from "The Emerging New Regional Order in Central and Eastern Europe"
(Edited by Tadayuki Hayashi,Slavic Research Center,1997)

Moscow's New Perspectives on

Sino-Russian Relations

Yutaka Akino

Copyright (C) 1996 by the Slavic Research Center. All rights reserved.


New relations between China and Russia are to be forged mainly in the Far Eastern part of the Eurasian continent. What will the relations be like? What kind of impact will they have on global politics or on regional politics in the Asia Pacifrc Region? These questions certainly are nof of minor importance to us. Also, the main course of future Sino-Russian relations depends upon the results of political negotiations between Beijing and Moscow on their bilateral relations. Of utmost importance in this vein is the matter of territorial settlements in the Far East, which are now at the final stage discussion. There are seven disputed places. If Beijing and Moscow find some proper solution to these problems through sober negotiations and compromises, they could establish a sound foundatlon for stable Sino-Russian relations in the 21-st century. Both sides use the tenn "on the bases of justice and rationality" to describe this rclationship.*1
This new era in Sino-Russian relations has been ushered in by historic changes, namely the break-up of the USSR and the advent of the Post Cold War world. There are some concrete changes which illustrate the new contour of their relationship. Firstly, their 7000 kilometers long common border has been reduced to some 4000 km due to the independence of three central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Taj ikistan. Now China and Russia share only 55 km of common border in the West, in the Altai Region, which is sandwiched by Kazakhstan and Mongolia.*2 Secondly, Mongolia, a country within Moscow's sphere of influence since the early 1920's "is now in Beijing's long shadow. If Beijing can dictate to Ulan Bator, then the next door the Chinese knock on will certainly be Ulan-Ude. Thirdly, the existing Sino-Russian borders in the Far East are in the process of alternation in Beijing's favor. In fact, this could be described as a problem of frontier-demarcation, or even a measure to do justice to century-long wrongs committed in Beij ing, and Novokievsk (today Kraskino). But we should understand the matter in the light of the dramatic change in power relations between the two states to Moscow's detriment. In retrospect, the tenitorial compromise made to Beijing, which seems to be in the offing, could be judged by future historians as one of the by-products of this fundamental power-shift.*3
The task of reconstructing Sino-Russian relations could thus be an epochal one. As already mentioned, both success or failure in this could influence climate of the world politics. From a geo-political point of view, however, a collision course in their relations is perhaps likely, unless the two governments are jointly determined to avoid the pitfalls ahead of them. But, in the arena of world politics Beijing and Moscow tend to see eye-to-eye now, more than at any other time in the past decades. We can not lightly brush aside the possibility of forging genuine good-neighbor Sino-Russian ties by severing Gordian knots, such as territorial disputes, the problem of the rather drastic contraction in their recent bilateral trades, the problem of maintaining their fragile arms-control regime, and the problem of Chinese infiltration into the Russian Far Fast among others.*4 The most crucial factor here is the political determination of Beijing and Moscow to have their relations reconstructed and to keep that process under their exclusive control.
In this context, a real touchstone by which to test the political will of the two governments is how they can cope with the Far Eastern border demarcation problems.


Since the 1991 accord about two thousand disputed border problems have already been solved. To date there remain only seven places yet to be sorted out: l) two in the Chita Region; 2) two in Khabarovsk Territory; and 3) three in the Maritime Territory .
As for 1) and 2), governmental negotiations and common surveying activities have been carried out in order to decide exactly where new demarcation lines should run between China and Russia. These four areas, however, are too important to have the final situation decided technically because of exceptional and political problems.
The problem of Maritime Tenitory is also political in character, but it is of a different nature. The Maritime government under governor Nazdratenko's guidance initiated strong popular objection to the implementation of the 199 1 accord, by which China would acquire three lands totalling 1500 hectares. Since then Moscow has been in a kind oflimbo between Beijing and Vladivostok.

