Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

January 2001 (Vol. XXIV No. 10)


Russia-China Boundary Agreement: Relevance for India
By Jyotsna Bakshi, Research Fellow, IDSA



China's leadership and the strategic community appear to have done serious study and calculation regarding the country's bargaining strategies with neighbouring countries on the border issue. Bigger claims are advanced with the purpose of acquiring bargaining chips for reaching more realistic settlement that would take care of China's substantive interests.

The Soviet-Chinese border agreeement in the eastern sector was signed on May 16, 1991. The issue of a couple of disputed border islands on which there could not be any agreement, was left for future discussions. The agreement on the western sector of the border was signed on September 3, 1994. In December 1999, the two countries formally announced that their 30 year old border dispute had been resolved.

Together with the Sino-Russian border, steady progress has been made in resolving Sino-Central Asian Republics' border disputes also.

Besides comparatively minor territorial gains, the major Chinese gain in the border settlement with Russia was in acquiring an assured and treaty-bound equal access to the use of the border rivers for all purposes.

India can hope to secure its interests in boundary negotiations with China through the policy of simultaneous engagement and containment.

India with a 4,700-km long border and the former Soviet Union with 7,500-km long border with China together shared in the past around 80 per cent of China's land border with foreign countries. Today Russia and China share approximately a 4,300-km long border. Not so long ago Sino-Soviet and Sino-Indian borders were hotly disputed and witnessed armed conflicts and bloody clashes like the Sino-Indian military conflict of 1962 and Sino-Soviet armed conflict of March 1969 over the Ussuri river island, Damansky. However, beginning with May 1991 agreement on the eastern section of the boundary–when the Soviet Union was still there–Moscow and Beijing have made considerable strides in resolving their boundary dispute. India and China have also entered into agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas along the Line of Actual Control in 1993 and agreement on confidence-building measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control in December 1996. However, India and China have yet to resolve their border dispute–demarcate the boundary on the ground and enter into a firm and final border treaty. No doubt, the course of Sino-Soviet/Russian relations in general and the final resolution of the boundary dispute between the two have relevance for India.

The People's Republic of China ever since its formation in 1949, appears to have evolved a well thought out long-term strategy on border issues with the neighbouring countries. In case of big and powerful neighbours like the Soviet Union/Russia as well as India, the boundary dispute has been closely inter-linked with larger political and strategic considerations. Thus, the boundary dispute was intensified, blown up and taken to a feverish pitch at particular points of time to serve China's larger political objectives. At other times, in keeping with its changed policy requirements and compulsions, China has adopted a relatively more conciliatory stance on the border issue. Amidst all the vicissitudes, China has steadfastly insisted on a border alignment favourable to China, which is also realistically attainable. China's leadership and the strategic community appear to have done serious study and calculation regarding its bargaining strategies with neighbouring countries on the border issue. Bigger claims are advanced with the purpose of acquiring bargaining chips for reaching more realistic settlements that would take care of China's substantive interests. (emphasis added)

The roots of the Sino-Russian border dispute, in fact, lay in their conflicting interpretation of history.

Of History and Historiography:

In the process of their formation and expansion the two large empires–the Tsarist Russian empire and the Chinese empire–came into contact with each other in the Far East and Central Asia.

The Chinese claim that the Russian empire was basically an European empire which expanded in the Far East and Central Asia beginning with the 17th century and occupied in the process sizeable territories that once belonged to the Chinese empire through "unequal treaties". The Russian/Soviet view is that in the 16th century eastern Siberia and the present Russian Far East were absolutely unknown not only to the Europeans, but also to the peoples of China and Japan. Russian explorers and colonisers occupied these areas. 1 The Russians also claim that the areas where the Russian empire expanded were not inhabited by the Chinese or the Han peoples. If the Chinese accuse Tsarist Russia for being expansionist, in the Russian/Soviet view, the Chinese empire has also greatly expanded beyond the great Chinese wall.

Professor Myasnikov of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Moscow, who has produced an important book on the Russia-China border issue, starts his first chapter with the following citation from A. Ya. Maksimov:

"China is a power with special state tendencies. For instance, it will never resist the desire for the return of the territory which belonged to it at some point of time. And it will always try to restore the former borders." 2

Prof. Myasnikov characterises the Chinese policy on the border issue as emanating from the idea of "a single Chinese nation". The non-Han people living on 60 per cent of the country's territory are declared as the Chinese people and their territory as Chinese territory. The Chinese approach appears to be based on the belief that the neighbouring areas where thousands or hundreds of years ago, the Chinese soldiers put their feet, belongs to China. On the other hand, if the neighbouring people attacked China, they became a part of "the single Chinese people" and their lands became the Chinese territory. Payment of tribute to China in the past by the 'vassal' states became a basis for claiming sovereignty over the latter. 3

