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International relations

Vietnam protests China's new South China Sea districts

Move seen as effort to tighten grip on disputed waters amid coronivirus fight

Construction on disputed Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea is seen here in 2015: China's neighbors are worred about Beijing's efforts to assert control of the strategic waterway.    © AP

BEIJING/HANOI -- Vietnam has lodged a formal protest following China's announcement the previous day that it is setting up two administrative units on islands in the South China Sea.

"The establishment of the so-called Sansha City and related activities are a grave violation of Vietnam's sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement on Sunday. "Vietnam demands that China respect Vietnam's sovereignty and abolish its wrongful decisions."

China's Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Saturday that it had approved the establishment of the Xisha and Nansha districts, subdivisions of the city of Sansha on Hainan Island. Xisha will govern the Paracels and surrounding waters, while Nansha will cover the Spratly Islands and adjacent waters.

Beijing has asserted that islands in the South China Sea islands fall under the jurisdiction of Sansha, in Hainan Province, which lies hundreds of kilometers to the northwest. The Xisha district will be administered from Woody Island, while the Nansha district will be run from Fiery Cross Reef. China has been beefing up its military assets on the two islands.

Earlier this month, the U.S. government expressed serious concern after a Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracels.

China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported in mid-April that Chinese warships, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning, had passed between Japan's Okinawa Island and Miyakojima, headed for the South China Sea via the Bassie Strait, which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The move drew criticism from China's neighbors, who worry about Beijing's efforts to assert control over the disputed waters while they are preoccupied with fighting the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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