(1) Disputed lands in the Chita Region
The frst place of dispute is the 280th Island, named Bol'shoi Ostrov, Iocated in the Argun' River. This island is about 40 km south-east of Zabaykal'sk, which is about 20 km north-east of Manzhouli. The north stream of the Argun' is bigger and wider than the south stream; therefore according to the principle proclairned by Gorbachev in his 1987 Vladivostok speech, this part should be transferred to China. The importance of the place is twofold: a) the island is at the junction of Russia, China and Mongolia; b) the site is a main source of drinking water supply to Krasnokamensk, the second largest city in the Chita Region, which, in the Cold War era, produced 90% of the USSR's entre uranium output.
The second place is the 279th Island, called Menkeseli, adjacent to Bol'shoi Ostrov in the east. This, in fact, is not an island but a 5 kim wide and 70 km long strip of land. This strip of land became a bone of contention, when the Argun' changed its flow and moved north by 5 km from the original line, which is identical with the ,existing Sino-Russian border. Here, again, if the main channel is to be a demarcation line, Menkeseli should be handed over to China. In these two districts there are virtually no inhabitants. But near Menkeseli about ten thousand farmers are registered as settlers. For them,Menkeseli is a good grazing and hunting land. These famers are said to be very afraid that huge numbers of Chinese farmers would certainly settle up to the very edge of the Argun's right bank.
For a year since the conclusion of the 1991 accord, the people of the Chita Region were not told about the concrete consequences of the accord. Most of them now understand, to their chagrin, that the implementation of the accord means the loss of their 280th and 279th islands. The local populace is against the transfer, but the organized campaign against it is not powerful enough.
Mr. Barinov, as editor of the "Zabaykal'skii Rabochil," a local newspaper, has said that a big problem in the. near future will be water and air pollution from Monzhouli, whose population has expanded ten-fold in just 3 years. Also smuggling of contraband is a big headache, he said.
According to Mr. Barinov, though the disputed chunks of land in Chita are of course important to both governments, they could serve as bargaining chips for securing other more important disputed lands, namely, Bol'shoi Ussuriskii and Tarabarov islands near Khabarovsk for Moscow, and southem Khasan district for Beijing.*5

(2) Disputed islands in Khabarovsk Territory
Bol'shoi Ussuriskii and Tarabarov Islands are located in front of Khabarovsk, the largest city in the Russian Far East. Bol'shoi Ussuriskli is closer to the city, which has been open since 1989. There are two ferries, one of which is run by the Russian Army. A floating bridge over the Ussuri is available from spring to fall, thanks to the local construction regiment of the Russian Army. Bol'shoi Ussuriskti is a 36 km long and 9 km wide island, most of the bank is fortified by 2 meters high embankments. The island is especially 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.
The vice-commander, an army lieutenant, who refused to divulge the number of residents on the island, has explained that l) if the island is in Chinese hands, Khabarovsk can be bombarded from a distance of 2.5 km, therefore the island and Tarabarov should never be handed over to China; 2) on Tarabarov some compromise may be possible, but he is afraid of a chain reaction of "first Tarabarov, next Bol'shoi Ussiuriskyi, then what?" ; 3) Russia should maintain a strict vigilance over Chinese tactics of silent and inch-by-inch aggression, symbolized by their recent behavior in the South China Sea; 4) Gorbachev who signed the 1991 accord is responsible for their headache.*6
Tarabarov Island is not far from Khabarovsk, but the access to it seems very limited because Bol'shoi Ussuriskii Island is located between the city and Tarabarov. (Seen from Russian side of the Amur, Nizhnespasskie, a small village in the Jewish Autonomous Region, Tarabarov is a no man land, which is geographically closer to the China side.) Tarabarov is surrounded more by Chinese territory than Russian tenitory. Khabarovsk is to Bol'shoi Ussuriskii what Fuyuan, the nearest Chinese city on the Amur, is to Tarabarov.

Concerning the three areas involving territorial disputes in the Maritime Territory, Moscow's Foreign Ministry thinks that Russia should go ahead with the 1991 accord. Their position can be boiled down to the following three points; 1) about 1500 hectares of lands in the Maritime Territory should be transferred to China, as this is the area that the USSR occupied in the 1930' s in violation of the treaties concluded in the last century ; 2) the 1991 accord itself is a victory of Moscow's diplomacy in the historical context; 3) annulment of the accord could possibly cause a situation in Russian Far East similar to that of the late l 960' s.*7
In the Maritime Tenitory there are four crossing points with China*8, among which the Pogranichiny-Shuifunhe is now the only point available to those who have ordinary documents. The other three points are limited to those with official endorsement, and three disputed areas are located near these crossing points. The frst place is located 20 km west of Turiy Rog Village on a border-crossing near the Khanka Lake; the second is the P-Letter district near the Poltavka-Dongning crossing point; and finally the third comprises two small strips nonh of Khasan Lake near the Khasan border-crossing into North Korea and China. These three places were occupied in the 1930's and fortified by the Red Army in order to cope with the Japanese-Kanton Army. And after the Second World War and the victory of Mao's forces, these places were naturally kept in the USSR's hands until the deterioration of the Sino-Soviet relationship in the 1 960's.*9
In Toryi Rog, about 300 hectares (including some 200 arable hectares) is 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) will be transferred. Although there is strong popular opposition against the transfer of these areas, the pledge of the 1991 accord will probably be met by Moscow .
The border-demarcation problem in Khasan, however, is much more complicated. This problem can be understood against the following backdrop:
1) The disputed places are not very far from the mouth of the Tumen River, where the borders of the three countries converge; this is the place of a UN sponsored development project. In this project the three countries are joined by South Korea and land-locked Mongolia;
2) If China gets one hundred hectares near the Khasan Lake, drinking water supply to Khasan will be endangered;
3) The place is still considered sacred, as blood was shed in the Battle of Khasan in 1938;
4) China is planning to construct a river-port several miles up north of the site, while the Russian side is afraid that on the completion of a Chinese port, potential economic activity of Posyet and Zarubino as the region's main ports might be lost;
5) the Ussuriskii Cossacks now possess some 15000 hectares of land in the southern district of Khasan as a part of reparations measures, and therefore the Cossacks have become involved in the problem.*10
The construction of the new Sino-Russian relationship hinges, to some extent, upon whether the demarcation lines in Khasan will be drawn in a way that satisfies both sides. In this dispute, the Chinese side is showing a flexible attitude and Moscow is trying hard to find a good compromise. However, Russia has already entered the season of politics, in which Naztratenko, the Maritime Governor, is a key pro-Yeltsin figure. In a way, the tenitorial problems in the Maritime Tenitories has become a hostage of Russian politics. Therefore, both Moscow and Beijing seem resolved to hammer out a solution before December 1995, which is perhaps the main reason why Yeltsin's visit to Beijing was recently rescheduled for fall 1995, instead of December. In fact, if anti-Yeltsin forces win in the December elections, the Russian Parliament will probably pass an amendment to the Constitution to the effect that any territorial modification should be decided by a national referendum. Then the possibility of a Sino-Russian tenitorial settlement will be slender.