As Sino-Soviet and Sino-Indian boundary disputes simultaneously aggravated during the sixties and the seventies, the fact that the long Russia/Soviet-China border was determined by formally-signed treaties–although regarded as "unequal treaties' by the Chinese–became a matter of some satisfaction to the Soviet/Russian scholars while comparing their own border problems with China with the Sino-Indian border dispute. It was noted that the India-China border has not been determined by international legal acts. 4

The Russian/Soviet border with China was determined by the treaty of Aigun (1858), the treaty of Peking (1860), the treaty of St. Petersburg (1881) and subsequent border protocols. The Chinese regarded only the 1689 treaty of Nerchinsk as equal, which placed Russia's border in the Far East as far north as the Sea of Okhotsk.(see map 1). The Russians find fault with the Chinese approach of regarding the treaty of Nerchinsk as fair and the subsequent treaties as "unequal". 5 The Chinese claimed around 1.5 million square kilometers of Soviet territory in the name of so-called "unequal" treaties (see maps 2,3).

The Soviet/Russian and Chinese scholars also differ in their interpretation of post-1917 developments. The Chinese particularly highlight that the young socialist government in Moscow repudiated all unequal treaties concluded by Tsarist Russia with China; thus they claimed that the entire Sino-Soviet border treaties stood null and void. However, it stands to reason that the Soviet Union had no intention to put to doubt its long border with China and create difficulties and complexities for itself. After the victory of the communist revolution in China , the two signed a 30-year treaty of friendship, alliance and mutual assistance, heralding a period of great friendship between the two communist giants. The fact that the two sides undertook to respect each other's unity and territorial integrity under the treaty was regarded by the Soviet side as an implicit Chinese acceptance of the existing borders.

Sino-Soviet Rift and Border Dispute

The Sino-Soviet political-ideological rift which came into the open in the early 'sixties was accompanied with border disputes also. On March 8, 1963, People's Daily raised the issue of unequal treaties imposed by Tsarist Russia on China, thus questioning the validity of the entire Sino-Soviet border.

The Soviet Union at this time was a status quo power. The People's Republic of China was still not recognised by some leading Western countries, notably the USA and was still outside the UNO, where Taiwan represented China as a permanent member of the Security Council. China, therefore, had ample grounds for dissatisfaction with the existing system. China's national objectives were couched in sharp and radical revolutionary rhetoric either by design or politico-ideological compulsions. The cumulative effect was widening of the politico-ideological and strategic gulf between the old and the new revolutionary powers–the Soviet Union and the PRC. It subsequently paved the way for normalisation of PRC-US relations in the latter's bid to play the China card while dealing with the Soviet Union.

The Sino-Indian border dispute that resulted in the 1962 military conflict was also accompanied by sharp polemics against India's foreign and domestic policies. India was seen as a rival for influence in Asia and to Chinese ire and consternation, appeared to be a favourite of both Moscow and Washington. Through the 1962 military conflict, China acquired firm military hold over the Aksai-chin in Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir from where the strategic road connecting Tibet and Sinkiang passed.

However, despite exchange of bitter polemics between the two, neither the Soviet Union , nor the PRC shut the doors on negotiations and a compromise solution of the boundary issue. Beginning in February 1964 the officials of the two sides held detailed and extensive negotiations in Beijing for six months.

The Soviet stand during the talks was that the border is determined through treaties and agreements, it was historically formed and was well protected and did not require changes. But Moscow showed readiness to listen to the Chinese view regarding the clarification of the alignment of the boundary in separate sectors. The Chinese side insisted that the treaties determining the boundary were unequal, through which Tsarist Russia had annexed around 1.5 million square kilometers of Chinese territory. But the Chinese were prepared in the name of "proletarian internationalism" and Sino-Soviet "friendship" to consider the unequal treaties as the basis for the alignment of the border. At the same time, the Chinese insisted that the Soviet Union recognised the historic fact that the treaties were unequal. The Soviet side was not prepared to do so. It apprehended that in future the Chinese could declare the Soviet Union not to be a socialist state and revive extensive territorial claims. 6

As a result of exchange of maps and documents by the officials of the two sides in April 1964, it became clear that despite blowing up of the territorial issue by the Chinese side and extreme tension created between the two countries as a consequence, the actual dispute between the two was only regarding 35,000 square kilometers, of which 28,000 square kilometers were in the Pamir region in the Soviet Tajikistan and about 6000 square kilometers in several places along the western sector from Pamir to the Mongolian border. In the whole of the eastern sector of the border–formed by Argun, Amur and Ussuri rivers–which now constitutes the major part of the Sino-Russian border–the claim was only on about 1000 square kilometers of territory. (maps 4, 5,6).

In the meanwhile, while the Russian and the Chinese officials were still conducting talks on the border issue, Chairman Mao Zedong in an interview to a group of Japanese socialists on July 10, 1964, accused the Soviet Union of practising an annexationist policy with regard to several neighbours. He gave the examples of Finland, the absorption of the Baltic states, western Ukraine, western Belorussia, the Bukovina and part of east Prussia . He supported Japan on demanding the return of Kurile islands. He also declared that Khabarovsk and Vladivostok were built on a territory that belonged a hundred years ago to China as also Mongolia. 7 No wonder, Mao's interview contributed to the torpedoing of the boundary talks.

