The land border law: what does it mean for India-China relations?

admin January 5, 2022
Updated 2022/01/05 at 3:16 PM

China’s new land border law, which was passed on October 23, took effect on January 1. This has occurred at a time when the border standoff in eastern Ladakh remains unresolved, China has renamed several locations in Arunachal Pradesh as part of its claim to the Indian state, and the Chinese Embassy in Delhi has written to Indian MPs, including a minister, who attended a dinner reception hosted by the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.

What is the land border law?

The National People’s Congress’s Standing Committee passed a law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas.”

According to the law, “China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred and inviolable,” and the government must “take steps to defend territorial integrity and land borders and guard against and resist any conduct that undermines them,” according to the official news agency Xinhua.

It directs the government 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 lives and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social and economic development in border areas.” This implies that it promotes the growth of civilian communities along the border.

According to Xinhua, the law also requires the state to adhere to the principles of “equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation” and to “manage land border-related affairs with neighbouring countries through discussions to appropriately settle disputes and long-standing border issues.”

The law specifies four conditions in which the state may take emergency actions, including border closure.

What was China’s purpose for bringing it?

Several factors, according to Shuxian Luo, a post-doctoral scholar at the Brookings Institute’s John L Thornton China Centre in Washington, DC, may have prompted China’s decision.

She added that “first, this law reflects Beijing’s heightened worries about the security of its land border while it grapples with a spate of unresolved maritime conflicts.” Recent skirmishes on the Sino-Indian border may have served as a reminder to Beijing that, as a traditional land-sea power, it must always be prepared to deal with challenges in both the continental and marine domains.

The COVID-19 pandemic “further emphasises the need for Beijing to tighten its grip on its porous land border. The rule also “reflects Beijing’s thinly-veiled concerns about the safety of its hinterland bordering Central Asia,” as the US troop departure and Taliban control “aggravated Beijing’s anxieties that Afghanistan may become a centre for terrorism and extremism that could extend to Xinjiang.”

Domestic politics, she adds, may have also played a role in President Xi Jinping’s standing ahead of the 20th Party Congress later this year, when he would secure a third term.

Is it a worry for India?

Despite the fact that the law is not intended expressly for India, it is certain to have an effect. After the borders with Mongolia and Russia, China and India have a disputed 3,488-kilometer border, the third-longest among China’s 22,457-kilometer land borders with 14 countries. The only other country with which China has a disputed land border is Bhutan (477 km).

There is a growing belief that China has been blocking further talks on the eastern Ladakh impasse in order for this new law to take effect. The last time the Corps Commanders met was in October. China refused to disengage from Patrol Point 15 at Hot Springs, which India had hoped for. The conference did not even produce a joint statement, as has been the case for the majority of previous meetings. The round meeting’s date has yet to be set, amid worries that the Chinese delegation may try to use the new law to strengthen their existing positions.

Apart from PP15, China is preventing Indian forces from entering the Depsang Plains’ traditional patrolling limits—PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12, and PP13. In Demchok, some “so-called civilians” have set up camp on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control and refuse to vacate it.

Another stumbling block might be a new law, which forbids permanent infrastructure near the border without China’s consent. Since the standoff started, both India and China have accelerated the construction of new roads, bridges, and other infrastructure; in fact, China had previously objected to India’s workers.

What effect may this have on India-China ties?

There is still a split in opinion. Regardless of the new law, much depends on China’s actions.

According to some observers, the new law will cause China to dig in its heels in both the current stalemate and the larger border dispute. Others believe the new law is only a tool for the Chinese government to use if it so desires since the government’s actions have been aggressive even before the law was enacted.

According to a November Brookings study, Beijing “seems to be expressing determination to settle the border conflicts on its chosen terms.” The law establishes an overall tone of resolve upfront. “

The law, according to Gautam Bambawale, who served as India’s ambassador to China from 2017 to 2018 and has worked with Beijing for much longer, just “says the obvious,” since “any government is in the business of safeguarding its territorial integrity. The main issue is what is your area, and that’s where we disagree. ” He added that their activities in eastern Ladakh were plainly expressing that they were weary of attempting to fix the border or the LAC through dialogue; they were suggesting that they would accomplish it by the use of force.

The recently retired Army Major General Ashok Kumar said in a December issue brief for the research tank Centre for Land Warfare Studies that the new legislation is China’s “latest move to unilaterally define and demarcate territorial borders with India and Bhutan.” The law would have “significant repercussions for India because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in combination with the expedited building of 624 “Xiaokong” communities along and within the disputed land borders with India, has established circumstances for a “militarized solution” to the boundary issue.”

What are these villages, and how do they relate to the new laws?

The new regulation pushes China to develop “well-off” border defence communities throughout the LAC in all sectors. Last July, President Xi visited a Tibetan village near the Arunachal Pradesh border.

Even before the law was passed, Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Manoj Pande, who is in charge of the 1,346-kilometer LAC from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh, said in October: “According to their own policy or strategy, model villages have come up near the border… for us, it is a matter of concern how they can make dual civil and military use of these facilities and villages.”

“If you [China] start having settled population on the other side, creeping across what we [India] feel is our border, at some point later, when you start discussing the border between the two sides, they will say we [China] have settled population in this area,” former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen D S Hooda said.

On the other hand, Bambawale claims that China has already been doing so: “The law is not a necessary condition to be allowed to do that.”

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