North Korea is building artificial islands in the Yellow Sea and topping them with what appear to be military installations, satellite images reveal.

The development suggests that North Korea has taken a cue from China, which has been stoking regional tensions by building and militarizing several artificial islands in the South China Sea in recent years. The images show that North Korea has been working for at least five years on the islands near Sohae, about 70 miles northwest of Pyongyang, the capital. Sohae is known as a testing site for intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

As late as 2012, three of the islands, which are scattered around a small peninsula jutting into the Yellow Sea, were rocky, tree-studded specks; two were patches of sand. In Google Earth images from December 2016, all appear to contain features consistent with military installations, such as wide roads and paved, rectangular lots. All are in North Korea’s waters, close to the country’s shoreline.

Their purpose remains unclear. North Korea could use the islands for ballistic missile launches, anti-aircraft weapons, anti-ship weapons — or even for agriculture, with no military purpose in mind.

 

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