Last Saturday, China passed a new Land Border Law to protect and maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its border areas. Coming amid the ongoing border stand-off between India and China in the eastern Ladakh sector since April 2020, the new law aimed specifically at protecting the sovereignty might be significant. The last round of military commanders' talks between the two nations broke down, though both sides agreed to meet again at an unspecified time.
Why the new law at this time is a question for which there are no easy answers.
This is the first time that China has passed a law dealing with its land boundaries. It broadly spells out how these regions are governed. The new law says that people living in the border areas shall support border patrol and control activities undertaken by the military. It bans ordinary citizens from building permanent structures near the border without approval from the authorities. No civilian is allowed to fly drones in the sensitive border region. Incidentally, the law also says that weapons can be used against those illegally crossing the border.
The People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police Force are responsible for guarding the border. China has a huge landmass and its border is roughly 22,000 kilometres which it shares with 14-other countries. However, Beijing has resolved the border issues with all but India and Bhutan. Now, the country is all set to settle its border disputes with Bhutan, with the recent virtual MoU signed between the two countries. This would make India the only major power with which China has not resolved its boundary problem. What is more, there are no signs that China is ready to do so as it refuses to acknowledge the McMahon Line and is bent on expanding its territory. The signal from China is that it will not compromise and the boundary talks will go nowhere unless India is willing to accept China’s demands. So India-China tension along the land border can be expected to remain constant.
Former ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale does not read too much into the new laws. "It does not change anything on the ground. If this was meant to send a message to India, it has fallen flat. After all, every country talks about protecting its borders and its sovereignty. China does it, so does India. What is of concern is bringing in troops and soldiers to our borders and making incursions, not a Border Law.’’ Ambassador Bambawale agrees that the India-China boundary dispute is complicated and the exchange of territory is tough for both sides.
The new law which calls for close monitoring of border areas may also have been devised with an eye on Afghanistan. China is concerned about members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), many of who are in Afghanistan and can slip through into its restive Xinjiang province, where Muslim Uyghur’s have chafed under Chinese rule. Beijing has developed good relations with the Taliban and has got an assurance that the ETIM will not be allowed to use Afghan territory against China. However as yet the Taliban’s control over several outlying regions in Afghanistan remains tenuous, and China is ensuring that the border remains well guarded on its side.
China is under tremendous pressure from the US and other Western nations for widespread rights violations of the Uyghurs. Thousands have been taken away for what authorities say is re-education. The new law comes into effect on January 1, 2022. ends