The March 1969 clashes over Ussuri river island, Damansky (Chenpao in Chinese) further accentuated the boundary dispute. Moscow, thereafter, appeared to have adopted a carrot and stick policy. It concentrated a formidable military strength on the border with China and was even reported to have considered preemptive nuclear strikes against China's nuclear facilities for a while. 8 But at the same time, Moscow showed increasing readiness for a compromise solution. 9 In view of overwhelming Soviet military superiority, the Chinese dragged their feet and avoided agreement in a situation of weakness. However, China was cautious to avoid escalation into a large-scale conflict and continued to talk. Against the Soviet proposal of a non-aggression pact, the Chinese insisted on disengagement and withdrawal of troops from the disputed territories. Since all the disputed territories were in the Soviet possession, it would have amounted to an unilateral concession by Moscow, for which the latter was not ready. 10

By the beginning of the eighties, there was some improvement in Sino-Soviet relations. China had successfully opened up to the West. Now it could afford to follow a less stringent attitude towards the Soviet Union and pursue a more balanced policy towards the two superpowers. 11

It was the dynamic and young General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev who took a major initiative towards improving relations with the PRC through his famous Vladivostok speech on July 28, 1986. Gorbachev declared at Vladivostok:

"The USSR is prepared, at any time and at any level, to discuss with China questions of additional measures for creating an atmosphere of good neighbourliness. We hope that the border dividing (I would prefer to say linking) us will become a line of peace and friendship in the near future.... We do not want the Amur river to be viewed as a `water obstacle'. Let the basin of this mighty river unite the efforts of the Chinese and the Soviet peoples in using for mutual benefit the rich resources available there and for building water-management projects. An inter-governmental agreement on this account is being jointly worked out And the official border might run along the main shipping channel". 12

Starting with 1987, the Soviet Union initiated military force reduction in the Far East. Also in 1987 a joint Soviet-Chinese Commission began work on resolving the border dispute along Amur and Ussuri rivers, predicated on Gorbachev's acceptance of the thalweg principle in his Vladivostok speech. 13

It has been pointed out that the 19th century treaties were not specific about the ownership of the border river islands. They only broadly mentioned that the rivers formed the boundary, but were not very clear about the exact demarcation of the boundary. The persisting dispute regarding the Bear island or Bolshoi Ussurisky in Russian and Heixiazi Dao in Chinese, overlooking Khabarovsk (maps 7 and 8) stalled the progress till 1988. The island has a small permanent population and a number of weekend cottages. The Soviets/Russians fear that the surrender of the island would put at risk the security of Khabarovsk. They claim the ownership of the island on the basis of long period of occupancy and the proximity to Khabarovsk. The Chinese claim the island in pursuance of the thalweg principle. In return they offered to preserve Soviet access and respect the property rights of the Russians owning homes in the island. They also offered to keep the island demilitarised to assuage Russian security concerns. But there was no agreement and both sides agreed to disagree. Significantly, in March 1988 in the course of an interview at PRC's embassy, a Chinese official was reported to have suggested that Beijing would be willing to drop its claim to the Pamir region, if the Soviets would return the Bear island. 14

By early November 1988 following a round of talks in Moscow, it was declared that the "Manchurian borders" were nearly settled. In response to queries, both the Russian and the Chinese embassy officials in Washington emphasised that the talks were being conducted in a professional manner and without polemics. They claimed that there was no sense of threat and the navigation matters were being routinely handled. Barter trade was flourishing between the two sides. 15

Border Agreements Signed

On May 16, 1991 the important agreement on the Soviet-Chinese border in the eastern section was signed. The agreement has 10 articles. Article 2 describes in detail the entire border line in the eastern sector marked by 33 border points. Article 3 of the agreement said that the two sides would continue discussion regarding the border alignment between the 7th and 8th and between 10th and 11th border points. This concerned the Bolshoi island on the southern bank of river Argun and the island territory between the main channel of Amur and the Kazakevicheva channel. Article 4 stipulated that the sides agreed to form a joint demarcation commission for the demarcation of the border on the ground in keeping with the line agreed in Article 2 of the present treaty. The joint demarcation commission was to determine on the border rivers the exact location of the mid-channel or the main fairway and to determine in keeping with the Article 5 of the present agreement the ownership of islands of the border rivers, to lay down border marks, to prepare the draft document about the demarcation of the border and prepare detailed demarcation maps as well as solve concrete questions connected with the fulfilment of the above-mentioned tasks. Article 8 laid down that the vessels of all types, including naval vessels, can without obstruction sail up and down in the river Ussuri and river Amur near the town of Khabarovsk. Rules regarding navigation would be worked out by the competent authorities of the two sides. Article 9 laid down that the Soviet side consents that the Chinese vessels (under the flag of China) can sail in Tumannaya (Tumenjian or Tumen) river below the 33rd border point, mentioned in the Article 2 of the present agreement, with the outlet to the sea and back. Concrete issues connected with such sailing shall be decided by the sides with mutual agreement. 16

