China has for the first time enacted a national law on the “protection and exploitation” of the country’s land border areas with the timing of the move significant given that it continues to be at loggerheads with India over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the two countries. Chinese media said the new law “aims to better maintain national security and manage border-related matters at the legal level amid regional tensions” with experts noting it amounts to an attempt to base its actions along its disputed land borders on a more formal footing. Here’s what we know.
What Does The Law Say?
German state media DW said the new law, which comes into effect from January 1 next year, mandates China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to counter any “invasion, encroachment, infiltration, [or] provocation” along the country’s land borders and also lays down a legal framework for hard border closures if the need arises.
The Chinese Communist Party-controlled newspaper China Daily said the law states requires the Chinese government to take measures to “strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas”.
Towards that end, it calls for improvements in public services and infrastructure in such areas to “encourage and support people’s life and work there”. This can be read in the context of China looking to settle disputed frontier areas through heavy investment in infrastructure. Recent reports have pointed to how “dual use” border villages have cropped up to facilitate the peopling and patrolling of such areas. The new law, reports said, will “promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas”.
Japanese daily Nikkei said that the law also says citizens and organisations shall support border patrol and control activities and that the People’s Armed Police Force and the Public Security Bureau can be deployed to guard borders along with the PLA.
What Does It Mean For India?
The Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times pointed to “frictions with India” as being among the regional tensions that form the backdrop against which the new law has been adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, authoritarian China’s top law-making body.
Reports suggest that the law has a wide ambit vis-a-vis border affairs and “clarifies the leadership system, government responsibilities and military tasks in territorial border work, the delineation and surveying of land borders, the defence and management of land borders and frontiers, and the international cooperation on land border affairs”. China shares land borders stretching to a cumulative 22,000km with 14 countries with disputes arising out of a mismatch between its historical perception of its territory and ground realities.
The Union Home Ministry says India shares a 3,488km border with China that extends from Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast to Jammu & Kashmir in the north. However, it notes that “the border is not fully demarcated and the process of clarifying and confirming the LAC is in progress”. Differences over the perception regarding the LAC have fuelled routine standoffs between Chinese and Indian soldiers.
Chinese media said that the border law lays down that Beijing shall follow “the principle of equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation” and engage with neighbouring countries “through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and long-standing border issues”.
The land border law also points to “measures to protect the stability of cross-border rivers and lakes”, which Nikkei says is “believed to have been made with India in mind”. Noting the importance to India of the Brahmaputra river, which has its source in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, it said it could be the case that “China’s government is flirting with the possibility of limiting the volume of water during conflicts, citing ‘protection and reasonable use’ as stipulated in the law”.
What’s The Status Of The LAC Dispute?
Following the incursion by Chinese soldiers across the LAC in eastern Ladakh in May last year, the two countries have been engaged in military-level talks to defuse tensions amid massive troop deployment on both sides of the disputed border.
While there has been disengagement in the Galwan Valley — where Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed with blunt weapons in June last year — Pangong Lake and Gogra, the impasse continues in the Hot Springs and Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, which the 13th and latest round of talks between Chinese and Indian army corps commanders earlier in October failed to resolve.
Even as the two armies still have 50,000 to 60,000 troops each in eastern Ladakh, there were reports of fresh incursions by PLA troops in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and in Uttarakhand.
Talking in Delhi earlier in October, Army chief MM Naravane said that the continuing troop build-up was “a matter of concern” and noted “if they (PLA) are there to stay, we are there to stay too”.
Reports say that India and Bhutan are the two countries with which China is yet to finalise border agreements while it has resolved its boundary disputes with 12 other neighbours. On October 14 though, China and Bhutan signed an MoU that laid down a three-step roadmap for expediting the boundary negotiations.