Roman V.Tarantul

Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok

Abstract: With the beginning of the policy of “reform and openness”, the PRC authorities built their border policy in terms of strengthening cross-border cooperation and accelerated development of the country’s border areas. With this approach, the property of bordering peripheral territories was seen more as a geopolitical advantage than a predisposition to external threats. In the early 2020s, a set of external challenges emerged on China’s borders, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, aggravated territorial disputes with India, Nepal and Bhutan, the unstable political situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar, and the active development of the DPRK’s nuclear missile program. Beijing’s response to the emerging threats was the PRC Land Borders Law (Law). The normative act considers the state borders of the country from the point of view of protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, giving the PRC authorities broad powers in ensuring border security and being the legal basis for securitizing China’s approaches to manage the country’s land borders.

Keywords: border, border policy, China, law, India, territorial dispute

The land border of the People’s Republic of China at 22.8 thousand km is the longest in the world. China’s geographical neighbors include 14 countries, among which there are states with which China is in unresolved territorial disputes, as well as countries that are hotbeds of instability. External stress factors on China’s borders are the coronavirus infection, China’s unresolved territorial disputes with India, Nepal, Bhutan and other countries, the difficult domestic political situation in Afghanistan and Burma, and the aggravation of the situation around the North Korean nuclear missile program (NMP).

The situation is also complicated by intra-Chinese separatist and extremist sentiments in autonomous regions with a dense population of national minorities – Tibet, Xinjiang Uyghur, Inner Mongolia. A potential threat to the PRC is also other nationalities separated by borders, which at the present stage do not claim additional rights to national self-determination.

In this regard, the border policy of the PRC combines the internal interests of the state center and the needs of peripheral border territories, while at the same time matching the country’s foreign policy context in relations with a specific neighboring state. This property of the border policy places it at the junction of the country’s foreign and domestic policies, making it a guarantor of the stable development of the state’s border areas.

The principle of good neighborliness in China’s border policy in the 1980s – early 2020s

In December 1978, the People’s Republic of China launched a policy of “reform and openness”, which brought the country into the ranks of the economic and political leaders of the modern world. At the initial stage of the new vector of development, the Chinese leadership adopted such important cross-border regulations as the Law on the Operation of Mixed Enterprises Based on Chinese and Foreign Capital (1979), the Regulation on Special Economic Zones of Guangdong Province (1980), the Interim regulation on permanent establishments of foreign enterprises in the PRC (1980).

In the late 1980s, the PRC began to systematically approach the border policy of the country’s policy on land borders, considering it as an element of the policy of “reform and openness” and focusing on the intensive economic development of border areas while observing the principles of good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence. The leadership of the country, with this approach, considered the property of border territories as a geopolitical advantage, rather than as a predisposition to external threats.

In 1988, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China collected proposals and initiatives from ministries and commissions regarding the development of cross-border cooperation. This was the first step towards the formation of a systematized creative border policy in the PRC. On their basis, in 1988, the Chinese government prepared a “Notice on Certain Issues of Expanding Border Trade and Technical and Economic Cooperation between Heilongjiang Province and the USSR”, which provided benefits to border trade participants in Heilongjiang Province. In 1991, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China published “Opinions on the active development of cross-border trade, economic and technological cooperation and the promotion of cross-border prosperity and stability”. On their basis, in 1992, 14 “open border cities” were created on the borders with Russia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Burma and Vietnam, which received preferences in foreign trade and work with foreign investments [1].

In 1996, the State Council issued a “Circular of the State Council on Issues Concerning Frontier Trade”, which introduced into legal circulation the concepts of “mutual trade of residents of border areas” and “small-scale border trade”, and also established the cases of applying tax and customs benefits to participants in foreign economic activity [2]. In 2000, the enumerated normative acts formed the basis of the “Go Outward” strategy proclaimed by the 3rd Congress of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China and became the basis for several further five-year plans for China’s development.

At the same time, the country’s border policy was mainly built within the framework of the regulations governing economic development and foreign trade and investment cooperation of border areas: “Notification of the State Council of the PRC on the implementation of measures to develop the western regions” (2000), “The opinion of the State Council on further expanding the openness of old industrial bases in the northeast of China” (2005), etc. The main objectives of the border policy were to strengthen political, business, cultural cooperation with the border regions of neighboring countries, attract foreign capital, increase foreign trade turnover, and develop transport and throughput infrastructure.

In May 2017, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China issued a Notice on the Prosperity of the Border and the People, which provided for measures to improve the welfare of the border regions during the 13th Five-Year Plan. In October of the same year, the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China summarized the accumulated experience of the country’s foreign economic activity, setting the task of “stimulating the formation of a new architectonics of comprehensive openness” and “promoting the construction of an open world economy”.

Factors and reasons for China’s revision of approaches to the management of the country’s land borders

For more than seventy years of history, the PRC has not had a systematic legal framework on land borders, while almost always being in territorial disputes with its land neighbors. However, in 2020-2021, a set of challenges and threats formed on the external borders of China, forcing the PRC leadership not only to take retaliatory measures, but also to regulate the mechanisms for their implementation at the legislative level.

In 2020, the coronavirus infection has become a new and unusual stress factor for China and the world community. The COVID 2019 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the importance of the operational management of the country’s external borders. Despite the first detection of infection in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, on March 29, 2020, the PRC authorities announced the end of the COVID-19 epidemic in the country, declaring a “zero tolerance policy”. In March-April 2020, China closed the borders, subsequently using them as a cordon sanitaire, managing passenger and cargo flows depending on the epidemiological situation in foreign countries [3].

The Law was also developed and adopted during the armed clashes between the PRC and India for control over the disputed territories in the Aksaychin area, which China considers part of the Xinjiang Uygur (XUAR) and Tibet Autonomous Regions (TAR), and India – the territory of the part of the Kashmir region it controls. It is symbolic that in the midst of local armed clashes with India and during the drafting of the Law, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited areas of Chinese Tibet adjacent to the contested territories [4]. At the time of the publication of the Law, the parties had held thirteen rounds of negotiations in an attempt to resolve the territorial conflict.

China has unresolved territorial disputes with Bhutan. In 2017, the conflict received a new round of tension over China’s intention to build a highway on the contested Doklam Plateau. At the same time, India was on the side of Bhutan, since the control of the PRC over the Doklam gives Beijing a springboard for a possible military offensive deep into Indian territory. In 2020-2021, China began the construction of civilian residential and transport infrastructure in the disputed territories, thereby minimizing the possibility of further armed conflicts with India and Bhutan in these areas [5].

In 2020, the Nepalese authorities announced that China was occupying 150 hectares of Nepalese territory in the Huma district, to which the PRC leadership issued a refutation. In 2021, the government commission of Nepal verified this fact, making sure it was true [6].

In 2020-2021, in addition to a new round of activity in the territorial disputes of the PRC, the threats emanating from Myanmar, Afghanistan and North Korea also became actual. Thus, in 2021, a military coup took place in Myanmar, which led to an increase in the flow of Burmese refugees to China and an increase in tension in the adjacent regions of the PRC.

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