The agreement was ratified by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation on February 13, 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Significantly, 170 deputies voted for the agreement, 6 abstained and not a single deputy voted against the agreement. On March 16, 1992 ratification papers were exchanged in Beijing. The fact that the disputed issues on which there could not be any agreement, viz., the islands near Khabarovsk and the Bolshoi island on the Argun, were de-linked and left for future discussion and agreement was reached regarding the rest of the border in the eastern sector, practically resolved the boundary dispute. The border in the western sector comprised only a 55 km stretch and did not involve any disputed territory. The agreement on the western sector of the border was signed on September 3, 1994 in Moscow. The agreement was ratified by China in December 1994 and by Russia in May 1995. 17

In the changed geopolitical situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat to China from Moscow significantly reduced. The geopolitical weight of Moscow in the region and the world at large went down while that of China greatly increased. In the changed circumstances Beijing could afford to be more relaxed and confident and, what was more, responsible and status quo oriented . It no longer insisted that the 19th century treaties should be acknowledged as unequal treaties. In fact, Beijing stopped insisting on this condition since early eighties. On its part Russia appears to have realised that there was no alternative to making peace with China. In conditions of steep economic and military decline, Russia could simply not afford to continue military confrontation with China

One of the prime motives of China governing its policy towards post-Soviet Russia is its desire not to allow Russia to become overly dependent on the West or completely go under the Western influence. Strategic interests of Russia and China in opposing an unipolar world order, tend to coincide. Russia and China also share a common interest that Central Asia where the two shared a common and disputed border in the Soviet period, becomes an area of peace and stability and the West, particularly the USA does not get an opportunity to fish in the troubled waters there. The two, therefore, along with the three bordering Central Asian republics–Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan–signed an agreement on April 25, 1996 in Shanghai known as military confidence building agreement on the border.

The three Central Asian republics bordering on China, preferred to resolve the border dispute which they had inherited from the former Soviet Union within the framework of four plus one i.e. the three CARs and Russia negotiating together with China. In this way they hoped to be in a stronger negotiating position. Together with the Sino-Russian border steady progress has been made in resolving Sino-Central Asian Republics' border dispute also.

Boundary Demarcation

The implementation of the 1991 agreement on the basis of thalweg or mid-channel principle, naturally involved surrender of some territory which was historically and factually in Russian possession. Commentators remarked that the agreement symbolised a shift in the relative geopolitical power and weight of Moscow and Beijing . There was some opposition in Russia, especially in the bordering regions. The Governor of the Maritime Territory, Yevgeny Nazdratenko was particularly critical.

In a news analysis, Yutaka Akino in a 1997 Slavic Research Centre publication, 18 has brought to light 7 disputed points on the border. 19 Of these two were in the Chita Region; two in Khabarovsk Territory; and three in the Maritime Territory . One of the disputed islands in the Chita Region is the 280th Island, named Bol'shoi Ostrov (island). located in the Argun River, this island is about 40 km south-east of Zabaykalsk in Russia and about 20 km north-east of Manzhouli in China. The northern stream of the Argun is bigger and wider than the southern stream; therefore according to the thalweg principle, this part would have to be transferred to China. The importance of Bolshoi island on Argun lay a) in the fact it is located at the junction of Russia, China and Mongolia and b) the site is a main source of drinking water supply to Krasnokamensk, the second largest city in the Chita region, which produced 90 per cent of the USSR's entire uranium output.

The second place in Chita region is the 279th Island, called Menkeseli, adjacent to Bol'shoi Ostrov (island) in the east.

Bol'shoi Ussuriskii island (Bear island in English and Heixiazi in Chinese) is situated close to Khabarovsk between the main channel of Amur and its Kazakevicheva channel. It is important for the potato- supply of Khabarovsk citizens, who have family gardens there. In the central part of the island is a large summer grazing field. In the northern part, facing the Amur, is a military polygon (firing range). The Russians fear that if the island is in Chinese hands, Khabarovsk can be bombarded from a distance of 2.5 km. Adjacent to Bolshoi Ussuriskii is Tarabarov island.

