China’s land border law: A preliminary assessment

On October 23, China adopted a land border regulation, which will take impact on January 1, 2022, in an endeavor to strengthen its border manage and safety. Like the coast guard regulation and maritime targeted visitors protection regulation enacted earlier this calendar year, the new law is handed amid heightened tensions concerning China and its neighbors in excess of border disputes. On its land periphery, China has been locked in a protracted confront-off with India alongside their disputed border given that May 2020. Even though the new regulation has galvanized speculations as to whether or not it would be employed to justify a a lot more assertive Chinese posture, it evidently goes further than that unique dispute and speaks to a host of difficulties as Beijing strives to safe its land border amid developing uncertainty in its neighborhood.


Through the enactment of this new legislation, Beijing seems to be signaling willpower to solve the border disputes on its most popular terms. The legislation sets an all round tone of solve upfront, stating that China will “resolutely defend territorial sovereignty and land border security” although continuing to find to settle disputes as a result of negotiations.

In streamlining the division of labor amongst a variety of bureaucracies such as the international ministry, the public safety ministry, and the customs and immigration administrations, the legislation specifies that the People’s Liberation Military (PLA) and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP), both equally underneath the command of the Central Navy Commission, will bear the important duty for safeguarding land border, resisting armed invasion, and responding to big contingencies. It authorizes patrol officers to use police instruments and weapons from intruders who vacation resort to violence in resisting detention and threaten the safety of lifestyle and residence of other people today. It also authorizes the bureaucracies to collaborate with neighboring nations around the world in combating the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

The legislation notably emphasizes the job of Chinese citizens and civilian establishments in supporting the PLA and PAP — a probably manifestation of the “civil-armed service fusion strategy” in land border defense. A comparison of an before draft of the regulation and the remaining text is revealing in this regard. The draft unveiled in August features only just one sentence demanding citizens and civilian businesses to guide the PLA and PAP. In the last text, this sentence is expanded into a different clause. The freshly extra clause needs local governments in border parts to allocate assets to improve the making of “mass protection groups” (群防队伍建设) to support border protection missions. The thought of “mass defense” for borders, in accordance to writings by Chinese stability analysts, implies to attract on area citizens to guide with missions which includes data selection, purchase upkeep, and sovereignty and territorial protection.

The legislation outlines 4 situations that can prompt border shutdown, port closure, or other “emergency measures”:

  1. when a war or armed conflict breaks out on the periphery and threatens China’s border safety and stability
  2. when a key incident poses a grave menace to national protection or the lifestyle and home of inhabitants in the border location
  3. when the border area is threatened as a result of a all-natural catastrophe, general public health incident, or nuclear, biological, or chemical air pollution
  4. other scenarios that severely effects the land border and stability and security in border regions.

The regulation also reiterates the state’s commitment to opening up these locations to the outside the house earth and enhancing area general public service and infrastructure, aiming to strike a balance concerning border protection and socioeconomic enhancement. The regulation also pledges state support for developing border cities with improved features and capability and cross-border cooperation zones to boost trade, tourism, and ecological safety.


Several factors appear to have inspired the adoption of the law now. 1st, this regulation reflects Beijing’s renewed issues about the security of its land border whilst it confronts a slew of unsettled disputes on its maritime front. Compared with the coast guard legislation lengthy pushed for by China’s maritime stability companies, phone calls for laws governing land border defense look extra sporadic, almost certainly for the reason that China settled most of its land border by the early 2000s and has since faced a comparatively stable frontier. But the confrontations on the Sino-Indian borders in recent decades may possibly have reminded Beijing that as a basic land-sea energy (海陆复合型国家), China need to usually ready itself to cope with threats in both of those the continental and maritime domains.

Next, the COVID-19 pandemic also underscores the very important for Beijing to exert increased command above its somewhat porous land border. In April 2020, when the virus experienced been contained within China but was rapidly spreading around the globe, the Chinese Point out Council warned of a expanding danger of cross-border transmission and prioritized prevention in frontier areas. The hottest wave of breakouts in border towns in Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Internal Mongolia only strengthen that evaluation.

