China’s legislature has adopted a new border law that calls on the state and military to safeguard territory and “combat any acts” that undermine China’s territorial claims. The new land border law was adopted amid the continued standoff between Indian and Chinese militaries in eastern Ladakh.
About the Law:
Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity: It stipulates that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China are sacred and inviolable.The state shall take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines territorial sovereignty and land boundaries.
Responsibilities: It designates the various responsibilities of the military, the State Council or Cabinet, and provincial governments in managing the security and economic issues in border areas. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “shall carry out border duties” including “organising drills” and “resolutely prevent, stop and combat invasion, encroachment, provocation and other acts”.
The state shall 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. The state shall, following the principle 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.
It would formalise some of China’s recent actions in disputed territories with both India and Bhutan. The passing of the law coincides with stepped up Chinese activity along the land borders, which have mirrored actions in disputed waters in the East and South China Sea. It includes the PLA’s massing of troops in forward areas along the India border and multiple transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
China in recent years has been strengthening border infrastructure, including the establishment of air, rail and road networks. It also launched a bullet train in Tibet which extends up to Nyingchi, the border town close to Arunachal Pradesh. The construction of new “frontier villages” along the border with Bhutan.
China’s Major Disputes:
China has a 22,100-kilometer land border with 14 countries and it has disputes with almost every country including the ones which are maritime neighbours.
The 2017 standoff between Indian and Chinese troops was because China intended to build a road in the Doklam Plateau, a Himalayan region controlled by India’s close ally, Bhutan. India considers Doklam plateau as a buffer zone that is close to other disputed areas with China.
This year, China has laid claim to Bhutan’s Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, a 650 sq km land located in the easternmost part of the Kingdom. This is the first public instance of China making border claims in eastern Bhutan. China claims that the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the China-Bhutan disputed areas.The basis for this recent claim is the historic precedent.
China territorial disputes with Nepal dates back to the Sino-Nepal War in 1788-1792, with Beijing claiming that they were part of Tibet, therefore part of China. Nepal has accused China of encroaching into its northern districts of Humla, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Sankhuwasabha.
Despite protests, Nepal’s communist party did not escalate its border tensions with China. During this time, Beijing had increased its investments in Nepal and initiated an exercise to measure Mount Everest and install telecommunication equipment to provide 5G services to the country.
Early this year, China’s state-run China Global Television Network, in a tweet, claimed Mount Everest as a part of China and not Nepal. This post was quickly taken down in response to massive outrage from Nepalis.
YELLOW SEA & EAST CHINA SEA
China has Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) disputes with North Korea and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. It also has an EEZ dispute with South Korea and Japan in the East China Sea. Furthermore, it lays claim over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands of Japan in the East China Sea.
South China Sea
China is claiming almost the whole of the resource-rich South China Sea based on the “historic rights”. It is currently taking efforts to militarise the region. The South China Sea is one of the busiest maritime trade routes that serve as a passage for annual trade worth $3.5 trillion. China has island and maritime boundary disputes with Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and its extension.
It also has disputes over Spratly Islands (with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan), Paracel Islands (with Vietnam), Scarborough Shoal (Philippines) and Gulf of Tonkin (with Vietnam).
China aims to coerce these countries to abandon their claims and territorial rights under international law and impose the so-called nine-dash line, an unrecognised boundary it has drawn around 85% of the South China Sea, almost the entire international waters. In addition, it also claims the whole of Taiwan and its controlled islands as its own.
Multiple agreements have failed to prevent China unilaterally claiming 160,000 sq km territory of Russia. China is currently encroaching sparsely populated Far East Russia, which is rich with natural resources.
Just recently, Russia faced a backlash from Chinese social media when Vladivostok, the main city in the Russian Far East, marked the 160th anniversary of its founding on July 2, 2020. It was claimed that the territory of Primorsky Krai of which Vladivostok is the administrative capital, historically belonged to China.
Primorsky Krai was a small Manchu settlement under the control of the Qing Dynasty before it became a part of Russian territory in 1860. Vladivostok was called Haishenwei or the Bay of Sea Slugs under the Qing Dynasty.
China has similar such disputes with countries in south east asia like Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand etc. The following strategies can be used by India to tackle Chain
Apart from being militarily prepared, India must create a coalition of democratic countries that are willing to counter Chinese aggression and subscribe to rules-based world order.
The Quad or Quad Plus can be used by India while pursuing a leadership role in this arrangement.
The post-COVID-19 world would witness a major shift of global supply chains as many countries like Australia, the US and others are preparing to delink their economies from China. India should make use of the situation.
India should also address the issue of “Chinese proxies” like Pakistan and Nepal by keeping them out of the leadership positions in global organisations.
India can increase the naval operations east of the Malacca Strait and follow up with rapid tri-service expeditionary capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region. This can be made into an expeditionary command.
It can also enhance its defence relations with Southeast Asian countries to counter China’s presence in the region.