Concerning the three areas involving territorial disputes in the Maritime Territory, Moscow's Foreign Ministry was reported to be of the opinion that Russia should go ahead with the 1991 accord. It was reported that the transfer would involve around 1500 hectares of land. 20

The demarcation of the border near Khasan close to the mouth of Tumen river where the borders of Russia, China and North Korea meet, was particularly important for the Russians. 21 Russia apprehended that China was planning to build a port on the mouth of River Tumen situated on the tri-junction of Russian-Chinese and the North Korean border. Such a Chinese port would have by-passed the Russian ports on the Pacific and also belittled the importance of the Trans-Siberian railway. The Governor of Maritime Territory Nazdratenko, who accompanied President Yeltsin's delegation to Beijing in November 1997 expressed satisfaction in an interview to Russian T.V. on November 10 that in the demarcation agreement the control over the mouth of the Tumen river remains in the Russian hands. Governor Nazdratenko did register his dissatisfaction with the decision to surrender territory in the Ussury region. 22

The announcement about the demarcation of the eastern sector of the border was an important highlight of President Yeltsin's visit to Beijing from November 9 to 11, 1997. President Yeltsin remarked on the occasion "We have solved a problem which remained unsolved for several decades. This is a concrete embodiment of friendship between the two nations". It was reported that the November 97 demarcation agreement left only a 25-mile (around 40 km) section of the border in the east unresolved. The joint statement issued at the time said that the sides will " continue negotiations for reaching fair and reasonable solutions to a few remaining border problems in order to define their entire common border". 23

On November 13, 1997, Russia and China signed an agreement on the joint economic use of several islands and water areas adjacent to them. 24

The work on the plan for dividing the river islands between the two countries continued. The Russian-Chinese border commission initialed two protocols on the demarcation of the eastern and the western sections of the border on April 8, 1999. The border was demarcated under the agreements signed in 1991 and 1994, and the two sides have defined the eastern 4,195.22-km stretch and the western 54.57-km stretch. The commission has also defined on a bilateral basis the ownership of 2,444 islands and shoals, with Russia receiving 1,163 and China 1,281 of comparable area. 25

In December 1999, the two countries announced that their 30-year old border dispute had been resolved. 26

It was reported that following the demarcation of the eastern sector of the border, 170-sq. km of Russian territory has been turned over to the Chinese on January 19, 2000. 27 Earlier, Khabarovsk Territorial Governor, Viktor Ishayev gave a press conference on July 8, 1999. Commenting on the recently reached border demarcation agreement, he said that "the existing status quo must be left in force" with regard to the Bolshoi Ussuriisky and Tarabarov islands, as they were of " particular strategic importance". It was reported that the issue of islands was left unresolved in recent negotiations. 28 Speaking to the author in New Delhi on March 27, 2000, Leonid P. Moiseyev, director of the first Asia Desk (China) of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that Russia and China have signed a maintenance of status quo agreement regarding these disputed islands. It means the Russian control will remain till a final settlement.

Moiseyev conceded that Russia has made more concessions, but added that Tsarist Russia had occupied more territory than was stipulated by the treaties.

Besides comparatively minor territorial gains, the major Chinese gain in the border settlement with Russia is acquiring an assured and treaty-bound equal access to the use of the border rivers for all purposes, which include, navigation by civil and war vessels, fishing and other economic activities. In contrast, earlier, the Soviet Union not only enjoyed an overwhelming military superiority vis-à-vis the Chinese, but was in actual control of the border rivers and the disputed territories. The 19th century border treaties were in general and broad terms and were not specific about the details of the boundary alignment.

Sino-Central Asian Boundaries

In July 1998, Kazakhstan and China signed the agreement on the delimitation of the disputed border sections. The agreement was ratified by both the houses of Kazakh parliament in February and March 1999 and signed into law by President Nazarbayev on March 24, 1999. It was reported that Kazakhstan-China border dispute involved 944-sq. kms. It has been reported that according to the agreement, 56.9 per cent of the disputed territory is retained by Kazakhstan and 43 per cent by China. As a result of delimitation, the Chinese borderline has moved 187-sq. km. 29 In view of the fact that the disputed territory was under Soviet occupation and the Chinese were demanding its return as the territory occupied by Russia/Soviet Union in addition to the so-called "unequal treaties", any agreement on the basis of "mutual give and take" of the disputed territory, was apparently a gain for the Chinese. In case of Kazakhstan, China got 43 per cent of the disputed territory, while Kazakhstan retained around 57 per cent. The Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, Tokayev, remarked that the agreement was "very favourable" and gave "additional security guarantees" to the country. 30 However, there is little surprise that the agreement did invoke criticism and opposition in wide sections of Kazakh society. But Kazakhstan has no other alternative but to buy peace with China by securing legal and firm borders with the latter. On its part, China has sought to bind Kazakhstan and all other Central Asian republics to the commitment that they would not support Uighur separatist movement in Xinjiang, which is a source of considerable worry to the Chinese.

On August 26, 1999, the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China signed a treaty providing for "a final agreement" on frontier delimitation between the three states where they converge at the Khan-tengri peak. 31 On the same day, President Akayev of Kyrgyzstan and President Jiang Zemin signed an agreement on Chinese-Kyrgyz border completely solving all the border issues.

