Dramatic photos show the new islands China is building to take over the South China Sea

Here’s a new way to exert influence on a disputed territory: Build your own islands on it.

Since January, China has been dragging huge scoops of sand from around a reef in the South China Sea and piling it into islands that can be seen in satellite photos, the New York Times reports.

The place where they’re doing their building is Mischief Reef, a thin circle of coral that sits between Vietnam, the Philippines, China, and Taiwan near a group of islands called the Spratly Islands.

There’s just one small problem: All four of these countries say they own the reef.

Regardless, China has managed to turn the delicate string of coral into a thick band of land — all in a matter of weeks. They have even starting constructing shelters on the islands.

Here’s an image of Mischief Reef in January 2012, before any action began:

And another image of the same area in January of this year, when ships and structures first started to appear:

By March, satellite photos showed thickened spots of land where the sand had been dragged:

Toward the end of the month, a pattern of construction became more and more clear:

From a distance, you can see the work of the dredging boats turning the dark water cloudy as they move the sand around:

Here you can see a series of dredging boats working together:

This isn’t the first time China has built islands in the disputed South China Sea.

About 200 miles from Mischief Reef, at another area called Fiery Cross Reef, the country build a 9,850-foot-long by 985-foot-wide island complete with a docking harbour, the Times reports.

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