Also, this law demonstrates Beijing’s thinly-veiled worries about the security of its hinterland bordering Central Asia. The withdrawal of U.S. forces and Taliban takeover aggravated Beijing’s concerns that an Afghanistan bogged down in protracted turmoil and humanitarian disasters may well grow to be a hotbed for terrorism and extremism that could distribute to Xinjiang.

Domestic politics could also be at play. The law enshrines President Xi Jinping’s signature ethnic minority policy line, “forging a consciousness of the typical id of the Chinese nation” (铸牢中华民族共同体意识) by way of strengthened propaganda and indoctrination. Criticized by some observers as a euphemism for coercive ethnic assimilation, this coverage was proposed by Xi at the 2014 central meeting on Xinjiang, endorsed in his 19th Celebration Congress report in 2017, and reiterated at central conferences on Tibet and Xinjiang in 2020. It is noteworthy that the earlier draft of the legislation has only just one sentence referring to the will need to boost Chinese citizens’ “homeland safety consciousness” without having mentioning Xi’s method. The ultimate text expands this sentence into a individual clause and provides Xi’s phrase, a transfer in all probability intended to additional bolster his standing in the direct-up to the 20th Occasion Congress next 12 months when he would safe a 3rd term.


In the context of Sino-Indian disputes, imposing the regulation could be problematic in quite a few strategies. Initial, despite the fact that the line of precise control (LAC) has served as a de facto border among China and India considering the fact that their 1962 war, the two sides disagree over exactly where it lies in at least 13 areas. Specified the lack of a mutually suitable border, how China handles Indian staff it sees as illegally crossing the border may well have a nontrivial bearing on developments together the border.

Second, the law prohibits the design of long-lasting services in close proximity to China’s border with out permission from Chinese authorities. The vague wording could be interpreted to incorporate each sides of the border, building the likely for extra frictions as each China and India have engaged in an “infrastructure arms race” on their respective sides of the LAC.

3rd, with an emphasis on the growth of border cities and the role of civilians, the legislation could increase thoughts about whether Beijing intends to grow or speed up civilian settlement in spots bordering India, Nepal, and Bhutan. While border town growth resonates with China’s domestic agenda of “developing the border regions, enriching the nearby people” (兴边富民) articulated in 1999 and integrated into China’s five-calendar year options, it may perhaps be perceived as legitimizing a land variation of the “salami-slicing” tactic that China is found as utilizing in its maritime disputes.

This law also tackles difficulties exclusive to China’s border with North Korea by prohibiting applying audio, lighting, or indicators floating elements by air or water or engaging in other things to do in close proximity to the border that may possibly affect China’s “friendly relations” with neighboring nations around the world. This resembles a the latest South Korean law banning activist groups and defectors from sending products vital of the North Korean regime across the 38th parallel.

Domestically, to the extent that Beijing sees a near connection between reinforcing a “common identification of the Chinese nation” and consolidating regulate in excess of China’s ethnic minority-populated land frontier, as is obvious in this legislation, modulation in Beijing’s latest policy towards these regions could not be around the horizon.

In the potential, Beijing could invoke the regulation to shut China’s border to avert the spillover of terrorism and extremism from Central Asia, an influx of refugees from North Korea, Myanmar, or Afghanistan, or the distribute of a pandemic.

While China could see a reputable have to have for a legal framework to regulate a extra than 22,000-kilometer land border with 14 neighboring nations around the world, it can retain some wiggle home in implementation and command the possibility of unforeseen incidents particularly together the unsettled border. India is probable to stand its ground, but should communicate to Beijing that extra incidents would be in neither side’s desire and would only boost the current diplomatic deadlock in negotiating for disengagement. As for the United States, it should elevate its problems to Beijing about the opportunity implications of the legislation, but should really do so via diplomatic channels to avoid putting Beijing in a posture where by it feels it have to defy Washington by aggressively enforcing the regulation.