On August 13, 1999, the Chinese and Tajik Presidents Jiang Zemin and Emomali Rahmanov signed an agreement on the Chinese-Tajik border. Agreement was reached on the demarcation of the sections in the Karazak pass and Markansu river, however, the Pamirs section of the border through the high mountains remains unresolved. China claims a considerable part of the mountainous Badakhshan Autonomous region. Tajikistan is the last former Soviet republic bordering on China to conclude a border agreement. Currently, there are no border checkpoints on mountainous roads, and no air transport. 32 A part of Pamir border,which was never demarcated earlier, has been demarcated. But a larger part of Tajik-China border remains to be demarcated. 33 The outcome of Sino-Tajik boundary negotiations in the Pamir region is particularly important for India as the area lies in close proximity to India's sensitive northern borders in Jammu & Kashmir across the troubled state of Afghanistan.

China's Demographic Challenge

Although the boundary dispute has been resolved, but Russia's long-term concern at China's demographic overhang remains. It is argued that 5 million Russians in the Far East are facing 130 million Chinese in the adjoining Chinese regions. This is happening in a situation when Russia's political, military and economic power has declined while that of China is on the rise.

It is not possible to acquire firm figures regarding illegal Chinese migration. There are those who take an alarmist view and believe that there are already 5 million illegal Chinese immigrants in Russia. According to the report of Duma committee on international relations, there were 350,000 Chinese in Russia in 1994. 34 There are others who believe that things have not reached an alarming proportion. According to this view, a limited migration of the Chinese and Korean workers can contribute to the development of the Russian Far East, which is lacking in labour force.

The developments at the level of popular consciousness are no less important. Prof. Myasnikov has drawn attention to the appearance in the Chinese artistic productions of the term "great northern virgin lands". There have been such shows in China entitled "Towards the North from Beijing -the Great Northern Virgin Land". It has become a part of the popular consciousness as a consequence of long official propaganda in China that the country has lost 1.5 million sq. km. territory to Russia. Simple Chinese traders in the Russian border region have revealed in the course of conversation the view that they believe that the Russian border regions are in fact Chinese territory and they hope to take it back some day. 35

President Putin has recently warned that if the Far eastern region is not economically developed and integrated with the rest of the country, then it is likely that the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages may overtake Russian language there.

Maritime province governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko has made a call for moving about 5 million people from the central regions of Russia to the Far East. These people could be settled in Amur , Khabarovsk and Primorsky (Maritime) areas in order to create some balance with the population in adjoining Chinese regions. 36

Russia's military doctrine and the National Security Concept stipulate that the country would rely on its strategic nuclear shield to ward off a large scale attack in view of the current weakness of its conventional forces. The relevance of this doctrine may be seen not only in the context of threat emanating from the West, but also from a potentially assertive China.

Russian-Central Asian Boundary Agreements with China: Relevance for India

A certain simultaneity can be noted in Sino-Soviet and Sino-Indian border disputes. During the decades of the sixties and the seventies Moscow and New Delhi faced common hostility of Beijing. Relations began to improve in the eighties. One can notice several consistent strands in Moscow's policy with regard to India and China. Thus, whenever Moscow's own relations with Beijing have been good, it has called for friendship between three great powers of the region–India, China and Russia. But whenever, Moscow faces serious trouble from its large and populous eastern neighbour, friendship with the second most populous country–India, acquires added importance in the calculations of Kremlin. During the periods when Moscow has tried to improve ties with Beijing, it has tried to extricate itself from taking sides on the India-China dispute. Overt support to India has been extended in the latter's dispute with China whenever, Moscow's own relations with Beijing have been tense. At the same time, a broad coincidence of Indian and Russian geopolitical interests has remained a constant factor in the foreign policy calculations of both the countries, although there have been vicissitudes in the nuances of compatibility of interests.

The attached map, taken from 1981 Soviet Encyclopedic dictionary, reflects the Soviet/Russian view of India's borders with China as well as Pakistan. (map 9). Aksai-chin, where the Chinese are in control, is shown as a part of China. The alignment of the border in India's northeast broadly follows the Indian line in recognition of the actual control. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is shown in India with the demarcation of the Line of Control.

It may be noted that China resolved its border dispute with Moscow in keeping with its current overall policy stance of promoting peace on the borders so that it can pursue the policy of four modernisations. In the same vein, the situation on Sino-Indian border also has improved in which both the countries are interested. Thus, on September 7, 1993, India and China signed the agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas along the line of actual control. In December 1996, the two countries signed the agreement on confidence-building measures in the military field along the line of actual control. The two sides have agreed to respect the LAC (Line of Actual Control) pending the final solution of the boundary question. From 1989 to 2000 India-China Joint Working Group on boundary question has held 12 rounds of talks alternatively in Beijing and New Delhi. The general impression of the Indian side is that China is dragging its feet in demarcating the LAC on the ground. There are eight flash points on the border and the demarcation of the LAC would clear misunderstandings and improve the situation on the border. By quietly building the Aksai-chin road in the fifties and then establishing firm control over 35,000 kms of Indian territory in the western sector in the 1962 war, China is sitting pretty over the territory which it regards to be crucial for linking Tibet with Xinjiang province. In addition Pakistan has gifted away 5,000 kms of J&K territory to China in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. India is the only country bordering on China with whom it has yet to resolve the border dispute (On December 30, 1999, China and Vietnam signed border delimitation treaty). There is concern in India over the increasing incidents of border incursions by China and road-building activity very close to the LAC.

