Vietnam has protested a new Chinese law aimed at protecting the nation's islands, including the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, local media reported Wednesday.
'Vietnam has time and again affirmed its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos,' Vietnam News quoted government spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga as saying.
'All activities of other countries, including the promulgation of legal regulations relating to these archipelagos and Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf, are of no legal value.'
Nga made her comments in response to queries about Vietnam's reaction to the passage of a law on sea island protection approved by the Chinese National People's Congress Standing Committee Dec 26.
According to the law, China is to strengthen the protection of the ecosystem, the rational utilisation of natural resources and sustainable development on the country's islands.
The law bans all construction projects, tree felling and tourism activities on uninhabited islands. It also prohibits activities that could damage coral and coral reefs.
The new law puts China's State Oceanic Administration and its branches in charge of monitoring compliance.
China claims more than 6,900 islands, each having an area of over 500 square metres and more than 10,000 smaller islets, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
China has occupied the Paracel Islands since 1974, when its troops overwhelmed a South Vietnamese garrison occupying the islands.
Both Vietnam and China are signatories to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It commits the parties to resolving the islands' status through negotiations and provides for freedom of navigation.
Vietnam and China generally enjoy close relations, but the conflict over maritime resources is a persistent source of tension. Each country submitted maritime territorial claims to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in early May and rejected the other's claims shortly afterward.
The South China Sea is believed to contain substantial undersea oil reserves.