Update: China Risks Flare-up over Malaysian, Vietnamese Gas Resources


December 13, 2019  |  AMTI Brief

Update: China Risks Flare-up over Malaysian, Vietnamese Gas Resources

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 the drilling rig Hakuryu 5 from Vietnam’s oil and gas Block 06-01, which is operated by Russia’s Rosneft.

The standoff began on June 16 when a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship started harassing the Hakuryu 5 and the offshore supply vessels servicing it. Automatic Identification System (AIS) data shows that several CCG ships were deployed in succession to keep up the harassment over the course of the standoff, including the 35111, 45111, 4203, 3308, 5303, and 2305. As ships were relieved, they often traveled to the Chinese outpost on Fiery Cross Reef to resupply before either joining the escort mission around the Haiyang Dizhi 8 or heading back to China.

Exactly how many Chinese and Vietnamese vessels were involved in these two related operations over the course of the standoff is unclear. Those broadcasting AIS—mostly the CCG—almost certainly account for just a small percentage of the total number. Some Vietnamese law enforcement vessels had broadcast AIS during the early weeks of the standoff in July, but soon ceased doing so. In October, Vietnamese Major General Nguyen Minh Hoang announced that 50 Vietnamese and 40 Chinese vessels were involved, while others reported as many as 80 Chinese participants.

Only a few opposing ships seem to have been regularly deployed around the Hakuryu 5 throughout the standoff, suggesting that most of these reported vessels were busing escorting the Haiyang Dizhi 8 or, in the case of the Vietnamese, trying to block its operations. A satellite image from late August captured a Vietnam Fisheries Resource Surveillance vessel positioned between the Hakuryu 5, which was being serviced by an offshore supply vessel (identified via AIS as the Crest Argus 5), and CCG ship 5303. The 56-meter Vietnamese vessel is effectively unarmed and less than half the size of the 138-meter 5303, one of China’s advanced Type 818 Zhaoduan-class cutters which sports a 76-mm cannon.

The Hakuryu 5 broadcast AIS only sporadically during the standoff. Its signal was last seen in Block 06-01 on October 17 and then again in port at Vung Tau, Vietnam, on October 26. This lends credence to social media reports that it had left Block 06-01 on October 22 after completing its drilling work. AIS data shows that the last CCG vessel assigned to the area, the 31302 (since renamed the 2305) left the same day heading north. It joined up with the Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts a day later and together the group returned to Hainan.

As for the Haiyang Dizhi 8, it moved north after the first few weeks of the standoff, extending its survey over a much wider area for the next three months. In hindsight, it is clear that the survey area closely matched a group of oil and gas exploration blocks that the China National Offshore Oil Corporation unsuccessfully offered up for foreign bidding in 2012.

Over the course of the standoff, the Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its CCG escorts made multiple resupply trips to Fiery Cross Reef. While ultimately unsuccessful in persuading Vietnam to halt Rosneft’s drilling work in block 06-01, China’s operations demonstrated that its Spratly outposts now allow it to conduct extended pressure campaigns, increasing the costs and risks for its neighbors to operate within the nine dash line.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1962 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It seeks to advance global security and prosperity by providing strategic insights and policy solutions to decisionmakers.


September 26, 2019  |  AMTI Brief

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 Vietnamese coast farther north. These actions have drawn attention to the CCG’s increasing role in asserting Chinese claims over seabed resources throughout the South China Sea. They also highlight how the CCG’s access to newly-built port facilities on artificial islands in the Spratlys allows it to sustain such deployments. But less appreciated is the persistent presence the CCG maintains around several symbolically important features in the South China Sea: Luconia Shoals, Second Thomas Shoal, and Scarborough Shoal. Tiếp tục đọc “SIGNALING SOVEREIGNTY: CHINESE PATROLS AT CONTESTED REEFS”


