obama administration’s rebalance to the Asia Pacific. This review, which includes an evaluation of the rebalance’s implementation and resourcing as well as recommendations for its improvement, was mandated by the U.S. Congress under […]

Airstrips Near Completion

In early September 2015, AMTI released images showing that China had effectively completed construction of its first Spratly Islands airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, was continuing work on its second at Subi Reef, and was preparing to begin work on a third at Mischief Reef. Four months later, China has not only landed three civilian […]

A Case of Rocks or Islands?

A Case of Rocks Or Islands? Examining the South China Sea Arbitration The Philippines argued the merits of its case against China’s claims in the South China Sea before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague from November 24 to 30. As it has since the case was filed in […]

Celebrating One Year of AMTI

One Year of AMTI The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative is celebrating its first year. From ongoing land reclamation in the Spratly Islands to rising tensions between China and the United States and an ongoing standoff between Beijing and Tokyo in the East China Sea, the last 12 months only reinforced the need for greater transparency […]

A Freedom of Navigation Primer for the Spratly Islands

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Lassen passed through the Spratly Islands on October 26 in the first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the area since 2012. The operation included sailing within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, a feature that was previously submerged at high-tide and on which China constructed an artificial island over […]

The Evolution of Asia’s Contested Waters

The Evolution of Asia’s Contested Waters Asia’s maritime disputes extend well beyond just the East and South China Sea. From the Indian Ocean to the Sea of Okhotsk, the region is home to stubbornly persistent disputes over waters, seabed, and the resources they hold. Progress has been frustratingly slow, but the landscape of Asia’s contested […]

Xi in Washington: Outcomes Explained

Chinese president Xi Jinping landed in Seattle on September 22 for a weeklong trip to the United States that included his first state visit to Washington and an address to the United Nations in New York. In a joint press conference with President Barack Obama following a meeting at the White House, the Chinese leader […]

Spratly Airstrip Update: Is Mischief Reef Next?

Potential New Runway Presents New Headaches By Gregory Poling Over the last year, the world has watched as China has gone from one airfield in the South China Sea to potentially four. Facilities on Woody Island in the Paracels already gave China the ability to monitor the northern South China Sea. Earlier this year, the […]