Subi reef. (Photo courtesy of Daily Inquirer)

BEIJING — Sometimes you’ve got to see it to truly believe it. That is certainly true of a remarkable set of pictures published by a Philippine newspaper this week.

For years now, we’ve read about Chinese land reclamation and building in the contested waters of the South China Sea — construction that has put Beijing at odds with many of its Asian neighbors, as well as the United States.

Subi reef. (Photo courtesy of Daily Inquirer)

In 2016, an international tribunal ruled that China’s expansive maritime claims had no legal basis. But Beijing kept building, insisting repeatedly that it was all for civilian, not military, purposes. 

Few outside China buy that. Foreign experts, most notably the people at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, were left to scour grainy satellite images for proof. Finally, we have better pictures.

Subi reef. (Photo courtesy of Daily Inquirer)

The Philippine Daily Inquirer this week published a set of exclusive photographs that show what China is up to in three dimensions and vivid color. 

The images, which were given to the paper by an unknown individual, were reportedly shot between June and December 2017, from an estimated height of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). 

Mischief reef. (Photo courtesy of Daily Inquirer)

“This is the most complete, detailed batch of aerial pics available of China’s [South China Sea] military outposts,” tweeted Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The authenticity of the photos has not been independently confirmed by The Washington Post, though what the images show appears consistent with what has been spotted before. 

Johnson South reef. (Photo courtesy of Daily Inquirer)

While the buildings and boats seen in the photographs are not news, seeing them up-close is striking. In satellite images, bases, radars and runways look like fuzzy rectangles. In these pictures, they look like bases, radars and runways. 

The pictures will not change China’s position, nor are they likely to shape the U.S. response. But for those following the conflict from a distance, they provide a revealing glimpse of what is happening on these distant rocks and reef — and it sure does not look civilian. 

Fiery Cross reef. (Courtesy of Daily Inquirer)

Take a look for yourself. And read more about the South China Sea conflict here.