AMT BY  | AUGUST 8, 2019

The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a survey vessel belonging to a Chinese government-run corporation, began surveying a large swath of seabed on July 3 northeast of Vanguard Bank (Bai Tu Chinh) off the coast of Vietnam. The ship was apparently undertaking an oil and gas survey across two blocks, Riji 03 and Riji 27, which fall within Vietnam’s continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The survey ship has been escorted by other vessels, including the China Coast Guard and maritime militia. At the same time, China Coast Guard ships have been harassing Vietnamese drilling operations in Block 06-01 to the south. Tiếp tục đọc “CHINA’S INCURSION INTO VIETNAM’S EEZ AND LESSONS FROM THE PAST”

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 in the Philippines’ favor.  Beijing refused to participate in the arbitration and rejected the outcome. Meanwhile, the newly-inaugurated president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, downplayed the victory in the hopes of coaxing China toward a more conciliatory policy and, as a result, international pressure on China to comply with the award has evaporated. The ruling clarified important aspects of UNCLOS and customary international law, but there was never much hope Beijing would accept its findings.

Nonetheless, many observers hoped that over time China might find politically face-saving ways to bring its claims and behavior into line with the substance of the ruling, even while rejecting the process. In the three years since the arbitral award, and since Manila’s adoption of a more accommodating policy toward Beijing, has China moved any closer to compliance? AMTI has compiled a list of actionable findings from the tribunal and assessed whether China’s recent actions are in-line with them. Overall, China is in compliance with just 2 of 11 parts of the ruling, while on another its position is too unclear to assess.

Arbitration Compliance Report Card

(Click each row for more information)

Tiếp tục đọc “Failing or Incomplete? Grading the South China Sea Arbitration”

Chinese Power Projection Capabilities in South China Sea

June 28, 2019  |  AMTI Interactive

Chinese Power Projection Capabilities in the South China Sea

(This is the latest in a series of major updates to AMTI’s interactive maps of the Asia Pacific.)

Since 2014, China has substantially expanded its ability to monitor and project power throughout the South China Sea via the construction of dual civilian-military bases at its outposts in the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands. These include new radar and communications arrays, airstrips and hangars to accommodate combat aircraft, and deployments of mobile surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missile systems.

This map highlights how these capabilities overlap. For illustrative purposes, the ranges of known high frequency radar installations are depicted as being 300 kilometers, while those of smaller arrays are shown as 50 kilometers. Combat radii for fighter aircraft are shown based on China’s J-11 fighters while bomber ranges are based on China’s H-6 bombers, both of which have been deployed to Woody Island. SAM and cruise missile ranges are based on the HQ-9, YJ-62, and YJ-12B systems that have been deployed across Woody Island, Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef. Fighter and bomber ranges at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs represent expected future deployments based on the hangars built to accommodate those assets.

Recent Analysis

China’s Hidden Navy by Greg Poling (Foreign Policy)

Incident at Reed Bank: A Crisis in the Philippines’ China Policy by Renato Cruz de Castro

Davids and Goliath: Time for Southeast Asian Fishery Cooperation in the South China Sea by Nguyen Thanh Trung

Duterte’s Pivot to Japan by Richard Heydarian

An Indian Ocean Agenda for Modi 2.0 by Lalit Kapur

Facing China’s Sea Power: Strategic Culture & Maritime Strategy by C.J. Jenner


The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1962 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It seeks to advance global security and prosperity by providing strategic insights and policy solutions to decisionmakers.

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

May 20, 2019  |  AMTI BRIEF

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 extract endangered giant clams. The clam shells are transported back to Hainan Province where they fetch thousands of dollars each in a thriving market for jewelry and statuary. Since late 2018, satellite imagery has shown these fleets operating frequently at Scarborough Shoal and throughout the Paracels, including at Bombay Reef. Tiếp tục đọc “China’s Most Destructive Boats Return to the South China Sea”

Still Under Pressure: Manila Versus the Militia

April 16, 2019  |  AMTI BRIEF

Still Under Pressure: Manila Versus the Militia

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 Panata Islands by Filipinos. The Philippine press began to report this militia presence in early April, prompting the government to say it would protest to Beijing. This comes as tensions between the two sides are running high over the presence of a larger Chinese flotilla deployed since December 2018 near Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. Over the last several weeks, Philippine officials have issued diplomatic protests and public recriminations against Beijing over that deployment, which appears aimed at dissuading Manila from continuing modest infrastructure upgrades on Thitu. Tiếp tục đọc “Still Under Pressure: Manila Versus the Militia”

