An anonymous reader writes about a Chinese building project designed to cement claims to a disputed region of the South China Sea. Sand, cement, wood, and steel are China's weapons of choice as it asserts its claim over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei have sparred for decades over ownership of the 100 islands and reefs, which measure less than 1,300 acres in total but stretch across an area about the size of Iraq. In recent months, vessels belonging to the People's Republic have been spotted ferrying construction materials to build new islands in the sea. Pasi Abdulpata, a Filipino fishing contractor who in October was plying the waters near Parola Island in the northern Spratlys, says he came across "this huge Chinese ship sucking sand and rocks from one end of the ocean and blasting it to the other using a tube."
Artificial islands could help China anchor its claim to waters that host some of the world's busiest shipping lanes. The South China Sea may hold as much as 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. China has considered the Spratlys—which it calls Nansha—part of its territory since the 1940s and on occasion has used its military might to enforce its claim. In 1988 a Chinese naval attack at Johnson South Reef, in the northern portion of the archipelago, killed 64 Vietnamese border guards.