Articles, Reporting and Interviews

Victor Robert Lee writes on the Asia-Pacific region and is the author of the espionage novel Performance Anomalies, described by The Japan Times as “a thoroughly original work of fiction.” His field reporting from the South China Sea and other parts of Asia can be found in The Diplomat and elsewhere. His reporting has been cited in The Guardian, BBC News, CNN, The Economist, Mainichi Shimbun, The Singapore Straits Times, Asahi Shimbun, Bloomberg View, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Week, National Geographic and other media, and in hearings of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He uses a pen name to avoid being denied travel visas by authoritarian governments.




China is completing its first military-operated base in the Americas, built by the same companies China used to manufacture militarized islands in the South China Sea. Critics in Argentina say their country has handed over sovereign control of part of its territory.

A space tracking, telemetry and command facility operated by a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army is nearing completion at a site in Patagonia, Argentina. Military and civilian dual-use is a concern. The Diplomat, May 24, 2016.


China construye una base de control espacial en el continente sudamericano. Los detractores en Argentina afirman que se ha entregado territorio soberano al Ejército Popular de Liberación de China.


Está a punto de finalizarse un centro de control espacial, telemetría y mando operado por el Ejército Popular de Liberación de China en la Patagonia (Argentina). La nueva base, la primera de este tipo fuera de China, incluye antenas parabólicas dirigibles de 13,5 y 35 metros de diámetro, instalaciones de computación e ingeniería, alojamiento para el personal técnico y una planta eléctrica de 10 millones de dólares. Medium, May 25, 2016.



Satellite Images Show China is Expanding Land Filling at North Island in the Paracels 


Dredging of a new harbor basin is also visible. Newly manufactured terrain links North Island and Middle island, along a reef structure that could accommodate a runway complex like the one recently built by China at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys. The Diplomat, March 7, 2016.


China Expands Land Filling at North Island in the Paracels, South China Sea

Manufactured terrain joins two islands (North Island and Middle Island) along a straight reef that could accommodate a runway. Satellite images also show dredging of a new harbor basin. Nearby Woody Island (Yongxing) already shows congestion. Medium, March 7, 2016.


Victor Robert Lee Interviewed by James Pach, Editor of The Diplomat

“Victor Robert Lee writes on the Asia-Pacific region and is the author of the well-received espionage novel Performance Anomalies. He is perhaps best known to readers of The Diplomat for his very popular series of articles built around satellite imagery showing China’s island building program. His writing on the region has been widely cited in major news outlets. He recently spoke with The Diplomat’s editor James Pach about the tensions in the South China Sea.” The Diplomat, November 6, 2015.


Cuarteron Reef, Spratlys, South China Sea: Satellite Image Update

A radar antenna array first reported in The Diplomat in September 2015 is nearing completion. Medium, February 21, 2016.


Satellite Images Show China is Manufacturing Land at New Sites in the Paracel Islands

New land filling is seen at North Island and Tree Island. A new helicopter base is observed for the first time at Duncan Island in the South China Sea. The Diplomat, February 13, 2016.


China is Building a Helicopter Base in the Paracels and Manufacturing Land at Two New Sites in the South China Sea

Satellite images of Duncan, Tree and North islands indicate a new phase in China’s ambitions to control a disputed area of the South China Sea. Medium, February 15, 2016.


Satellite Images Show Ecocide in the South China Sea

Poaching of giant clam shells across the Spratlys and Paracels is causing massive scarring of coral reefs. Evidence from satellite imagery, news reports, aerial photos, videos and commercial websites links most of the “prop chop” reef destruction to fishermen from China, particularly from the port of Tanmen on Hainan Island. The Diplomat, January 15, 2016.

China’s Xi Jinping Presides Over Ecocide in the South China Sea

Satellite images show that at least 28 coral reefs have been systematically chopped up, in addition to the reefs already buried by Beijing’s island building. Evidence of large-scale poaching at Scarborough Shoal suggests it may be the next target for China’s building of military installations in the South China Sea. Medium, January 18, 2016.