Reading Between the Lines: The Next Spratly Legal Dispute

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March 21, 2019  |  AMTI BRIEF

Reading Between the Lines: The Next Spratly Legal Dispute

In August 2018, the HMS Albion sailed through the Paracel Islands to assert freedom of navigation and challenge China’s claim to straight baselines around the island group. The United Kingdom’s challenge was the first operation by a non-U.S. vessel in the South China Sea that was analogous to the United States’ now well-publicized freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs). Three months later, the USS Chancellorsville undertook an identical challenge to Beijing’s baselines around the Paracels. Similar operations had been undertaken by the USS Decatur in October 2016 and the USS Chafee in October 2017. Tiếp tục đọc “Reading Between the Lines: The Next Spratly Legal Dispute”

China Quietly Upgrades a Remote Reef

November 20, 2018  |  AMTI BRIEF

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, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. The modest new structure appears to be anchored on the north edge of the reef and is topped by a radome and solar panels. 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. Tiếp tục đọc “China Quietly Upgrades a Remote Reef”

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 shows that Hanoi has dredged a new channel, which did not exist in older photos, and is expanding one of its two facilities (the other is a small lighthouse to the west) at the feature.

Tiếp tục đọc “Vietnam Expands Another Outpost”

China’s intimidation in the South China Sea poses an economic threat to Vietnam

Author: Bill Hayton, Chatham HouseVietnam has lost another sea battle: a US$200 million oil and gas development project — known as the ‘Red Emperor’ development — off Vietnam’s southeast coast has been suspended, possibly cancelled. Hanoi’s hopes of a hydrocarbon boost to its stretched government budget have been dashed. And the culprit is Vietnam’s ‘good neighbour, good comrade and good friend’ to the north.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, 13 June 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Nguyen Minh).

The project, many years in the making, was a joint venture between Repsol of Spain, Mubadala of Abu Dhabi and the state-owned energy company PetroVietnam. Commercial drilling was due to begin this April and oil and gas were expected to flow for at least 10 years. A specialised platform built in the port of Vung Tau lies idle, as do the contracted drilling rig and storage tanker. Tiếp tục đọc “China’s intimidation in the South China Sea poses an economic threat to Vietnam”

While focus is on North Korea, China continues South China Sea buildup: Think tank

Satellite photo shows Chinese-controlled North Island, part of the Paracel Islands group in the South China Sea, on Sep 29, 2017. (Photo: Planet Labs/Handout via Reuters)

WASHINGTON: While attention in Asia has been distracted by the North Korean nuclear crisis in the past year, China has continued to install high-frequency radar and other facilities that can be used for military purposes on its man-made islands in the South China Sea, a US think tank said on Thursday (Dec 14).

Chinese activity has involved work on facilities covering 29 hectares of the Spratly and Paracel islands, territory contested with several other Asian nations, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. The report cited satellite images. Tiếp tục đọc “While focus is on North Korea, China continues South China Sea buildup: Think tank”

UPDATED: China’s Big Three Near Completion


Updated June 29, 2017

New imagery shows that while China is keeping attention focused on its negotiations with Southeast Asian countries over basic principles to manage the South China Sea disputes, its construction of military and dual-use facilities on the Spratly Islands continues. New missile shelters, radar/communications facilities, and other infrastructure are going in on Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs, suggesting that while the region is engaged in peaceful discussion, China remains committed to developing its power projection capabilities.

Tiếp tục đọc “UPDATED: China’s Big Three Near Completion”

Fighter jet spotted on South China Sea island, more believed in hangars: U.S. think tank

japan times

by Staff Writer

Apr 7, 2017A Chinese fighter jet has been spotted on a Chinese-controlled island in the South China Sea for the first time in a year, a U.S. think tank said Thursday as President Donald Trump met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the J-11 fighter jet was visible on a runway in a satellite photo taken March 29 of Woody Island in the disputed waterway’s Paracel chain. More fighters were believed to be in hangers nearby. Tiếp tục đọc “Fighter jet spotted on South China Sea island, more believed in hangars: U.S. think tank”