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What Does China’s New Border Law Mean for Its Neighbors?

FILE - Auxiliary police and police officers in protective suits patrol the snow-covered border region in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, October 7, 2021. (China Daily via REUTERS)
What Does China’s New Border Law Mean for Its Neighbors?
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China recently announced a new Land Borders Law that permits the use of weapons to stop "illegal" border crossings. The law also lists reasons for Chinese officials to ban those crossings.

Experts say the law appears to be aimed at approving military and armed police actions along the more than 22,000 kilometers of border area. They also think the law serves as a warning to other countries against testing China in any territory disputes.

China has enforced similar laws in the past. Such laws cover Taiwan, Hong Kong and countries bordering the South China Sea.

Multiple threats, multiple laws

Several land border areas cause China concern, including that shared with Myanmar and its new military-led government. China faces a possible wave of refugees fleeing ethnic-based violence by Myanmar army and police forces.

Experts say Taliban control of Afghanistan is another concern for China. They say officials worry about the possibility of refugees and Islamic extremists crossing into the country.

And, Chinese health officials are watching all borders for anyone who could be carrying the new coronavirus.

Another new Chinese law makes official China’s use of its coast guard to defend its territory in the South China Sea. However, much of the area China claims is also long claimed by several other countries.

In 2020, the Hong Kong Security Law was put into effect, banning subversion in the territory.

India, Afghanistan, Myanmar

Nguyen Thanh Trung is director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. He said the new border law could suggest the use of more forceful action as needed against other countries.

He added, "I think that China may not use military force, but they could use some kind of force that has a lot of power, like ... what they are doing in the South China Sea — the paramilitary or the coast guard — … [which is] fully equipped with weapons."

China is building up small island areas in the sea disputed with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China is using the Land Borders Law especially as "leverage" against India, said Brahma Chellaney. He is a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. India and China are involved in a 17-month-old border dispute that has led to deadly clashes high in the Himalayas.

"The law gives the stamp of approval to China's assertive and expansionist actions in recent years along its land borders, especially in the Himalayas," Chellaney said.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. He says that Afghanistan and Myanmar are China’s top border threats, though not the only ones.

It is "designed to safeguard and secure China's borders in a more hostile security setting," he said. "This is a time of unprecedented, I think, insecurity for China."

Borders can be shut due to disasters or "security" threats, the new border legislation states. Military personnel will answer any "illegal border crossings" by foreign troops, it says, while armed police agencies may guard other crossings.

But the law also says that China's government observes the ideas of equality, shared trust, and friendly communications on border issues with its land neighbors. And it says the rule respects the tradition of negotiation to settle disputes and border issues left over from history.

Most of China's Land Borders Law identifies which government agencies are responsible for which areas of border operations.

Pongsudhirak said that language also may suggest policy conflicts within the Chinese government.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Ralph Jennings reported on this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

assertive – adj. having a bold or confident manner

leverage – n. influence or power used to achieve a desired result

unprecedented – adj. not done or experienced before