The image is quite romantic at first glance: Six Buddhist monks have set sail from Vietnam, destined for the chain of rocky atolls and reefs that make up the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It’s a desolate archipelago with no indigenous inhabitants that plays host to a few scattered military bases belonging to five of the six Asian entities claiming this territory. (China, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia all have remote outposts on the larger of the archipelago’s atolls.) The Vietnamese monks will refurbish and live in Buddhist pagodas, abandoned in the 1970s but now seen as some kind of colonization tool.The monks have been dispatched by “local authorities in the southern province of Khanh Hoa, which exercises administrative responsibility for the islands on behalf of Vietnam. It has also paid for the refurbishment of the island shrines.”In the giant chess match of the Great Game in Asia, this is an understated move, perhaps, but a move nonetheless. Six monks re-establishing a Vietnamese cultural outpost on remote, disputed islands where no one really lives should not be a threatening gesture. But it is strategic and creative effort to tie these islands into Vietnam’s cultural and religious legacy and to establish a living presence that could underpin Vietnam’s territorial claims. That will irk the other countries that claim this archipelago.