In world politics Moscow and Beijing tend to see increasingly eye to eye. This is again demonstrated by Chinese Premier Li Peng's recent visit to Moscow. And the political will of both governments to establish solid relations, if possible an alliance-like relationship, seems unflinching. But, the 'fact remains that co-relations of power between China and Russia is in a whirlpool, and it is extremely difficult for Moscow and Beijing to control the dynamic reality in the Far East very far into the future and shaping a new Sino-Russian relationship is a tremendously difficult task if they can not establish a regime, within which various volatile problems occuring along the Sino-Russian border are handled in a coordinated manner. In particular the fate of the 1991 accord is as acid test for the successful working out the regime of this important and delicate relationship .


1 Diplomaticheskii vesmik, no. 17-18, 9194.
2 Thc demarcation problem of this 55 km border reached its final and definite solution, when Russian Parliament ratified the accord. 6/7/95 Mainichishimbun.
3 When Moscow agreed to the transfer of their Far Eastem territories to China in 1991, not only the USSR govemment but also Russian Parhament took it for granted that it was a diplomatic triumph for Moscow. Because the 1991 accord was thought to bury once and for all China's territorial claims on a mruch wider area, such as the entire Maritime Region, only while making some nominal concessions. Interfax' s interview with Lukin, Interfax 9/3/95.
4 Zhores Medvedev's article " Novye Ki'taitsy v Sibiri" in Neva 3/95 and Vechernii novosibirsk, 2/2/95 gives an extreme view, but none the less, interesting.
5 Interview with Barinov, 3/4/95.
6 Interview witb the Vice-Commander on Bol' shoi Ussuriskii, 23/6/95.
7 Interfax, 8/2/95.
8 about the details, see Agreement concluded in Beijing on 27/1/94, Diplomaticheskii vestnik, no. 3-4 2/94
9 Vladivostok, 7/3/95 .
lO Interview with Nikolai Guly, Deputy Head Administration of Kbasan District, 30/5/95; Interview with Koryakov .

