China’s border law and India

  • IASbaba
  • January 3, 2022
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  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
  • GS-2: India and its neighbourhood

China’s border law and India

Context: China’s new law on land borders, passed on October 23, came into effect on January 1. 

  • This has happened at a time when the border standoff in eastern Ladakh remains unresolved, when China has renamed several places in Arunachal Pradesh as part of its claim on the Indian state.

What is the new law?

  • The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress passed the law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas”.
  • Under the law, “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of… China are sacred and inviolable”, and the state needs to “take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines these”.
  • It mandates the state to take measures “to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas”. 
  • This means that it is encouraging the development of villages for civilians in the border areas.
  • However, the law also asks the state to follow the 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.
  • The law lays down four conditions under which the state can impose emergency measures, including border shutdown.

Why did China bring it?

  • This law reflects Beijing’s renewed concerns over the security of its land border while it confronts a number of unsettled disputes on its maritime front.
  • The confrontations on the Sino-Indian borders in recent years may have reminded Beijing that as a classic land-sea power China must always ready itself to cope with threats in both the continental and maritime domains.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic also underscores the imperative for Beijing to exert greater control over its somewhat porous land border. 
  • Also, the law reflects Beijing’s worries about the stability of its hinterland bordering Central Asia as the withdrawal of the US forces and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan that may become a hotbed for terrorism and extremism that could spread to Xinjiang

Does it concern India?

  • Although the law is not meant specifically for India, it is bound to have some impact. 
  • China and India share a disputed 3,488-km boundary, the third longest among China’s 22,457-km land boundaries with 14 countries, after the borders with Mongolia and Russia. 
  • Besides India, Bhutan (477 km) is the only other country with which China has a disputed land border.
  • There is a growing suspicion that China may have been stalling further negotiations on the standoff in eastern Ladakh for this new law to come into force. 
  • India had hoped that China would agree to disengage from Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs, which it did not. It is seen in the context of Chinese delegation trying to use the new law to bolster their existing positions.
  • Another sticking point could be that the new law prohibits construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border without China’s permission. Both, India and China have been building new roads, bridges and other facilities faster since the standoff began; in fact, China had objected to India’s workers even before.

What impact can it have on India-China relations?

  • The view is still divided. Much depends on China’s actions, regardless of the new law.
  • Some experts feel the new law will make China work towards the ongoing standoff as well as for resolution of the larger boundary issue. 
    • It is said “Beijing appears to be signaling determination to resolve the border disputes on its preferred terms. The law sets an overall tone of resolve upfront.”
  • Others feel the new law is only a tool China government will use if it wants, as its actions have been aggressive even before this law. It is viewed that the law has created conditions for a ‘militarised solution’ to the boundary issue.
    • Gautam Bambawale, who was India’s ambassador to China in 2017-18 says that the law only states the obvious and that the Chinese are clearly indicating that they are tired of trying to resolve the boundary or the LAC through negotiations; they’re indicating they’ll do it through use of force.”
  • China has been building “well-off” border defence villages across the LAC in all sectors, which the new law encourages. As a result, when India starts discussing the border between the two sides, they will say we [China] have settled population in this area thus making the claim much stronger.

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