China has developed the disputed Spratly Islands through extensive militarisation of the territory, installing a vast array of military hardware
Images taken by a surveillance aircraft show that China has constructed runways, hangars, helicopter pads, radar domes and observation towers on seven of the coral islets. An armada of warships and cargo vessels can also be seen at docks on the islands.
China states that the development became necessary to meet civilian and military needs. It claims that its activities in the area are centred on sea-rescue facilities, disaster prevention and relief, oceanic research, meteorological observation and ecological protection.
However, the uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, are also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.
In recent times, Beijing has become more assertive in its territorial claims over the South China Sea.