Ground Report | New Delhi: Chinese New Border Policy; On Saturday, the 23rd of October 2021, the Chinese Defense Ministry passed a new law to protect and strengthen the borders amid a protracted standoff with India, worries about spillover effects from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and the spread of COVID-19 from Southeast Asia.
Chinese New Border Policy
The Land Borders Law will not necessarily change how border security is handled when the measure takes effect on Jan 1 but it will reflect China’s growing confidence in its capability to manage its frontiers. The development comes a few days after China signed a memorandum of understanding with Bhutan. The MoU speaks of a three-step roadmap for a settlement of the China-Bhutan boundary dispute.
According to Reuters, “China is maintaining caution and is on high alert along with the border areas with Afghanistan ever since the Taliban came into power in August, to guard against a possible inflow of refugees or Islamic extremists crossing over to link up with the Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region.”
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On the other hand, it has been at a constant standoff against India along its Himalayan Front in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh since the month of April 2020. Twenty-two rounds of Special Representatives-level talks since 2003 to resolve the border dispute have not yielded any positive outcome. (Chinese New Border Policy)
This is the first time that the People’s Republic of China, founded 72 years ago, has a dedicated law specifying how it governs and guards its 22,000-km (14,000-mile) land border shared with 14 countries, including former superpower Russia and nuclear-capable North Korea.
effects on India
Experts believe that China’s new law strengthens the People’s Liberation Army’s policy to work closely with civilians staying in border areas. “China will now bring more people to settle along the border—to work as the first line of defense,” an expert says while commenting about the new land border law.
Lt Gen Manoj Pandey, Eastern Commander of the Indian Army in an interview last week with The Week, stated that villages on the other side of the border were part of China’s strategy model and were a matter of concern. It is estimated that since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been building 628 border defense villages in Tibet along its frontier with India and Bhutan. China has worked on better infrastructure in the area with a dual-use strategy, which means it (infrastructure) can be used for both civilians and military purposes.
Better infrastructure for border villages was mentioned by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Tibet earlier this year. He had said, “It is necessary to strengthen the construction of border infrastructure and encourage people of all ethnic groups to take root in the border, guard the country and build their hometowns”.
As per the new law, “The state supports the construction of border towns, improves the system of border towns, improves the functions of border towns and strengthens the construction of supporting capacity.” On the issue of resolving border disputes, the law says: “The state shall, following the principle of equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation, handle land border-related affairs with neighboring countries through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and longstanding border issues.”
In response to that, the Indian Army is also working with the Government of Arunachal Pradesh for the development of model villages along the border with Tibet.
disengagement in Galwan Valley
The Union Home Ministry says India shares a 3,488km border with China that extends from Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast to Jammu & Kashmir in the north. However, it notes that “the border is not fully demarcated and the process of clarifying and confirming the LAC is in progress”. Differences over the perception regarding the LAC have fuelled routine standoffs between Chinese and Indian soldiers.
The land border law also points to “measures to protect the stability of cross-border rivers and lakes”, which Nikkei says is “believed to have been made with India in mind”. Noting the importance to India of the Brahmaputra river, which has its source in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, it said it could be the case that “China’s government is flirting with the possibility of limiting the volume of water during conflicts, citing ‘protection and reasonable use’ as stipulated in the law”.
While there has been disengagement in the Galwan Valley — where Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed with blunt weapons in June last year — Pangong Lake and Gogra, the impasse continues in the Hot Springs and Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, which the 13th and the latest round of talks between Chinese and Indian army corps commanders earlier in October failed to resolve.
Even as the two armies still have 50,000 to 60,000 troops each in eastern Ladakh, there were reports of fresh incursions by PLA troops in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and in Uttarakhand.
Talking in Delhi earlier in October, Army chief MM Naravane said that the continuing troop build-up was “a matter of concern” and noted, “if they (PLA) are there to stay, we are there to stay too”.