BEIJING (AP) — China is building a school on a remote island in the South China Sea to serve the 40-odd children of military personnel and others living there as part of its campaign to strengthen claims to disputed waters also claimed by Vietnam, Philippines and other nations.

China established a settlement called Sansha — which has a permanent population of 1,443 people — two years ago on tiny Yongxing island to administer hundreds of thousands of square kilometers (miles) of ocean.

The island is part of the Paracel chain, which is also claimed by Vietnam and about 350 kilometers (220 miles) from China’s southernmost province.

The Sansha government said in a statement that construction on the school started Saturday and was expected to take 18 months.