New China border law gives stamp of approval for PLA’s LAC actions

It calls on the state and military to safeguard territory and ‘combat any acts’ that undermine China’s territorial claims

China’s legislature has adopted a new border law, to take effect on January 1, that calls on the state and military to safeguard territory and “combat any acts” that undermine China’s territorial claims.

The law was first proposed in March this year, a year into tensions that erupted along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mobilised two divisions in forward areas and carried out multiple transgressions.

China has unresolved border disputes with India and Bhutan. The new law, observers said, would formalise some of China’s recent actions in disputed territories with both India and Bhutan, including the PLA’s massing of troops in forward areas along the India border, multiple transgressions across the LAC, and the construction of new “frontier villages” along the border with Bhutan.

The legislature, which is largely ceremonial in China and controlled by the ruling Communist Party, on Saturday “voted to adopt a new law on the protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas,” the official Xinhua news agency said.

The law “stipulates that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China are sacred and inviolable”, the text said, adding that “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”.

It also calls on 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”.

Security and economic issues

The law 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.

Article 22 of the law says the PLA “shall carry out border duties” including “organising drills” and “resolutely prevent, stop and combat invasion, encroachment, provocation and other acts”. The law also says China will “handle land border-related affairs with neighbouring countries through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and long-standing border issues”.

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. The law will give a stamp of approval for the military’s recent actions in disputed areas.

Along the LAC, the PLA’s actions last summer, Indian officials have said, violated four past border agreements that had broadly helped maintain peace since the signing of the 1993 pact on maintaining peace and tranquillity. While both sides had disputes from time to time over the perception of the LAC, last summer saw China for the first time massing a huge number of troops in forward areas and seeking to unilaterally redraw the LAC, including in the Galwan Valley, where a clash in June 2020 marked the worst violence since 1967, Pangong Lake, Demchok, Depsang, and other areas. Eighteen months into the tensions in Eastern Ladakh, military talks are still on-going, with India insisting on a return to the status quo.

With Bhutan, China has taken de facto control over the disputed Doklam plateau, including by building civilian settlements, or frontier villages, along the border. This is part of a broader campaign to build 628 “moderately well off villages” to encourage mostly herders to settle in border areas, including disputed territories, to affirm China’s territorial claims.

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