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Sino - Russian Relations
 

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Sino - Russian Relations

by Linda DeLaine

On December 9, 1999, China and Russia put to rest their thirty year old border dispute. Three accords were negotiated and signed by Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, after a brief meeting between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin.

Two of the accords addressed the boundaries of the 2,800 mile frontier along the Russian far eastern and Chinese border. The resources of the Amur River region and several river islands were the focus of the third accord. As you can see from the map, below, the Amur River forms the border between northern China and far eastern Russia. In April, 1999, Russia and China agreed to split the 2,444 river islands equally between the two countries. These islands are uninhabited. Three other islands remained disputed and were included in this third accord.

This thirty year dispute began in 1969 with a brief, but costly, battle over Damansky Island (Zhenbao). Roughly 200 lives were lost. Later the same year, Russia and China battled over the border of the northeast Chinese province of Xinjiang and modern Kazakhstan.

Disputes over the Russia - China border go back further than thirty years; actually, a little over 300 years. At stake has been the massive, 2,800 mile frontier between Siberia and Heilongjiang (Manchuria). The region is characterized by numerous rivers, mountains and heavy forests. The rough terrain and the long standing border disputes have made the region almost impossible to map and define.

In 1689, the first border agreement was signed between the two empires. Russia agreed to let China have control of both sides of the Amur River. Russia's Primorsky region was placed under joint control in 1858. Primorsky is located in Russia's southeastern most tip with a coastline formed by the Sea of Japan.

The Chinese Empire not being what it once was, agreed to an 1860 Russian accord which drew the boundary lines between the two countries. The result was very close to the contemporary form.

With the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the city of Harbin, in then Manchuria, became the center for Russians involved in rebellion against the new Soviet government. This lasted until roughly 1931 when Japan invaded Machuria. Russia and China's common threat, Japan, set aside their disputes, until the 1960's. With the Cold War in full bloom, the two countries began struggling form dominance of the Communist areas of the world. Border tension rose to its height in 1969. To defuse further aggression, China and Russia entered into official negotiations.

Russia and China signed their first, modern border accord in 1991. This paved the way to further detailed negotiations. After the fall of the Soviet Union, more accords had to be agreed upon between China and the former Soviet States of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (1997).