India on Wednesday urged China not to undertake any actions under a new land boundary law that gives more powers to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), saying it could “unilaterally alter the situation” in the border areas.
The Indian side also expressed concern about the new Chinese law against the backdrop of a dragging military standoff in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), saying the legislation could have implications for the management of the disputed boundary between the two countries.
China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), adopted the “new law on the protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas” on October 23. The legislation gives more powers to the PLA and state agencies to use civilians in border areas as a first line of defence, to strengthen infrastructure, and to build more border towns.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement that “China’s unilateral decision to bring about a legislation that can have implication on our existing bilateral arrangements on border management as well as on the boundary question is of concern to us”.
He added, “We also expect that China will avoid undertaking action under the pretext of this law, which could unilaterally alter the situation in the India-China border areas.”
India has blamed China’s unilateral attempts to alter the status quo in the Ladakh sector of the LAC and the massing of tens of thousands of troops by the Chinese side for the standoff that began in May 2020.
Though the two sides withdrew front-line troops from the north and south banks of Pangong Lake and at Gogra, they have been unable to make headway on disengagement at other friction points.
Following the 13th round of talks between senior military commanders of the two sides on October 10, India said the Chinese side did not agree on its constructive suggestions to resolve the standoff at the remaining areas and also didn’t provide any forward-looking proposals.
Experts believe China’s new land boundary law is aimed at strengthening the PLA’s role in pushing the Chinese side’s 1959 LAC by giving the military greater powers for management of border defences, and at bolstering Chinese claims through the construction of more border towns and supporting infrastructure.
China has reportedly built more than 600 border towns in the Tibet Autonomous Region alone.
Bagchi noted that the new law states that “China abides by treaties concluded with or jointly acceded to by foreign countries on land boundary affairs”, and it also has “provisions to carry out reorganisation of districts in the border areas”.
He said, “It may be noted that India and China have still not resolved the boundary question. Both sides have agreed to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable resolution to the boundary question through consultations on an equal footing.”
India and China have concluded several bilateral agreements, protocols and arrangements to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the interim. The “unilateral move” of adopting the new law “will have no bearing on the arrangements that both sides have already reached earlier, whether it is on the boundary question or for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC”, Bagchi said.
The Indian side also pointed out that the passage of the new law does not “confer any legitimacy to the so-called China Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, which the government of India has consistently maintained is an illegal and invalid agreement”.
India has in the past asserted that Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory, including the Shaksgam valley to China, under the boundary agreement with China. This territory is claimed by India as part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and was controlled by Pakistan at the time of the signing of the treaty.