At the time of the Indian President's visit to China the two Presidents agreed to step up efforts to settle the border issue. But an indication of concrete measures to speed up the process–above all the demarcation on ground of the LAC–is still awaited. 37 Continued assistance by China in the field of nuclear and missile technology and equipment to Pakistan is a matter of grave concern to India.

India is interested in sector by sector resolution of the border dispute with China and above all the demarcation of the LAC on the ground to begin with. In the eastern sector India wants the McMahon line along with the watershed principle to be accepted as the basis of resolving the border dispute. Likewise the LAC may be demarcated and negotiated in the middle and western sectors as well.

In case of the Sino-Soviet border dispute–in contrast to Sino-Indian border dispute in the western sector–it may be noted that the Soviet Union was in actual control of all the territory which the Chinese were claiming. Moreover, militarily, Moscow was in a superior position. The Chinese happened to be much larger in number, but weak militarily. However, military confrontation and build up on Sino-Soviet borders proved to be a drain for the Soviet Union , especially so when Moscow was locked in global political-ideological and strategic rivalry with the West. Thus, the former Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, was reported to have remarked in 1991 that "by most modest calculations, the confrontation with China cost us 200 billion roubles". 38 Now Russia has eschewed the policy of confrontation with China. But it is pursuing a policy of balancing among various powers both at the regional and the world levels. It would like not one but several countries to participate in the economic development of its Far East so that one country can be balanced by the other.

India can hope to secure its interests in boundary negotiations and settlement with China by conducting sustained and dogged diplomacy based on both cooperative engagement with China and as well as acquiring all possible leverages to be able to negotiate from a position of necessary strength and stability.

Seeing itself in the role of the emerging second superpower, China would not like to give occasion to the neighbouring influential powers to unite on the basis of dissatisfaction against China. Therefore, it would like to have good-neighbourly relations with the countries around. Herein lie challenges and opportunities for India to seek to acquire room to manoeuver for securing a favourable settlement of the territorial issue with China, which means, first of all, the demarcation on the ground of the LAC.



Note 1: V.F. Vuturlinov, G.K. Plotnikov, V.V. Chubarov: O Sovetsko-Kitaiskoi granitse, Pravda i Pekinskie vymisli (Moscow, Voennoe izdatelstvo, ministerstvo oborony SSSR) 1982, p. 16. Back

Note 2: V.S. Myasnikov, Dogovornymi statyamy utverdili, Diplomaticheskaya istoria Rusko-Kitaiskoi granitsy xvii-xx vv., (Khabarovsk 1997), p. 8. Back

Note 3: .Ibid., p. 441. Back

Note 4: Ibid., p. 385. Back

Note 5: See, for instance, V.F. Vuturlinov, G.K.Plotnikov, V.V.Chubarov , op.cit., p. 25. In this publication of the Soviet Ministry of Defence, the Soviet scholars expressed the view that the border established by the treaty of Nerchinsk was in very broad and not very clear terms. There was a difference in the Chinese, Manchurian and the Russian language versions of the treaty. Moreover, the Soviet scholars expressed the view that the treaty of Nerchinsk reflected the policy of the Manchurian palace to annex the Siberian territory of Russia . Prof. Myasnikov, op.cit., pp. 38-40, complained that the Chinese historiography tried to juxtapose the treaty of Nerchinsk with that of the treaty of Aigun and emphasised the equitable character of the former and annexationist character of the latter. He accused the Chinese historians of trying to conceal the fact that the treaty of Nerchinsk was based on force. For the Chinese view, see, Tsien-hua Tsui, The Sino-Soviet Border Dispute in the 1970 (distributed by Tri-Service Press Ltd, Shrewbury, England), 1983, p. 25. The author belongs to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also see, R.K.I. Quested, Sino-Russian Relations, A Short History, (Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1984), p. 76. Back

Note 6: The Chinese side tried to assure the Soviets that the recognition of unequal character of the treaties will not lead to the " consequences which you are afraid of..." But the head of the Soviet delegation Zyryanov replied, "The fixation of "unequal treaties", does not mean anything except consciously planting mines for destroying the new treaty....We are not confident that you do not have other objectives" (cited in Myasnikov, op.cit., p. 414. Also see pp. 415-423. Back

Note 7: Roy Medvedev, China and the Superpowers, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986) p.42. Back

