New city to run disputed island chains
China has approved a plan to establish a new city to administer three disputed island chains in the South China Sea, in its latest attempt to step up its territorial claims in the region.
The State Council's announcement came as Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned Nguyen Van Tho, Vietnam's ambassador to China, to protest against a new Vietnamese law governing the contested Paracel and Spratly island chains.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs said a new prefecture-level city named Sansha would be established to manage the Spratly, Paracel and Macclesfield Bank island chains and their surrounding waters. Its local government will be based on Woody Island, also known as Yongxing Island, which is part of the Paracels.
A ministry spokesman said the establishment of Sansha would help improve 'administrative management' on the three islands and their future development.
'It is also conducive to protecting the oceanic environment of the South China Sea,' the spokesman said, adding that China first discovered and named the reefs, islets and the surrounding waters of the three islands.
China, he said, had long exercised sovereign control over the area.
Analysts said the announcement was a response to Vietnam's new law, but one described Beijing's move as being more symbolic than an effective way of deterring Hanoi.
'It is just a display of sovereignty rather than a concrete move,' said Du Jifeng, an expert in Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 'But it paves the way for China to send more people to administer the islands in the future.'
Zhuang Guotu, director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, said Sansha would facilitate China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
'The management of the islands is conducted by different government bodies now, such as oceanic authorities,' Zhang said. 'The management can be more concentrated on the setting up of a new city. The city government can send ships to protect sovereignty and can take legal action in the future.'
Vietnam's National Assembly yesterday approved a law stipulating that all foreign ships passing through the disputed waters must notify Vietnamese authorities.
China's deputy foreign minister then summoned Vietnam's ambassador to protest that Vietnam's law was a 'serious violation' and demanded an 'immediate correction'.
'Vietnam's maritime law, declaring sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly islands, seriously violate China's territorial sovereignty. China expresses its resolute and vehement opposition,' Zhang Zhijun was quoted in a Foreign Ministry statement as saying.
Du compared China's row with Vietnam to tensions with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal.
'The use of legal means to claim sovereignty may be the first aggressive move by Vietnam,' he said.