China’s Border Law: The Why, What & What Next

Synopsis: The new land border law of China has its ramifications for India and therefore steps are needed to be taken by India.

Introduction

People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) passed a new law for strengthening China’s border security management, will go into effect by January 1, 2022.

Operationally, it enjoins the Chinese military to carry out border drills and provides state support for construction of border towns, strengthening of border defences and better integration of populations inhabiting border areas.

It standardises how China patrols its massive 22,100 km land boundaries and borders with 14 countries.

What led to the formation of this law?

First, the ongoing China-India military standoff in eastern Ladakh,“Go West” campaign in 1999-China has  improved its land and rail connectivity to support its border infrastructure.

Second, China is concerned about illegal migration from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Central Asian countries, especially worried after US withdrew its forces from Afghanistan. UNSC’s report highlights that the ‘East Turkistan Islamic Movement’ fighters are also in Badakhshan province(northern Afghanistan) – next door to Xinjiang via the Wakhan Corridor. China worries about the possible spillover from Afghanistan, destabilising the restive Xinjiang Autonomous Administrative Region.

Third, China also worries about illegal immigration from Vietnam and Myanmar, which could perhaps bring more Covid-19 cases into the country.

What are the implications for India?

Impact on boundary dispute resolution – India-China border standoff resulting from Chinese encroachment of eastern Ladakh has little chance of bilateral resolution.

Demography of border areas – The new border law is in sync with the policy of settlement of Han Chinese in newly constructed Chinese border towns,which till now is dominated by ethnic minorities, cannot be ruled out. Such a development is bound to significantly change the border dynamics with India.

The “dual civil and military use” of border villages is thus a concern for India as it would lead to border population creeping in Indian areas. Later during discussion on the border between the two sides, China can claim to have settled population in this area.

The land border law encourages Chinese border personnel to continue indulging in the use of force along the land borders – especially with India and Bhutan – with added legal protection and legitimacy.

Law gives the responsibility of the border clearly to the PLA with a lack of clarity on who among the Ministries of Home and Defence is responsible for border management.

What steps should be taken by India?

In short term:

The temporary on-ground adjustments like the establishment of the no-patrolling zone at Pangong Tso should be continued.

India needs to deploy its army along the LAC in sizeable strength and for extended durations to prevent further Chinese ingress.

China’s bordering countries – especially India and Bhutan – need to be cautious about the intensification of Chinese activities along the disputed borders and see the evolving role of different PLA services and border defence units under PLA’s new joint operational military guidelines.

In long term:

India should rethink the possibility of a ‘modus vivendi’ with Beijing as an aggressive, inflexible and belligerent China is here to stay.

Source: This post is based on the articles “China’s Border Law: The Why, What & What Next” published in “Times of India” on 26th October 2021 and “Beijing’s Message” published in “Times of India” on 26th October 2021.

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