Comments on the papers of Li and Akino

Hiroshi Kimura

I believe that the papers presented by both Li Jingjie and Yutaka Akino are really excellent and that I enjoyed reading them enormously.
Let me tell you why I am impressed by Li's paper. First, his paper is well-balanced, paying attention to both the positive and negative aspects of recent Sino-Soviet developments. By and large, Li believes, Russia and China have been developing their mutual relations very smoothly, and, he predicts, they will continue to do so in the foreseeable firture. On the other hand, however, Li does not fail to notice some concrete and potential problems existing between these two neighboring countries, including some unresolved border disputes and the recently declining trend in total volume of Sino-Russian trade.
Second, it seems that Li is quite correct when he argues that developments in the relations between China and Russia toward better and closer ties should not be conducted at the expense of other countries. One of the most important reasons for the rapid rapprochernent between these two states lies in the fact that Russia and China intend to play a political card in the international arena, pardcularly vis-a-vis the United States,.with whom neither of them has been enj oying very good diplomatic relations in recent days. Needless to say, however, the fact that both China and Russia are playing such diplomatic manoeverings is evidently well-known to practically every one in the world. In addition, if this strategy is employed in too excessive a fashion, it may turn out to be counter-productive and even backfre on the players. If Sino-Russian military cooperation gets closer, Japan and other neighboring nations would inevitably feel threatened by the possible formation of a military-strategic alliance between two powers. Then, Japan, for instance, might begin efforts at militarization, including the extreme possibility of her going nuclear, which would bring disastrous consequences not only to Russia and China but to the entire world. Being well aware of such a danger, Li underlines quite correctly that naturally there must exist a certain limit in promoting closer relations between China and Russia, specifically in the field of military cooperation . He writes: "An exclusive alliance between China and Russia would not serve the long-term interest of neither?; it provokes other nations to develop a hostile stance toward them."
I have one criticism to Li's paper; the general tone of which seems to me to be too optimistic, Namely, he appears to me to describe both current and future relations between China and Russia in too rosy a fashion. In order to test whether such my impression or interpretation is accurate one or not, let me cite the two sentences from Li's paper: "In sum, the long-term interests of China and Russia in the intemational sphere are largely complementary, and likely to be pursued without generating conflict." "As discussed above, Sino-Russian relations have been developing fairly smoothly and have a bright future, (although) some concrete and potential problems exist." (underlined by H.K.) We could thus summarize Li's paper as saying that between China and Russia almost everything is going well and that outsiders have no need to worry about their developments .
Such an optimistic confiict-free picture of Sino-Russian relations, however, makes a marked contrast with the one that Akino seems to draw in his own paper. Akino's picture of Russo-Chinese relations is not ofa necessarily very pessimistic kind but at least of a more complex nature. For instance, Akino predicts that "from a geopolitical poiht of view, a collision course in their [Sino-Russian] relation in perhaps likely ." (underlinedl -Rusi eaby H.K.) Let me cite one more contrast between these two paper-writers: Whereas Li disregards the decline by 33% of the total volume of Sino-Russian trade in 1994 over 1993, simply saylng that it is "the transrent phenomenon," Akino's prospect'in this regard is rather pessimistic, because he writes: "one has to say that recovery to the former level is difficult."
Finally, one cannot help but mention that some basic assumptions which Li makes in his paper contradict what the current Chinese leadership has actually been doing in practice. For example, Li makes a statement that "competition among nations has shified from the military to the economic sphere," and that "China now enjoys perhaps its most stable and promising security in almost a century and a half." These statements or observations are not necessarily wrong enhrely, but they do not help explain convincingly enough the following question. Why, then, has China recently been taking more active actions than before in areas of defence, including its very self-assertive behavior with regard to the Spratly Islands, its large-scale purchase of military weapons from Russia, and its resumption of nuclear testing.
In dealing with Li's paper I have already happened to touch partially upon Akino's paper as well. Therefore, it may suffice to mention only a few more salient features observable in his paper, which especially impressed me. I have three points to make.
Firstly, in discussing Sino-Russian relations Akino considers the psychological dimension as being extremely important, a point with which I fully agree and strongly endorse.
Secondly, closely related to the frst point, Akino makes an interesting remark. The reason why the remaining border disputes between China and Russia are hard to solve is, according to the Akino's view, probably ascribable to the inferiority-complex which the Russians hold vis-~-vis the Chinese. Akino argues that at least some Russians have a feeling that the reversal of the "correlation of forces" (отношения сил) between Russia and China, particularly in the easteru border area, has recently been taking place, with the former' s power showing a decline and the latter's an increase. With such a power shiit people tend to attach a symbolic value to the disputed islands (for instance, in the Usri-Anrur river areas). If the Russian side made some concessions toward China over the disputed territory, such concessions might be interpreted by the Chinese as a clear sign of Russia's weakness. This is, in Akino's view, exactly what Russians are afraid of.
Thirdly, I am also impressed by the following astute observation, made by Akino in his paper, that 'nowadays in the Russian Federation the relations between the center and the periphery have made it increasingly hard for Moscow to dictate or control things by unilateral decree. This observation is very close to that which Jack Matlok reported in the June 29, 1995 issue of The New York Times, in which the former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow draws our attention to the fact that the tiny Chechen republic with a population of only 0.8 million cannot be subdued by Moscow even after the Russian military's six-month-long fierce assault on the republic. In discussing Sino-Russian reladons it is necessary for us to distinguish between the Central Moscow and the Far Eastern part of the Russian Federation. On the one hand, it is true that Moscow is now eager to improve its relations with China for the purpose of playing a diplomatic card vis-a-vis other powers, particularly the U.S., but on the other hand, anti-Chinese feeling among the local people in the Far East part ofthe Russian Federation has recently been increasing rapidly. Therefore, our tentative answer to the question as to whether Russo-Chinese relations have been improving lately will depend upon which level one is talking about: on the official level ofthe central government, the answer is "yes, it is improving", but when it comes to the local people e answer rs no.expressing the national sentiment, the answer is "no."