China, Vietnam Escalate South China Sea Row

China may have gained a weather-induced respite from its South China Sea rift with the Philippines last week, but the conflict steams on with its other neighbors. The New York Times reports that China’s foreign ministry summoned the Vietnamese ambassador to protest a his country’s new law claiming sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly Islands:

‘‘Vietnam’s Maritime Law, declaring sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, is a serious violation of China’s territorial sovereignty,’’ a ministry statement said. ‘‘China expresses its resolute and vehement opposition.’’

The dispute between China and Vietnam over the law, which had been in the works for years, is the latest example of Beijing’s determination to tell its Asian neighbors that the South China Sea is China’s preserve.

The Chinese statement comes two weeks before a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which will be attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and where the South China Sea dispute is expected to be high on the agenda.

China shot back diplomatically by raising the administrative status of a group of islands that includes the Spratlys (Xisha), Paracels (Nansha) and Macclesfield (Zhongsha), Zhongsha and Nansha islands, according to Xinhua News:

The council has abolished the county-level Administration Office for Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands, which was also stationed on Yongxing Island, the statement said.

A spokesperson of the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Thursday that the setting up of Sansha city will help to improve China’s “administrative management on Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their future development.”

“It is also conducive to protecting the oceanic environment of the South China Sea,” the spokesperson said.

China first discovered and named the reefs, islets and the surrounding waters of Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands, and has exercised sovereignty control continuously over the area, the spokesperson said.