BEIJING : China has begun building a school on the contested Paracel islands, state media reported, as the Asian giant further asserts its claims in escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea.The school on Chinese-held Sansha or Woody Island will serve about 40 children whose parents work there, the official news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday, adding that construction will cost about 36 million yuan ($5.8 million) and take a year and a half. China established Sansha as a city in 2012 to administer a wide swathe of waters and islands in the South China Sea, creating an oddity that is by far the world’s largest city by area but has a minuscule population of around 1,000 people. Parts of the South China Sea, which is home to key shipping routes and is believed to sit atop vast gas deposits, are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. But Beijing claims the waters almost in their entirety and is engaged in increasingly bitter rows with its neighbours over their sovereignty.China placed an oil rig in disputed waters near the Paracel islands in May, sparking deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam. Sansha hosts a military garrison and this year began setting up a patrol system intended in part to “safeguard national sovereign rights”. Expanded infrastructure and tourism are in the works, domestic media have reported. Relations between China and Vietnam have plummeted over the oil rig row, with Beijing saying on Friday that Vietnamese ships have rammed its vessels more than 1,500 times since early last month.