Indeed, this place has been less fiercely contested than others — for example, the Scarborough Shoal, which has been the site of clashes between Chinese and Philippine vessels.
Lt. Chen Jin-min, a young Coast Guard officer, said that most of the activity he and his colleagues encounter in the surrounding waters involves Vietnamese fishermen. A small cay occupied by Vietnam is visible in the distance, roughly seven nautical miles away. Another controlled by China is 12 miles away.
Lieutenant Chen has lived on Itu Aba for a year. While a tropical paradise, there is not much to do except swimming or otherwise staying in shape. The housing is spare, but pleasant. There is a temple, a post office and, now, a 4G telephone network, provided by satellite.
When asked what life was like in such a remote outpost, nearly 1,000 miles south of Taiwan, Lieutenant Chen replied simply, “pure.”