Vietnam’s Major Spratly Expansion

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December 14, 2022  |  AMTI Brief

Vietnam has accelerated and expanded dredging and landfill work at several of its outposts in the Spratly Islands in the second half of 2022, creating roughly 420 acres of new land this year and bringing its total in the last ten years to 540 acres. The work includes expanded landfill work at four features identified by AMTI earlier this year and new dredging at five additional features. The scale of the landfill work, while still falling far short of the more than 3,200 acres of land created by China from 2013 to 2016, is significantly larger than previous efforts from Vietnam and represents a major move toward reinforcing its position in the Spratlys.

Major Expansions

The scope of landfill activity at Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, Sand Cay, and Tennent Reef has expanded significantly since AMTI last documented it over the summer.

The mid-sized outposts at Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, and Sand Cay are each receiving major expansions, with a dredged port capable of hosting larger vessels already taking shape at Namyit and Pearson. The total size of Namyit Island (117 acres) and Pearson Reef (119 acres) now makes both larger than the eponymous Spratly Island (97 acres), which had been Vietnam’s largest outpost. Tennent Reef, which previously only hosted two of Vietnam’s small pillbox structures, now boasts 64 acres of artificial land.

New Dredging

Vietnam has begun new dredging and landfill at five features that previously hosted only small outposts.

Work began first at Barque Canada Reef, where a channel was dredged through the southeast section of the reef in November 2021 before landfill work began at the northeast section in May 2022. Dredging then started at Discovery Great Reef in October, Cornwallis South Reef and Ladd Reef in November, and Alison Reef in December. The scope of landfill at Barque Canada Reef, which already amounts to 58 acres, suggests that at least some of these features will host sizable new outposts.

The Road Ahead

Vietnam’s dredging and landfill involves the use of clamshell dredgers and construction equipment to scoop up sections of shallow reef and deposit the sediment on the area targeted for landfill. This is a more time consuming and less arbitrarily destructive process than the cutter suction dredging that China used to build its artificial islands. But Vietnam’s dredging and landfill activities in 2022 are substantial and signal an intent to significantly fortify its occupied features in the Spratlys. These expansions are ongoing and what infrastructure the expanded outposts will host remains to be seen. Whether and to what degree China and other claimants react will bear watching.

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