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China’s new border law: Explained


On December 30, 2021, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said it had issued “standardised” names for 15 places in the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh.

The names are to be used henceforth on all official Chinese documents and maps, which show Arunachal as “south Tibet”. The issuing of the names came ahead of a new land border law taking into effect on January 1, 2022, which India has also voiced concern about.


GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Border Disputes, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is behind the move to issue ‘standardised’ names?
  2. What is the new law?
  3. Significance of the new law
  4. Does it concern India?
  5. What impact can it have on India-China relations?

What is behind the move to issue ‘standardised’ names?

  • In 2017, Chinese authorities first issued six “official” names for places in Arunachal Pradesh. That move was seen at the time as a retaliatory measure after the Dalai Lama visited the State.
  • Following the issuing of the names, all official Chinese maps will have to mark the locations using the Ministry of Civil Affairs list. The naming is a largely symbolic gesture that will not change facts on the ground.
  • It is, however, indicative of a broader new Chinese approach to territorial disputes.
  • Chinese experts told that the renaming, coupled with a new land border law, were “important moves made by the country to safeguard national sovereignty, better maintain national security and manage border-related matters at the legal level amid regional tensions, including frictions with India.”

What is the new law?

  • China has claimed that it has passed the law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas”.
  • Under the law, China is mandated to “take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines the sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
  • The law calls for the Chinese military to carry out border drills and to “resolutely prevent, stop and combat” what it calls “invasions, encroachments and provocations”.
  • It mandates the state to take measures:
    • to strengthen border defence,
    • support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas,
    • improve public services and infrastructure in such areas,
    • encourage and support people’s life and work there, and
    • promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas.
  • The law lays down four conditions under which the state can impose emergency measures, including border shutdown.
  • The new law prohibits construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border without China’s permission.
  • However, the law also asks the state to follow the principles of “equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation, handle land border related-affairs with neighbouring countries through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and longstanding border issues”.

Significance of the new law

  • This law reflects Beijing’s renewed concerns over the security of its land border while it confronts a slew of unsettled disputes on its maritime front.
  • This move is an indication that confrontations on the Sino-Indian borders in recent years may have reminded Beijing that as a classic land-sea power China must always ready itself to cope with threats in both the continental and maritime domains.
  • The law also reflects Beijing’s thinly-veiled worries about the stability of its hinterland bordering Central Asia. This is relevant as the withdrawal of the US forces and Taliban takeover could have aggravated Beijing’s concerns that Afghanistan may become a hotbed for terrorism and extremism that could spread to Xinjiang.
  • Domestic politics too may have been a contributing factor to the law being put in place – to bolster President Xi Jinping’s standing in the lead-up to the 20th Party Congress later in 2022.

Does it concern India?

  • Although the law is not meant specifically for India, it is bound to have some impact as China and India share a disputed 3,488-km boundary, the third longest among China’s 22,457-km land boundaries with 14 countries, after the borders with Mongolia and Russia.
  • Besides India, Bhutan (477 km) is the ONLY other country with which China has a disputed LAND border. (There are other border disputes of China which are unresolved such as: Senkaku islands and Diaoyu Islands with Japan, Paracel Islands with Vietnam, Taiwan province and Kinmen and Matsu islands with Taiwan).
  • There is a growing suspicion that China may have been stalling further negotiations on the standoff in eastern Ladakh for this new law to come into force.
  • Both, India and China have been building new roads, bridges and other facilities near the border and the new law prohibits construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border without China’s permission. Hence, there is a definitely at least one point where the new law concerns India.

What impact can it have on India-China relations?

  • The broader aim of the land border law, in the view of New Delhi, is to give legal cover and formalise the Chinese military’s transgressions across the LAC in 2020.
  • The border law also appears to give fresh impetus to civilian agencies in China to continue carrying out the construction of infrastructure, including “frontier villages”, in border areas, including some in disputed territories along the border with India and Bhutan.
  • Under the border village construction plan, launched in 2017, China is building 628 “first line and second line villages” in border areas and moving residents, mainly herders, to live in the new dwellings along the borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal as well.
  • In November 2021, satellite images surfaced showing a second Chinese cluster of 60 newly built dwellings on what India sees as its territory in Arunachal Pradesh, around 100 km east of another village built in late 2020.

Considering all this, the impact of the new law much depends on China’s actions, regardless of the new law.

Some experts feel the new law will make China dig its heels in, on the ongoing standoff as well as for resolution of the larger boundary issue. Others feel the new law is only a tool China government will use if it wants, as its actions have been aggressive even before this law.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express

February 2024