Dragon’s new land border law has serious implications for our border dispute at the Indo-Tibetan border. This land ‘border law is very comprehensive comprising 62 clauses in seven chapters and would come into effect from the 1st January 2022. Its central theme is that ‘China’s sovereignty and integrity is sacred and inviolable.’
Its four dimensions are noteworthy. First, it gives powers to state to take necessary action against any act that threatens its sovereignty. It stipulates that ‘the state shall take measures to resolutely safeguard territorial integrity and land border security, and guard against and combat any acts that undermine territorial sovereignty and land boundaries.’ Second, it focuses on the need for ‘development of infrastructure at the border, public services and infrastructure in border areas, encouraging and supporting people’s lives and work there, and promoting coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas.’ According to article 43 of the law, “the state supports the construction of border towns, improves the system of border towns, and strengthens the construction of supporting infrastructure.” Third, ‘it gives powers to the Central Military Commission to give directions to relevant military organs for organising, directing and coordinating the defence and control of land borders, maintain social stability, deal with emergencies, and cooperate in border defence.’ Fourth, the law states that ‘the PLA, the armed militia, and local governments support and coordinate border defence, border management, and infrastructure. This underlines coordination among the civil and military organs for the defence of borders.
This is the first time that the People Republic of China, since its coming to power in 1949, has a dedicated law for handling its 22000 km long land-border with 14 countries including India, Russia and North Korea. Currently, it only has border disputes with two countries -India and Bhutan. Hence, there is a need for understanding its ulterior motives behind the promulgation of this law at this juncture.
The broad picture of the Chinese expansionist policy since 1949 helps to decode its intents and also to understand why this law has direct implications for India. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), since coming to power, has adopted a policy of unrestricted expansion in its periphery both on land and sea. Under Mao, China decided to annex Tibet and Xinjiang and declared its intentions to occupy the five fingers- Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunchal Pradesh. In the South China Sea (SCS), a map prepared in 1937, was used to declare that all the islands in the nine-dash-line belonged to China. That China justifies such expansion through its high-voltage propaganda is well-known. The agreements with other countries for border resolutions remain only on paper.
Taking advantage of India’s sentiments generated during mid-1950s by the slogan of Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai, China deceptively occupied eastern Ladakh, called Aksai-Chin, and constructed a road. Then it started the land dispute by declaring that it did not accept the Jonson-Ardagh line. Later, it also did not accept the Macartney–Macdonald Line, which it had informally accepted till 1959. Subsequently, China occupied Lingzitang Plains to the west of this line. However, at that time they left the Chip Chap Valley and Galwan Valley. After the 1962 war, China changed the LAC which included these two areas and began to push westwards beyond Samzungling and Khurnak Fort by anywhere 10 to 100 kms. Since then, the Chinese intruding parties often destroy Indian bunkers at the patrolling points and obstruct patrols to reach to the Indian patrolling points. In 2020, it used force to occupy the tGalwan Valley. From 2006, China has started claiming the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
The current law is intended to provide with a legal framework to its aggressive patrolling, destruction of the Indian bunkers in the disputed region and construction of dual use villages along the border. It was doing this in any case, but now PLA, militia and local governments have been given legal authority to do so. Its claim lines both in South China Sea and along the Indo-Tibetan Border have witnessed expansion.
It may be mentioned that earlier this year, China had promulgated a new Coast Guard law. The strong language of both the laws are similar, hence a look at the implementation of Coast Guard law is relevant to understand the implications of the new land border law. The Coast Guard law was aimed at giving it more authority ‘to prevent infringement on China’s sovereignty and maritime rights.’ It gives the rights to use force under Article 22: “When national sovereignty, sovereign rights, or jurisdiction is being illegally violated at sea by a foreign organization or individual, or is in imminent danger of illegal violation, a coast guard agency shall have the power to take all necessary measures including the use of weapons to stop the violation and eliminate the danger according to this Law and other applicable laws and regulations.” The law gives it the power to “take all necessary measures including the use of weapons” to stop not just an ongoing violation, but even an “imminent danger” of violation. It specifically authorizes such force in the case of illegal production activities such as fishing only when a foreign ship enters the waters under the jurisdiction of China to illegally engage in production activities, refuses to obey an order to stop or refuses to accept boarding or inspection by other means, and the use of other measures is insufficient to stop the illegal act. This law was intended to justify its encroachment into the EEZs of other nations, aggressive actions against the vessels of other nations and holding of threatening military exercises. Since the promulgation of this law, the Coast Guard has become more aggressive in the SCS.
This Chinese law for land border portends a grim picture about its likely actions on the border. The following approach by China could be seen in future. First, China has delinked the border resolution with overall bilateral relationship- aa approach which has been repeatedly stated the Indian External Affairs Minister. Second, it would intensify building of infrastructure in the disputed areas and later would claim them presenting a fait accompli. The Chinese militia, which would be occupying most of the border villages, would aggressively advance in the disputed areas for extending the Chinese claims. Third, China would now maintain its threatening military presence along the border. This would also mean that China would now further harden its stance on border negotiations. At the 13th Commander level meeting China had adopted an extremely hard posture. The recent reports indicate that China has deployed 100 missiles along the LAC. Hence, any further progress appears to be difficult on disengagement or de-escalation.
India needs to take appropriate steps to ensure that China is not successful in altering the LAC unilaterally. India has strongly conveyed its concerns to China and pointed out that China should abide by the five agreements on the LAC. While India has matched its deployment, it should also identify the strategic points where deployment needs to be further increased. India should be very cautious in accepting ‘no patrol areas’ even temporarily as China, sooner or later, would try to occupy these areas. While China appears to be not interested in moving further on de-escalation and disengagement at the current juncture, India may use its levers to press China to resolve the border issue at the earliest. Alongside, India should take effective steps to make further progress on the free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. A more proactive approach in the South China Sea with the cooperation of ASEAN is called for. It should also be kept in view that the normalisation of relations is not possible in short term. Therefore, India must have a well-chalked-out long-term strategy to deal with China.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.