By Joe Harker
China has been making artificial islands in the South China Sea for some time, extending its sphere of influence over the 1.35 million square mile body of water it shares with other countries.
The first step to making a new island is identifying parts of land that are just below the sealine, followed up by dredging sand from the sea floor and packing it on top of reefs and rocks to create new landmasses. Cement is then poured on to support military structures such as harbours and runways, allowing China to station planes and ships in new locations.
Naturally this hasn't garnered the friendliest of welcomes from other countries, who see it as a provocative move. Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines all claim parts of the South China Sea but cannot compete with a nation that can create new naval bases in the middle of the ocean. The Chinese can more effectively project their power on the areas they claim is theirs and it is harder for others to stop them.
The US says China's militarisation of the South China Sea is an act of "intimidation and coercion". Both sides have been testing the waters and the US sailed two warships past the Paracel Islands, which China claims belong to it. The Chinese called it an "obvious provocation to China's national security and territorial integrity".
However, the US are not be the only nation whose navy has entered the South China Sea, with the UK and France also doing so recently. They deliberately sailed warships through waters China claims as territory in a move intended to demonstrate that there are rules to be followed.
Robert D Kaplan believes the South China Sea is going to be the defining battleground of the 21st Century. He argues that China is conducting a period of naval expansion in what will become "the world's new center of naval activity". The conflict may not end up being a military one, instead adopting a slower and steadier pace as different nations attempt to take the upper hand without firing a shot.
There are also economic benefits for the nation that controls the South China Sea. A large source of unexploited oil could be on offer to the nation that controls the sea and by creating its own network of islands and military bases China has made a clear statement. This is ours, we own it, we're here to stay.
The response from other nations that want to challenge China's dominance of the sea is to sail a few warships through, making the statement that they're travelling through international waters rather than impeding in another nation's territory.