China has always asserted its claims over the disputed South China Sea by building and fortifying artificial islands. The waters of the South China Sea are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Its strategy is to reinforce those outposts by swarming the disputed waters with vessels, defying the other countries to expel them.
“Beijing pretty clear thinks that if it uses enough coercion and pressure over a long enough period of time, it will squeeze the Southeast Asians out,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The recent incident has revealed in recent weeks around Whitsun Reef, a boomerang-shaped feature that emerges above water only at low tide. At one point in March, 220 Chinese ships were reported to be anchored around the reef, prompting protests from Vietnam and the Philippines, which both have claimed there, and from the United States.
According to the satellite images, some of the ships have left but many are still there. The photographs have been taken by Maxar Technologies, a company based in Colorado. Other ships moved to another reef only a few miles away, while a new swarm of 45 Chinese ships was spotted 100 miles northeast at another island controlled by the Philippines, Thitu, according to the satellite photos and Philippine officials.