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Pictures | Thu Dec 8, 2016 | 1:50pm GMT

Disputed islands of the South China Sea

Vietnamese-held Ladd Reef, in the Spratly Island group in the South China Sea, in this Planet Labs handout photo. An outpost that houses a Vietnamese garrison can be seen on the central northern part of the reef, accessed by two small perpendicular channels. Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

Vietnamese-held Ladd Reef, in the Spratly Island group in the South China Sea, in this Planet Labs handout photo. An outpost that houses a Vietnamese garrison can be seen on the central northern part of the reef, accessed by two small perpendicular...more

Vietnamese-held Ladd Reef, in the Spratly Island group in the South China Sea, in this Planet Labs handout photo. An outpost that houses a Vietnamese garrison can be seen on the central northern part of the reef, accessed by two small perpendicular channels. Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS
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An aerial view shows of Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, in the South China Sea. 


REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher

An aerial view shows of Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher

An aerial view shows of Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher
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Buildings and structures are seen on Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. 

REUTERS/J.R Wu

Buildings and structures are seen on Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu

Buildings and structures are seen on Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu
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A destroyed land bridge (top) is seen in this view of a North Island, near Tree Island and Woody Island in the Paracel chain, in the South China Sea in this Planet Labs handout photo. Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

A destroyed land bridge (top) is seen in this view of a North Island, near Tree Island and Woody Island in the Paracel chain, in the South China Sea in this Planet Labs handout photo. Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

A destroyed land bridge (top) is seen in this view of a North Island, near Tree Island and Woody Island in the Paracel chain, in the South China Sea in this Planet Labs handout photo. Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS
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Members of the Taiwanese Coast Guard secure the perimeter on Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu

Members of the Taiwanese Coast Guard secure the perimeter on Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu

Members of the Taiwanese Coast Guard secure the perimeter on Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu
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Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army Navy patrol near a sign in the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands. The sign reads "Nansha is our national land, sacred and inviolable." Photo taken February 2016. 
REUTERS/Stringer

Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army Navy patrol near a sign in the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands. The sign reads "Nansha is our national land, sacred and inviolable." Photo taken February 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army Navy patrol near a sign in the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands. The sign reads "Nansha is our national land, sacred and inviolable." Photo taken February 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
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An aerial view shows Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher

An aerial view shows Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher

An aerial view shows Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher
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A Taiwanese Coast Guard patrol ship, Kaohsiung (CG 129), is seen during a rescue drill near the coast of Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. 

REUTERS/J.R Wu

A Taiwanese Coast Guard patrol ship, Kaohsiung (CG 129), is seen during a rescue drill near the coast of Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu

A Taiwanese Coast Guard patrol ship, Kaohsiung (CG 129), is seen during a rescue drill near the coast of Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea. REUTERS/J.R Wu
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Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photo taken May 2016. 


U.S. Navy/Handout

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photo taken May 2016. U.S. Navy/Handout

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photo taken May 2016. U.S. Navy/Handout
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A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016.  


CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. CSIS...more

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe
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An octagonal tower with a conical feature at its top, located on the northeast side of Subi Reef was nearly complete measuring 40 feet on each side and 90 to 100 feet tall in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Photo taken January 2016. 


CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe

An octagonal tower with a conical feature at its top, located on the northeast side of Subi Reef was nearly complete measuring 40 feet on each side and 90 to 100 feet tall in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime...more

An octagonal tower with a conical feature at its top, located on the northeast side of Subi Reef was nearly complete measuring 40 feet on each side and 90 to 100 feet tall in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Photo taken January 2016. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe
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A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. 


CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. CSIS...more

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe
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A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016.  



CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. CSIS...more

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies shows construction of possible radar tower facilities in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe
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