Jul 31, 2008

World - The Sino-Russian border story

AFTER decades of dispute, China and Russia have at last reached agreement on where the entire length of their common border lies. On July 21st the two countries signed an accord on the last small stretch that had yet to be formally settled, putting an end to a quarrel that once came close to war. In both countries, a nationalist fringe will be nettled.

With their “strategic partnership”, a shared resentment of Western dominance and friendly military ties, China and Russia have long put behind them the acrimony that erupted into cross-border skirmishes in 1969. In recent years they have been tidying up the remaining odds and ends along their 4,300km (2,670 mile) frontier. The latest agreement, signed in Beijing by the two countries’ foreign ministers, resolves the niggling matter of a couple of islands at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers near the city of Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East.
The two countries reached an initial accord on this problem in 2004. The deal was that Russia would hand over one of the islands, Tarabarov (Yinlong, as China calls it), and half of Bolshoi Ussuriysky island (Heixiazi or Bear island). The Chinese and Russian parliaments endorsed the plan the following year and work got under way on staking out the new border. Now the Chinese can move in.
The outcome is a compromise. Since the 1960s China had been demanding the islands in their entirety. They had been illegally taken over, they insisted, by the then Soviet Union in 1929. The Russians, who had settled on Bolshoi Ussuriysky, did not want to abandon it. Now, the Chinese have got the all-but uninhabited parts, where, according to rumours in the Chinese media, officials are examining the potential for tourism.

Nationalists in both Russia and China have expressed unease about the arrangement. In Khabarovsk some have complained about giving up what they see as Russian territory. Their counterparts in China, who describe the islands as the missing detail on the crest of the cockerel that China’s map vaguely resembles, naturally want more. But Chinese and Russian officials are delighted. A Chinese scholar quoted by a Beijing newspaper said the experience could be useful for solving some of the country’s other border disputes. The Japanese, Vietnamese and Indians, among others, would concur that these still have a long way to run.

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