Slow and Steady: Vietnam’s Spratly Upgrades

April 8, 2019  |  AMTI BRIEF

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 rest are mostly underwater reefs and banks.

Spratly Island is the largest of Vietnam’s outposts and the administrative center of its presence in the area. In 2015-16, Vietnam undertook an expansion of the island to extend its small runway and create a protected harbor. In total, Hanoi created about 40 acres of new land at Spratly Island through a process that involved the use of construction equipment to dredge up part of the reef surrounding the island and cover it in sand. This process was more time-consuming and less environmentally disastrous than the methods used for China’s industrial-scale dredging and landfill at its facilities in the Spratlys, but still involved the intentional destruction of coral reef. Continue reading “Slow and Steady: Vietnam’s Spratly Upgrades”

Under Pressure: Philippine Construction Provokes a Paramilitary Response

February 6, 2019  |  AMTI BRIEF

Under Pressure: Philippine Construction Provokes a Paramilitary Response

On February 4, Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that construction of a new beaching ramp at Thitu Island would be completed in early 2019. Thitu is the largest of the nine features occupied by the Philippines in the Spratlys Islands and is home to about 100 civilians along with a small military garrison. The ramp, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2018, will facilitate the delivery of construction equipment and materials to the island for further planned upgrades, especially to its crumbling runway. AMTI previously tracked the start of repair work on the runway in May 2018, but that appears to have been halted while the beaching ramp is completed. Continue reading “Under Pressure: Philippine Construction Provokes a Paramilitary Response”

The South China Sea fell off Trump’s radar, but he may have to pay attention in 2018


China claims nearly all of the South China Sea. In 2016, an international tribunal ruled against those claims, but the finding has largely been ignored

In this Nov. 9 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Andy Wong / AP

Focused on North Korea and evidently enamoured of President Xi Jinping, the voluble U.S. president said relatively little as China continued to build on disputed islands, rocks and reefs.

A recent Chinese report hailed progress in the South China Sea last year, noting construction totalling 290,000 square metres, or 72 acres. That included work on hangars, missile shelters and large radar and and sensor arrays, according to satellite images reviewed by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a U.S. think tank. Continue reading “The South China Sea fell off Trump’s radar, but he may have to pay attention in 2018”

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. Continue reading “While focus is on North Korea, China continues South China Sea buildup: Think tank”

Japan says ‘heated discussions’ at Manila security meeting

August 7, 2017 / 9:51 AM /

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono gestures during a news conference on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippines August 7, 2017.Dondi Tawatao

MANILA (Reuters) – Japan’s foreign minister said “heated discussions” took place about North Korea’s missile tests and South China Sea disputes at a security forum on Monday, and most countries believed U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang should be fully implemented.

Taro Kono told reporters there was broad support among the 27 foreign ministers at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila for pressure to be exerted on North Korea and for a new U.N. Security Council resolution to be fully implemented.

Among those attending the event were North and South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and Australia.

Kono also said Japan supported the United States in its activities in the South China Sea to ensure freedom of navigation, and in a veiled reference to China, opposed “any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force”.

Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr and Neil Jerome Morales; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Catherine Evans

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.

Continue reading “UPDATED: China’s Big Three Near Completion”

China installs rocket launchers on disputed South China Sea island: Report


Still image from a United States Navy video purportedly shows Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands

China has said military construction on the islands it controls in the South China Sea will be limited to necessary defensive requirements, and that it can do what it likes on its own territory. Continue reading “China installs rocket launchers on disputed South China Sea island: Report”

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

China begins new work on disputed South China Sea island

A combination of satellite photos shows Chinese-controlled North Island, part of the Paracel group in the South China Sea, on Feb. 15 (top) and on March 6. Reuters

japan times

Reuters Mar 15, 2017

China has started fresh construction work in the disputed South China Sea, new satellite images show, a sign that Beijing is continuing to strengthen its military reach across the vital trade waterway.

Regional military attaches and experts believe the work shows China’s determination to build up its network of reefs and islets, even if it is seeking to avoid a fresh confrontation with the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Continue reading “China begins new work on disputed South China Sea island”

Why China is building islands in the South China Sea

Vox – 17 thg 2, 2017

China claims they aren’t military bases, but their actions say otherwise.

