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Watch China build a set of completely new islands in a few weeks

Erin Brodwin

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.

map spratly islands mischief reef

(Google Maps)

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've even starting constructing shelters on the islands.

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

mischief reef jan2012

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe)And another image of the same area in January of this year, when ships and structures first started to appear:

mischief reef jan2015

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe)By March, satellite photos showed thickened spots of land where the sand had been dragged:

mischief reef march2015_c

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe)Toward the end of the month, a pattern of construction became more and more clear:

mischief reef march2015_B

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe)From a distance, you can see the work of the dredging boats turning the dark water cloudy as they move the sand around:

mischief_mar16_2015_ge01_overview (1)

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe)Here you can see a series of dredging boats working together:

mischief reef march2015

(Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe)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 harbor, the Times reports.

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