Editorial: China’s border law raises concerns

China’s new Land Border Law, ostensibly aimed at standardising the patrolling activities on its borders, signals the country’s growing belligerence and aggression. India, which has a 3,488-km long unsettled border with China, has every reason to worry about the new development as it comes in the wake of the recent border standoff and Beijing’s recalcitrant approach towards resolving border disputes. The law, which comes into effect from January 2022, covers a massive 22,100 km land boundaries and borders with 14 countries. Clearly, China is determined to assert sovereignty over the disputed regions, in utter disregard of international opinion. As a result, New Delhi must be prepared to deal with increasing aggression and muscle-flexing by China. The new law, the first such policy move in the country’s modern history, is in tune with the expansionist ideology of Xi Jinping and his team. Operationally, it fully empowers the Chinese military to carry out border drills and provides state support for the construction of border towns, strengthening of border defences and better integration of populations inhabiting border areas. It means that China is looking to legally formalise its claims over its disputed land borders by building permanent infrastructure and control systems in these areas. Given the aggressive posturing by the communist nation, the hopes of an early resolution of the border dispute in eastern Ladakh are bound to recede in the days ahead. China had started construction of at least 13 entirely new military positions, including three air bases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports near the LAC in the aftermath of the Doklam standoff in 2017.

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By its aggressive military posturing and actions since May last year, China has demonstrated that it wants to settle the boundary disputes with India through use of force. However, Indian soldiers gave them a befitting response. Since then, there is a clear deterioration in the bilateral relationship. The new border law appears to be part of a strategy to significantly change the border dynamics with India. Last June, Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed at the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh. India lost 20 soldiers, while the number of Chinese casualties is not yet clear. Last September, during a meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, both sides agreed to revisit the five existing border agreements and review confidence-building measures. However, the recent round of military talks between the two countries collapsed because of the rigid stance adopted by the Chinese side which shot down several constructive suggestions made by Indian commanders to reduce tensions along the border. Going forward, the negotiations for disengagement are bound to become more difficult.

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