Rediscovering Admiral Zheng He


Border Solution Sets Precedent

Successful settlement of Sino-Russian border disputes provides
a model for solving other border problems


DEFINING TALK: Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (left) and Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov work to solve the border disputes between the two nations

China peacefully resolved historical border issues with its largest neighboring country. The ultimate resolution of the border questions eliminated the last barrier between China and Russia.

On June 2, 2005, on behalf of their respective governments, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov exchanged ractification documents of the complementary agreement on the eastern section of the China-Russia boundary.

This event shows that China and Russia have fully resolved all historical border problems. The last disputed border territories between China and Russia included Heixiazi Island (Bol’shoi Ussuriiskiy Island in Russian) at the confluence of Heilongjiang and Ussuri rivers and A’bagaitu Sandbars near Manzhouli of Inner Mongolia, covering a total area of nearly 375 square km. The territories were divided evenly between the two countries.

Border Settlement

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China and Russia share a borderline of several thousands of km. In history, the border issues were important factors that hindered the normal development of bilateral relations. The problem also caused longstanding tensions for the two countries, even triggering direct skirmishes such as Sino-Russian Eastern Railway Battle in 1929 and the Zhenbao Dao (island) Skirmish in 1969. The Soviet Union stationed millions of troops along the Sino-Russian border for 20 years, at a cost of $300 billion. In order to cope with the threat from the north, China launched the movement of “digging holes deep and accumulating food in large,” which mobilized all citizens to prepare for war. All of this affected the two countries’ economic development to a certain degree.

After the Cold War, China and Russia simultaneously readjusted their domestic and external strategies and paid much attention to the construction of new Sino-Russian relations. They began vigorously finding ways to solve the border issues.

On the one hand, based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, China pursued a policy of fostering an amicable, peaceful and prosperous neighborhood, thereby creating a good external environment for developing the domestic economy with concentrated powers. The country insisted on solving disputes through peaceful negotiations based on respecting historical and present circumstances. In accordance with the spirit of mutual respect and understanding, China also insisted on jointly making meaningful changes on the proposal of the border issues for the acceptance of both sides, to find a package solution for the border issues, taking into consideration strategic interests and mutual equal security principles.

On the other hand, Russia pursued a balanced foreign policy both to the East and the West. When Russia maintains good relations with Western countries like the United States, it actively constructs new strategic relations with China. Correspondingly, Russia pursued a pragmatic policy on the border issues. It realized that the Chinese position on this issue was reasonable, and agreed that the disputes on borders should be solved through negotiation. This provided a good environment for Russia and China to solve the border issues.

Chinese and Russian foreign ministers signed and ratified the agreement on the eastern part of the Sino-Russian border on May 16, 1991. This agreement affirmed 98 percent of the border, except the regions of Heixiazi Dao and A’bagaitu Sandbars.

When President Vladimir Putin visited China in 2004, the two sides signed a treaty to make a final resolution, which was to divide the two regions equally. China and Russia also signed the agreement on the western part of the borders. Beginning in 1991, the two sides surveyed the boundary for eight years, and finished the work of boundary demarcation in 1999, setting up 1,183 boundary markers.

The settlement of the Sino-Russian border question has tremendous significance. It further strengthens the good neighboring relations between the two countries, enriches the content of strategic cooperative friendship, and improves the bilateral trade development and regional economic cooperation.

The resolution of the border issues and the stability of the border regions have played a crucial role in the rejuvenation of the traditional industrial bases in northeast China and the development of the Russian Far East region. For China, developing these traditional industrial bases directly relies on Russia. Northeast China borders Russia, allowing close bilateral economic and trade ties. China can use energy resources and raw materials from Russia, and benefit from the big neighbor’s huge market.

Meanwhile, based on border trade, China and Russia can further enlarge their regional economic cooperation. Russia has a vast territory and is a potential market for China. It also has great influence on the Commonwealth of Independent States and East European countries. Russia also hopes to become China’s energy and raw material supply base. Russia is abundant in natural resources, which China lacks in comparison. Strengthening cooperation in these fields with Russia is crucial for China to maintain its powerful development impetus.

Russia has the potential to become an important target country of China’s export of labor services. China has a large population and employment is a problem. Compared to its vast land territory, Russia has a sparse population. Furthermore, the Russian population has declined for years, so manpower can hardly meet the need of its economic development. This is especially the case in Russia’s Far East region that borders China, which is an extremely large but sparsely populated area in urgent need of laborers.

Exemplary Model

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A total of 14 countries border China. Border issues can become sensitive factors when developing bilateral relations.

The successful settlement of the Sino-Russian border issue provides an ideal model for other border questions around China. Bolstered by the successful agreement, China and other Central Asian countries also settled their border issues based on equality and mutual respect. After fully settling the border issue with Kazakhstan, China exchanged protocol on boundary demarcation with Kyrgyzstan, signed the Complementary Agreement on the China-Tajikistan Boundary and exchanged the ratification on boundary demarcation in 2003. Thus the 3,300-km boundary lines between China and the Central Asian countries have all been determined.

In the south, China and Viet Nam signed the Agreement on the Beibu Bay Boundary Demarcation. On the border questions still in dispute, China also reached consensus on settling border questions with related countries. For instance, China and India share 125,000 km of disputed

territory. Through joint efforts by the two governments, China and India have reached an Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Tranquility along the Indian and Chinese LAC (Line of Actual Control) and the Agreement for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC in the China-India Border Areas, which established the guiding principles for settling the border questions.

Taking general and long-term interests into consideration, an early settlement of the boundary questions would be in keeping with the basic interests of the two countries. Also, considering historical evidence, national feeling, actual difficulties, rational concerns, sensitive factors and the current situation of the border regions, the boundary lines should be divided through natural geographic lines with clear identification. Both sides should also protect the proper interests of border inhabitants. Before the final settlement of the border issues, the two sides should strictly respect and honor LAC, and jointly maintain peace and security in the border areas.

China has a vast territory, neighboring countries in the Northeast, Southeast, South and Central Asia. As a result, its surrounding security environment is complicated and full of uncertainties.

Generally speaking, the potential security trouble from the sea would be more serious than from the land. The Japanese Government not only maintains the actual control of the Diaoyu Dao (island) by military force, but also tolerates right wing Japanese that claim the islands. Japan also competes with China over oil resources in the East China Sea.

Meanwhile, China has territory disputes on Nansha Islands with Viet Nam, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as disputes on marine demarcations with North Korea and South Korea.

Besides Sino-Russian strategic and cooperative relations, China also promotes Shanghai Cooperation Organization to play larger roles, improves Sino-Indian relations through pragmatic steps, and launches a comprehensive development with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Through these diplomatic measures, China has largely stabilized its land border from the north, south, and west.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies