The Spratly Islands are basically mounds of sand in the middle of the South China Sea, some of them barely tall enough to reach above the water. But China is hell-bent on making them inhabitable, even drawing up plans for floating energy and water plants. It has nothing to do with the islands themselves and everything to do with the water around it.
The South China Sea is one of the most disputed areas of the world, with China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia all claiming various chunks of it. The sea encompasses valuable shipping routes into Asia and holds vast amounts of untapped oil and gas reserves. You bet China wants a share of that.
But there’s a problem for China, which is that the islands it controls are not real islands long inhabited by people. They’re more like sandy atolls. That hasn’t stopped China though, which come up with creative ways to bolster their islands. They’re dumping sand onto reefs to create new islands and building a military base right in the middle of it all.