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Time for a harder defence line on China’s borders amid ‘challenges on almost every side’

October 17, 2021 GMT

China faces increasingly serious challenges at its land and sea borders on almost every side and must urgently reinforce its defences in these regions, according to a Chinese military researcher.

The assessment from Ouyang Wei, a retired professor with the PLA National Defence University, comes as the US steps up its military presence in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, and uncertainties grow on China’s land borders with India, Afghanistan, Myanmar and North Korea.

In a report published by Beijing-based think tank the Grandview Institution, Ouyang said the country was facing encroachment, secession and terrorism in some border areas.

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“The struggle to safeguard national unity and territorial integrity, to fight against secession and terrorism in border areas, tends to be a long game, and will be even more so now with a new period of instability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

Ouyang said that to address the challenges, China could upgrade defence infrastructure along the coast, including its air defence identification systems and underwater warning facilities.

North Korea’s nuclear tests, the mass protests in Myanmar after the military coup in February and its long-term ethnic conflicts in the northern part of the country, as well as the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, have heightened security threats for China, according to the report.

Issues arising from China’s border disputes with India were “more prominent”, it said.

Both China and India have stepped up military build-ups in recent months amid their 17-month stand-off at disputed borders and New Delhi appears to have moved closer to Washington, taking a tougher stance against Beijing, especially in relation to border disputes.

“The recent stand-offs, including the deadly conflict in Galwan River Valley, showed that the task of defending the Sino-Indian land border is more prominent than in other areas,” the report said.

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With a border stretching more than 22,800km (14,200 miles) and involving 14 countries, China has some of the world’s most complicated disputes with its neighbours. It has resolved most of them, reaching border agreements with North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam, deals that Ouyang said had “significantly improved the security environment in China’s border regions”.

Under a draft land border law, the central government could close its borders to counter a serious national security threat, and the country’s military and paramilitary forces would be in charge of dealing with terrorism activities and illegal border crossings.

Those responsibilities are now handled by the police but tensions flare from time to time, particularly at sea. Beijing has been ratcheting up displays of its growing military capability by regularly deploying warplanes and sometimes combat ships near Taiwan, a self-ruled island it vows to take back under control, by force if necessary.

Meanwhile, China’s claims to 80 per cent of the South China Sea have been contested by countries such as Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, while the territorial dispute over a group of tiny uninhabited isles in the East China Sea has been a thorny issue between China and Japan.

The US, which now sees China as a strategic rival, has also pushed for a strategy involving alliances to contain China’s growing influence in the region. In what Washington claims are part of efforts to keep Beijing’s extensive maritime claims in check, warships of the US and its allies ” including Britain, France and Germany ” have carried out missions in the South China Sea.

“The growing uncertainties at sea have complicated coastal defence efforts, as China has been steadily deepening its dependence on international trade, energy and strategic routes on the sea, the scope of coastal defence is expanding, and the security threat and strategic pressure are increasing,” Ouyang said.

He said China should be able to adjust its military strength at the borders according to the level of threat in those land and coastal regions at any given time.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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