China is building islands in the South China sea and its causing disputes among the other nations in the region; Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The US has many allies in the region and uses its massive Navy to patrol international waters, keeping shipping lanes open for trade.

The Paracels: Beijing’s Other South China Sea Buildup

While China’s expansion of its seven outposts in the Spratly Islands has dominated headlines since large-scale dredging began at the end of 2013, efforts to upgrade its capabilities in the Paracels farther north have received relatively little attention. But the island chain plays a key role in China’s goal of establishing surveillance and power projection capabilities throughout the South China Sea. To this end, Beijing has undertaken substantial upgrades of its military infrastructure in the Paracels.

China occupies 20 outposts in the Paracels. As seen in the map above, three of these now have protected harbors capable of hosting large numbers of naval and civilian vessels. Four others boast smaller harbors, with a fifth under construction at Drummond Island. Five of the islands contain helipads, with Duncan Island housing a full helicopter base. And the largest of the Paracels, Woody Island, sports an airstrip, hangars, and a deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries. Continue reading “The Paracels: Beijing’s Other South China Sea Buildup”

ASEAN unsettled by China weapon systems, tension in South China Sea

The region’s foreign ministers were unanimous in their concern over China’s militarisation of its artificial islands, but were confident a framework for a code of maritime conduct could be agreed with Beijing by June, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said.

Yasay did not say what developments provoked the concern, but said the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) hoped China and the United States would ensure peace and stability.

He said demilitarisation would be a key component of any ASEAN-China code of conduct, but it was too soon to say whether Beijing’s dismantling of its weapons installations would be a prerequisite.

“The ASEAN members have been unanimous in their expression of concern about what they see as a militarisation of the region,” Yasay told reporters after a ministers’ retreat on the Philippine island of Boracay.

Referring to China’s manmade islands in the Spratly archipelago, Yasay said ASEAN countries had “noticed, very unsettlingly, that China has installed weapons systems in these facilities that they have established, and they have expressed strong concern about this.”

With the Philippines chairing the bloc this year, Yasay’s comments signal a rare, firm position by a grouping that often struggles to achieve consensus, due to its contrasting opinions on how to respond to China’s assertiveness.

ASEAN’s statements of concern often avoid mentioning China by name. Much is at stake from upsetting China, as ASEAN members, to varying extents, are under its influence and need its trade, investment and tourists.


Regional geopolitics has become more uncertain since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, particularly over his administration’s role in a region strongly courted by Washington during the “pivot” of predecessor Barack Obama.

Friction between the United States and China over trade and territory under Trump has fuelled worry that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint.

China claims most of the waters, through which about US$5 trillion (£4.02 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

China on Friday completed war games with an aircraft carrier that unnerved neighbours. A day later the U.S. navy said its aircraft carrier strike group had started routine patrols in the South China Sea, a step China had warned against.

Yasay said ASEAN nations recognised policies under Trump were still evolving, but hoped they could be unveiled within a few months to provide a “more concrete and clearer picture”, especially regarding China.

“We do not know the complete picture of what this foreign policy might be, insofar as its relationship with China is concerned. We’re, however, hopeful that the policy that would come out will be positive.”

Asked if China was committed to a set of rules on the South China Sea, he said Beijing had shown it was keen.

But all parties should ensure that the code, which has made little progress since the idea was agreed in 2002, needed to be legally “binding and enforceable”, Yasay added.

(Additional reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz and Manolo Serapio Jr; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

China likely to build on reef near Philippines: Minister

In an interview with AFP, Delfin Lorenzana said he believed China would eventually reclaim Scarborough Shoal, just 230 kilometres from the main Philippine island of Luzon.

Beijing has already built up a number of islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, installing military facilities on several of them.

Analysts say similar installations on nearby Scarborough Shoal could give China effective military control over the disputed Sea – something the US has said it is not prepared to accept. Continue reading “China likely to build on reef near Philippines: Minister”

Philippines defense chief calls China arms on South China Sea islands ‘troubling’

Japan Times

Reuters, Jan 17, 2017

China’s recent installation of weapons on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea was “very troubling”, the Philippines’ defense minister said Tuesday, after Manila quietly protested Beijing’s activities.

The Philippine Foreign Ministry sent a note verbale to the Chinese Embassy last month after confirming a report from the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies about China’s arms buildup in the Spratlys. Continue reading “Philippines defense chief calls China arms on South China Sea islands ‘troubling’”