Note 8: See, for instance, Tsien-hua Tsui, op.sit., p. 65; Also see, R.K.I. Quested, Sino-Russian Relations. op.cit.,p. 139-140; Havey W. Nelen, Power and Insecurity, Beijing, Moscow and Washington, 1949-1988 (Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner Publishers 1989), p. 86 ; Roy Medvedev, op. cit., p. 53. Beginning with 1970, Moscow increased its military spending in view of growing Chinese threat . The Soviet diplomats sounded out United States, Eastern European countries, and pro-Soviet Communist parties as to how they would view a Soviet attack on China. The reactions were generally unenthusiastic. Considering the risks and unpredictability involved in using force against such a large and populous country like China, the Soviet Union abandoned the idea of taking any drastic action after strengthening its military presence on the border. Back

Note 9: See, for instance, Medvedev, op.cit., pp. 48, 60; Tsien-hua Tsui, op. cit., p. 71. Back

Note 10: See, for instance, Harvey W. Nelsen, op.cit., p. 86, 117; Tsien-hua Tsui, op.cit., p. 71. Back

Note 11: In January 1983 the PRC was reported to have dropped the demand which was absolutely unacceptable to the USSR that the latter acknowledged that the 19th century border treaties were "unequal", see, the Far Eastern Economic Review, March 31, 1983. Back

Note 12: FBIS-SOV, July 29, 1986. Back

Note 13: Charles E. Ziegler, Foreign Policy and East Asia, Learning and Adaptation in the Gorbachev Era, (Cambridge Soviet Paperbacks, Cambridge University Press), 1993, pp. 72-73). Back

Note 14: Nelsen, op.cit., fn. 6, p. 160. Back

Note 15: Ibid. Back

Note 16: Text of the agreement in Russian in Myasnikov, op.cit., pp. 443-459. Back

Note 17: Ibid., pp. 459-463. Back

Note 18: Yutaka Akino, "Moscow's New Perspective on Sino-Russian Relations" in (ed.) Tadayuki Hayashi, The Emerging New Regional Order in Central and Eastern Europe, (c) Slavic Research Centre, 1997 (on internet). Back

Note 19: Ibid., According to Yutaka Akino, these three places were occupied in the 1930's and fortified by the Red Army in order to cope with the Japanese-Kanton Army. In Toryi Rog, about 300 hectares (including some 200 arable hectares) were to be handed over to China according to the 1991 accord. Also a 1000 hectare cider forest which is in the shape of the letter 'p' (in Russian) were likely to be transferred. Although there was strong popular opposition against the transfer of these areas, opined Yutaka Akino, the pledge of the 1991 accord would probably be met by Moscow. Back

Note 20: Ibid., According to Yutaka Akino, if China got one hundred hectares near the Khasan Lake, drinking water supply to Khasan would be endangered. Moreover, the place is still considered sacred, as blood was shed in the Battle of Khasan in 1938. Back

Note 21: SWB, SU/3074 B/2. November 12, 97. It was reported that the status of three river islands, Bolshoi island on the Argun and the two islands near Khabarovsk remained undecided in the demarcation agreement. Back

Note 22: Russia-China joint declaration issued at the time said: "The heads of state of China and Russia solemnly declare that all points of contention regarding surveying and demarcating the eastern section of the Sino-Russian border have been resolved according to the agreement signed on May 16, 1991". The joint statement said that the sides would complete demarcation of the western section (about 55 km) of the border within agreed period of time." Beijing Review, December 22-28, 1997, p. 9. Also see, FBIS-CHI-97 314; Kyodo, 1122 GMT, 10 November 97. Back

Note 23: Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Nov 13, 1997. FBIS-SOV-97-334, Nov 30, 1997. Back

Note 24: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 1, Spring 1999, p. 41. Back

Note 25: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 2000, p. 50. Back

Note 26: However, the island of Menkesili, which falls within this area, has not yet been officially transferred to China. In December 1999, the two governments concluded a five-year agreement on joint economic use of the island and the adjacent area of the border river Argun. In the agreement, China agreed to allow the population of the Russian border areas to engage in haymaking and fisheries in four defined sectors. Russia and China are planning to establish a procedure for the official transfer of the island to China. In this way, the transfer of this particular island to China has been made a somewhat drawn out process with a view to making it less abrupt and dislocating for the local Russian citizens, Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 2, 2000, p. 51. Back

Note 27: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 3 Autumn 1999, p. 39. Back

Note 28: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 1, Spring 1999, p.37. Back

Note 29: Ibid. Back

Note 30: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 3, Autumn 1999, p. 32. Back

Note 31: Ibid., Itar-Tass reported on March 10, 2000 that Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China have agreed on the point where their borders converge. The agreement was expected to be signed at the Dushanbe summit of Shanghai-5 in May. Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 1, Spring 2000, p.34. Back

Note 32: March 27 , 2000 talks with Moiseyev. Back

Note 33: Myasnikov, op.cit., p. 465. Back

Note 34: Ibid., pp. 468-475. Back

Note 35: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 2, Summer 2000, p. 51. Back

Note 36: Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 2 Summer 2000, pp. 43-44. Back

Note 37: 7.Ibid. Back

Note 38: Cited in Charles E. Ziegler, op.cit., p. 58. Back