China’s New Border Law: An Expansion Attempt Against India?
Ever since the standoff between India and China took place in the Eastern Ladakh region, the Chinese side has constantly been taking some or the other actions, be it intensifying patrolling along the LAC (Line of Actual Control), building border infrastructure or passing a new border law altogether. While Chinese border law isn’t directly linked to the India-China border, the new law can create problems in the resolution of the 17-month-long military standoff between both sides.
China’s New Border Law
On 23rd October 2021, China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress, passed a new land law for protecting the country’s land border areas that will come into effect from 1st January 2022. The new Chinese border law states: “The sovereignty and territorial integrity of China are sacred and inviolable and (state) can take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines (these),”
The law further states to take steps “to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, improve public services and infrastructure in such areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas.”
Though the law (in effect) suggests states to settle civilians in the border areas, it also states to “follow principles of equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation, handle land border related-affairs with neighbouring countries through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and longstanding border issues.”
India’s Response To China’s New Border Law
Reacting sharply to the new border law, India’s External Ministry issued a statement: “China’s unilateral decision to bring about legislation which can have an implication on our existing bilateral arrangements on border management as well as on the boundary question is of concern to us. Such unilateral move will have no bearing on the arrangements that both sides have already reached earlier, whether it is on the boundary question or for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC in India-China Border areas,”
“We also expect that China will avoid undertaking action under the pretext of this law which could unilaterally alter the situation in the India-China border areas,” added MEA.
Meanwhile, Lt Gen D S Hooda (retd), who has in the past commanded the Northern Command, said: “With this new law, I don’t see the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) pulling back from any other area. The PLA is now bound to protect the integrity the sovereignty of the border. Why should you want to pass a law in the midst of an ongoing standoff? You are clearly sending a message… Now that they have made…a law, how does it reconcile with an agreement tomorrow? Going forward, the negotiations will become more difficult,”
Most experts feel that the concern is not what the Chinese law says but what the side ultimately does on the ground.
China’s Border Disputes
China mainly shares its 22,457-km border with 14 countries, including India. The Chinese side shares its longest border with Mongolia, followed by Russia and India. However, China does not have any border dispute with Mongolia or Russia, unlike with India. Apart from India, China has border disputes with Bhutan as well.
Is China’s Border Law A Concern For India?
Though the Chinese have constantly justified the step as an ‘internal matter‘, the measures come amid India’s abrogation of Article 370, leading to the creation of a Union Territory in Ladakh, a move China heavily opposed as it included the Aksai Chin region. During the last talks regarding LAC that took place on 10th October, none of the sides came out in the agreement. While Beijing blamed India for making unrealistic demands, New Delhi too countered, saying that the other side did not offer any real proposal for a solution. Since China has often indulged in double-dealing, the new Chinese border law might be a clear indication for New Delhi to understand the sub-currents of the law and act to minimize possible risks to India’s territorial integrity.
In the backdrop of previous actions of China regarding the India-China border, including the Galwan Valley standoff, the Doklam crisis and its activities along with the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh, the passing of the new border law might worry India and attract defensive actions from New Delhi. In order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with China, India might have to start developing strategies to build formidable frontier highways and other defence-related steps.
China’s Aggressive Actions On Border Areas
Time and again, the Chinese side has proved its intention of acquiring territories or simply declaring them disputed if much cry is done. If India is considering China’s past behaviour, it should keenly observe the Chinese side’s covert and overt actions. China’s new border law needs more than regular brushing, more so, a critical reading.