South China Sea: Satellite Images Show China’s Rapid Buildup on Fiery Cross Reef

Beijing’s new capabilities in the Spratlys may include sophisticated over-the-horizon radar at Cuarteron Reef. One of China’s building complexes at Fiery Cross rivals the Pentagon in size, while installations at Gaven, Johnson South, Cuarteron and Hughes reefs are evocative of WW2 flak towers. The Diplomat, September 16, 2015.


China’s Ambitious Military Buildup on Fiery Cross Reef and Cuarteron Reef in the South China Sea

One building complex is on track to be as large as the Pentagon; a new sensor array is visible at Cuarteron Reef, and structures resembling flak towers are being equipped at other China-occupied reefs in the Spratlys including Hughes, Gaven, and Johnson South. Medium, September 20, 2015.


Satellite Imagery Makes it Clear that China is Constructing a Runway at Subi Reef in the Spratlys

Images of Subi Reef in the South China Sea from September 3, 2015 show preparatory subgrading for a runway of military-capable length. The Diplomat, September 10, 2015.



Satellite Images Show Beginnings of New Runway Construction by Beijing on Subi Reef, South China Sea

Imagery shows subgrading that could support a runway equal in width to that recently constructed by China at Fiery Cross Reef. Medium, September 11, 2015.



China Military Base Zhurihe in Inner Mongolia: Training for an Invasion of Taiwan?

Satellite images show what looks like a replica of central Taipei on a tactical training base in China. The Diplomat, August 9, 2015.



China Staging Mock Invasion of Taiwan? Satellite Imagery of Zhurihe Training Base in Inner Mongolia

A time series of satellite images confirms that in 2014 and early 2015 China constructed for tactical training purposes a building that resembles the Presidential Office Building in Taipei. Medium, August 9, 2015.


Satellite Imagery Shows Intensive Chinese Building in the South China Sea

The latest images show China building what appears to be a large runway on Subi Reef in the Spratlys. The Diplomat, July 31, 2015.


Subi Reef, South China Sea: Satellite Image Update as of July 18, 2015

Satellite imagery of Subi Reef taken July 18, 2015 shows intensive preparation of terrain for a likely airstrip. A straight segment of coral reef that China has filled in with sand can easily accommodate a runway more than three kilometers long. Medium, July 24, 2015.


Fiery Cross Reef, South China Sea: Satellite Image Update

Images taken on July 13, 2015 show rapid construction of a large and complex military facility. Medium, July 20, 2015.


South China Sea: Satellite Images Show Rapid Pace of China’s Subi Reef Reclamation

China is adding eight acres a day at Subi, while other images corroborate Malaysia’s complaints regarding China’s occupation of South Luconia Shoals. Malaysia armed forces chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin and U.S. PACOM commander Admiral Harry Harris meet in Singapore. Additional details on China’s new bases at Gaven, Johnson South, Hughes and Cuarteron reefs, and land filling at Mischief Reef. The Diplomat, June 19, 2015.

China is Adding Eight Acres a Day to Subi Reef Land Fill; Satellite Images Corroborate Malaysia’s Concerns Over the South Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea

Beijing has expanded its land fill of Subi Reef by 74% in less than two months. Mischief Reef, much larger than Subi, is now more than half filled in. Medium, June 19, 2015.


