Photo from the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative website.

Vietnam has increased the pace of dredging and landfilling in its Spratlys outposts during the second half of 2020, a recently published study by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said.

The AMTI report, “Vietnam’s major Spratly expansion,” released on December 14 stated that the move established approximately 420 acres of new land for Vietnam this year, bringing the total amount of its claimed territory to 540 acres, since the last 10 years.

Landfill activities have expanded four features in the South China Sea—Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, Sand Cay, and Tennent Reef—since the AMTI, a source for information, analysis, and the discussion of policy pertaining to maritime security concerns created by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), documented in March this year.

The magnitude of the work to fill lands is still “significantly larger” than its previous efforts and demonstrates how it is beefing up its position in the Spratlys, despite still falling short of China’s 3,200 acres of reclaimed land from 2013 to 2016.

AMTI said that the four features, which are mid-sized outposts, “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,” the AMTI said.

On the other hand, Vietnam’s new dredging work projects are located on five features that had previously only hosted small outposts—Barque Canada Reef, Alison Reef, Cornwallis South Reef, Discovery Great Reef, and Ladd Reef.

According to AMTI, the process of dredging began at Barque Canada Reef in November 2021 in a channel through the reef’s southeast section, and landfilling got underway in May 2022 in the reef’s northeast section.

Dredging operations went on Discovery Great Reef in the month of October, followed by Cornwallis South Reef and Ladd Reef in the month of November, and Alison Reef in December.

Given the size of the landfill work at Barque Canada Reef, which is currently 58 acres in size, it is likely that at least some of these features will become home to sizeable new outposts.

“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,” AMTI said.

“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,” it stated further.

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