On June 28, the third meeting of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress ratified the motion of China’s joining the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) as well as two amended protocols.
According to the treaty, all parties should settle disputes and conflicts through peaceful means instead of by a use of force or to threaten by force; any party should not attend any activities against the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of other parties.
With China becoming a member of TAC, experts regard that China has taken a further step towards the settlement of complicated territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.
China has 15 neighbors along its 22,000 km-long land boundaries. China is bordered by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the east; Mongolia to the north; Russia to the northeast; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan to the west and southwest; and Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south. Across the seas to the east and southeast are the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. The situation in border areas is very complicated: some are extremely harsh and bring a lot of difficulties to border defense.
Apart from that, there are more than 40 ethnic minorities living in the border areas. It's very common for frontier residents on both sides of the border to belong to the same ethnic groups.
However, some of the boundary lines have not been settled yet with neighboring country and there is a sense that any conflict could easily lead to war.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Chinese army launched three self-defense wars in border areas.
Russia withdraws millions of troops
However, the security situation of the border areas has now been improved greatly. China faces two military powers: with Russia to the north, and India to the south.
China and the former Soviet Union shared the longest land border in the world. Before the Soviet Union split up, Western military experts called the China-USSR border a dangerous place. Since the 1960s, the Soviet Union had kept deploying millions of troops along the China-USSR borderline and the China-Mongolia border line. The force reached more than 1 million at its height.
Yet, with the development of Sino-Russian relations recently, Russia has largely reduced its border presence.
Back in 1997, the state heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization gathered in Moscow and signed two treaties to reduce border forces to the minimum, compatible with good-neighborly relations. According to the two treaties, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were to keep a number of 130,400 soldiers (among them 120,000 were to be Russian), 3,900 tanks, 5,800 armored cars, 4,500 cannons and 290 fighters and 434 helicopters. By the end of 2002, Russia had almost reached this level. According to the Russia media, on a 100 km zone on the Russian side of the border, there are only 9 ground force divisions, 8 air force groups (excluding long-distance air force), as well as 14 frontier defense units. According to statistics, the Russian army stationed in the above areas, accounted for only 9 or 10 percent of its total force. In addition, the treaty does not allow Russia to station battleships in the rivers along China’s border.
Indian troops become friendly
India, among 15-neighouboring countries, has the fiercest territory disputes with China. The total border line is about 2,000 km long and the area of dispute some 125,000 square km.
However, as years go by, security in the China-Indian border areas has been steadily improving as a result of changing Sino-Indian relations.
After the 1962-1963 China India war, India deployed as many as 250, 000 troops together with a so-called India-Tibetan frontier force of 32,000 along the border with China. These troops were armed with big-caliber large-bore field rocket guns imported from Russia and Sweden. What’s more, India deployed nine air force units, a group of “ground” missiles of 150 km distance, Israeli pilotless reconnaissance planes and a group of battlefield radar and surveillance systems.
Warmth in the relationship did not appear until in 1993 but even then several rounds of negotiations did not lessen the territory disputes between China and India. In September 1993, China and India signed an Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the China-India Border Areas. Then again, in 1996, China and India signed an Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the China-India Border Areas. Ever since, Chinese and Indian border troops have not had any conflicts any more. Indian media praised it as a wonder in world military history because the patrol soldiers neither stare at each other nor scare their counterparts by waving their guns though they meet everyday.
The China-India ties are strengthened after Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee visited China this June. Based on the Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation signed between Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Indian counterpart, the two countries will keep peace and security in the border area before the final settlement of territory disputes once and for all. Later, Vajpayee said in Shanghai that India would send an envoy to China to deal with it.
On the same day when Vajpayee returned to India after his visit, Indian navy vice-chief declared to the world that India and China would hold a three-day joint military exercise this October. It is said that it is India who offered to have such a joint military exercise while China embraced it warmly. Some Western military analysts think that eastern troops of the Indian navy will attend the military exercise on behalf of the Indian army. And this July the US and Indian troops will take a similar military exercises. An official with Indian Defense Ministry said the scale of China-Indian military exercise is bigger than the Indian-US military exercises. So the Western military analysts pointed out that this means both China and India have made up their minds to enhance the mutual trust of border troops. As a result, civilians on the border areas feel very happy about it.
Battlefields turn out to be big commercial fair
It is matter of time for China to tackle all its territorial disputes with its neighboring countries completely. So far, except for India, China has solved all its land-front problems on the basis of mutual respect and mutual trust. Against such a background, old battlefields have become a fertile place for business.
Twenty years ago, the China-Vietnam border area was a treacherous place full of mines. Even animals dared not go there. However today this place has become a big commercial fair filled with people and shops. Puzhai, the biggest border trade fair at the China-Vietnam border line, is located in a valley of 2 square km and where stands more than 1000 unified buildings with modern water and electricity equipment. Business people from Vietnam, Thailand and other ASEAN countries gather there. Puzhai has become the most prosperous travel center and shopping center in the region and every day there are over 20,000 tourists.
According to experts, the current border security situation on the whole is at its best time right now. Most of the land territory disputes have been settled while the so-called historical problems are firmly on the agenda. The task of the Chinese border troops now shifts from anti-invasion to anti-smuggling and illegal immigration.
(China.org.cn by Zheng Guihong, July 28, 2003)