Shangri-La Dialogue/Security Summit in Singapore: Video and images by Victor Robert Lee. May 29-31, 2015. Speakers in order of appearance: Senior Colonel ZHAO Xiaozhuo, Deputy Director-General, China-U.S. Defense Relations Research Center, People’s Liberation Army; U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter; Colonel LU Yin, Institute for Strategic Studies, National Defense University, People’s Liberation Army; Major General JIN Yinan, Professor, National Defense University, People’s Liberation Army; Admiral Harry Harris, Commander, United States Pacific Command; Admiral SUN Jianguo, Deputy Chief of General Staff, People’s Liberation Army; Philippe Errera, Director-General, International Relations and Strategy, Ministry of Defense, France; Christopher Nelson, Editor, The Nelson Report; John Chipman, Conference Chairman, Director-General and Chief Executive, International Institute for Strategic Studies; Harry Harding Jr., Professor of Public Policy, University of Virginia; François Heisbourg, Chairman of the Council, International Institute for Strategic Studies; Bonnie Glaser, Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies; P. S. Suryanaranana, Editor, Current Affairs, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore; Hideshi Tokuchi, Director-General, Ministry of Defense, Japan; Josh Rogin, Columnist, Bloomberg View; Reinhard Bütikofer, Member, European Parliament; Gerry Brownlee, New Zealand Minister of Defense.


U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris responds to a question regarding China's "Great Wall of Sand" in the South China Sea. IISS Shangri-La Dialogue & Security Summit, Singapore, May 30, 2015. Video by Victor Robert Lee.


South China Sea: China’s Unprecedented Spratlys Building Program

Subi Reef appears to be next in line for an airstrip, as building and land filling continue with unprecedented speed at Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs. The Diplomat, April 25, 2015.

South China Sea: China’s Frenetic Spratlys Building Program At Full Speed

High-resolution satellite images from April 17, 2015 reveal that over a period of ten weeks China has built an island on top of Subi Reef in the disputed territory of the Spratlys. The dimensions and shape of the land fill, which is still underway, are compatible with a potential airstrip 3,300 meters long, similar to the prospective length of the runway currently being paved at Fiery Cross Reef, the site of another China installation on a coral reef it has buried in the Spratlys. Medium, April 25, 2015

South China Sea: China Is Building on Islands in the Paracels As Well

It’s not only the Spratlys; China is constructing military facilities in the Paracels, including Woody Island (Yongxing) and Duncan Island. The Diplomat, April 14, 2015.

China is building on the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea

High-resolution satellite imagery shows expansion of a runway at Woody (Yongxing) Island and large areas of new land fill on Duncan Island. Medium, April 19, 2015.


China’s New Military Installations in the Disputed Spratly Islands, South China Sea: Satellite Image Update


Recent high-resolution images show new areas of heretofore unreported reclamation on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, and intensive construction on Fiery Cross as well as Gaven, Hughes, Johnson South and Cuarteron reefs. The deep waters near all of these reefs are viable channels for Chinese submarines as well as those of rival navies (chiefly U.S., Vietnamese, Singaporean, Australian and Japanese); the PLAN can be expected to use its new Spratly bases to deploy fixed ocean-floor acoustic arrays as well as to support other means of air, maritime and anti-submarine surveillance. Medium, March 16, 2015.


Sri Lanka: A Surprising Blow In Favor of Democracy


Voters end an apparent slide towards dictatorship, and confound Beijing’s plans for the country and its ports. The Diplomat, January 13, 2015.


Sri Lanka: A Startling Success for Democracy


This past week the island nation of Sri Lanka proved that democracy is alive and well in at least one corner of the world when it threw out its own Putinesque figure and confounded Beijing’s plans to exploit ports at Colombo and Hambantota. Medium, January 14, 2015.


Bhutan: The Indian Army’s Front Line


Strategically located, the small Himalayan nation is at the center of growing tensions between Beijing and New Delhi. The Diplomat, November 6, 2014.


Bhutan: The Indian Army’s Front Line in its Himalayan Rivalry With China’s People’s Liberation Army


An Indian Army squad of special forces soldiers with Himalayan features runs in formation, sandbags slung on their backs, with the unit’s commander shouting “No photos, sir!” Medium, November 9, 2014.


Is Indonesia Beijing’s Next Target in the South China Sea?


Indonesia has seemed to be immune to the maritime disputes between China and its littoral neighbors. The immunity is wearing off, and Indonesia’s Natuna Islands are a focus of concern. The Diplomat, October 2, 2014.


Is Beijing’s Next Target in the South China Sea Indonesia?


What might be called “homeland security” is tight at Natuna Island, and it should be—this may be the next bite China takes out of the South China Sea. Medium, October 10, 2014.



Stories From Asia: The SFA Interview with Author Victor Robert Lee


Victor Robert Lee’s literary espionage novel Performance Anomalies, largely set in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan, introduces a unique spy hero, partly of Chinese origin, who may give Jason Bourne and James Bond a run for their money. The Japan Times called Performance Anomalies “a thoroughly original work of fiction.” Medium, July 16, 2014.


On the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, It is Time to Listen


With its disparate lead-pencil lines, erasures, and red magic-marker improvisations, the display at China’s National Museum shows in miniature the Beijing’s government’s designs and arbitrary ambitions, as well as its condescension toward those who might object to whatever boundaries it decides to draw on a map. Medium, June 4, 2014.


Japan’s Defense Minister Is Kept Busy as Obama Visits Asia


Minister Itsunori Onodera has spent the week bolstering Japan’s defenses against China near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, but was not helped by his government colleagues. Reporting from Yonaguni Island, Tokyo, and the Ryukyu Archipelago. The Diplomat, April 24, 2014.


Japan’s Defense Minister Counters Beijing as Obama Visits Asia


On April 19th Minister Itsunori Onodera oversaw the groundbreaking ceremony for a new military base and radar installation on Yonaguni Island, Japan’s westernmost patch of territory, only 110 kilometers from Taiwan and the closest inhabited territory to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, whose ownership is hotly disputed by China and Japan. Medium, April 26, 2014.


Manila’s Defense Conundrum: Can it Defend its Own Territory Against China?


November’s Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda) tragically killed thousands of Filipinos and brought extreme hardship to hundreds of thousands more. It also wiped away any veneer from the the nation’s military, revealing the Philippines, a country of almost 100 million people, to be without any meaningful self-defense capabilities. The Diplomat, December 7, 2013.


Manila-Beijing-Washington: What the Typhoon Revealed


November’s Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda erased any veneer from the Philippine military, revealing the country to be without any meaningful defense capabilities. This may not be news to the government of China, whose recent claims on the near-entirety of the South China Sea put it in an escalating dispute with the Philippines and neighboring countries, but Beijing is undoubtedly making note of the sheer scale of the Philippines’ feebleness. Medium, December 16, 2013.


Cultural Revolution or Cultural Decapitation?


During the Cultural Revolution, Ms. Wang’s father was imprisoned in Xinjiang as an “anti-revolutionary person” because he was well educated. He was locked up in 1969, at the tail end of the worst part of the “revolution,” and was released in 1974 when the Gang of Four was ousted. Originally 185 centimeters tall (just over 6 feet), after his incarceration he was significantly shorter; he could no longer stand up straight, his vertebrae having been broken during repeated beatings on his spine with poles and hammers. Later as a free man, whenever the weather changed, he would be the first to know, in his bones. He told his daughter he was more accurate than the weatherman. Medium, April 11, 2013.


The Last Empire Expands: Beijing Under Xi Jinping


The world’s last remaining empire is expanding. More than fifty years after the European, Japanese, and American colonial powers largely abandoned their holds on far-flung territories, and more than twenty years after the Soviet collapse, one colonial power remains: China. To its portfolio of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, Beijing has now added the near-entirety of the South China Sea. Why? Because it can. How? By simply announcing it.

The U.S. and the nations bordering the South China Sea are simply too hobbled or militarily weak to stand up to China’s bald territory grab. Medium, January 15, 2013.

A compilation of excerpts from forty radio interviews with Victor Robert Lee, author of Performance Anomalies.