Sino–Soviet border conflict

Sino–Soviet border conflict
Sino–Soviet border conflict
Part of the Cold War
China USSR E 88.jpg
Some of the disputed areas in the Argun and Amur rivers. Damansky/Zhenbao is to the southeast, north of the lake
Date March 2 – September 11, 1969
Location Border between China and the Soviet Union
Result Soviet military victory, no significant territorial changes
Soviet Union
Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
China Mao Zedong Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev
814,000 658,000
Casualties and losses
100-600 killed[1][2]
59 killed
94 wounded

The Sino–Soviet border conflict (中苏边界冲突) was a seven-month military conflict between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China at the height of the Sino–Soviet split in 1969. The most serious of these border clashes occurred in March 1969 in the vicinity of Zhenbao Island (珍宝岛) on the Ussuri River, also known as Damanskii Island (Остров Даманский) in Russia. Chinese historians most commonly refer to the conflict by the Zhenbao Island incident (珍宝岛自卫反击战) [3] The conflict was finally resolved with future border demarcations.


Background and border tensions

The deterioration of Sino–Soviet relations in the late 1950s and early 1960s resulted in tensions along the 4,380 km (2,738 mi) border between China and the Soviet Union. A particularly serious incident occurred in May, 1962, when 60,000 ethnic Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang Province crossed the frontier into the Soviet Union, fleeing the desperate economic conditions. Beijing immediately accused the Soviets of subverting the Uyghur population, a charge that was later supported by some Chinese historiography, though never independently verified.

Sino–Soviet border conflict
Zhenbao island.png
Zhenbao Island and the border.
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 中蘇邊界衝突
Simplified Chinese 中苏边界冲突
Russian name
Russian Пограничный конфликт на острове Даманский
Romanization Pograničnyj konflikt na ostrove Damanskij

Amid heightening tensions, the Soviet Union and China began border talks. The Chinese position was that the 19th-century border treaties, concluded by the Qing dynasty China and the Tsarist Russia, were "unequal", and amounted to unfair annexation of the Chinese territory. Moscow could not accept this interpretation. By 1964 the two sides were able to reach a preliminary agreement on the eastern section of the border, including Zhenbao Island, which, it was agreed, would be handed over to the Chinese side.

The border dispute in the west centered on 52,000 square kilometres (20,000 sq mi) of Soviet-controlled land in the Pamirs that lay on the border of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan. In 1892, the Russian Empire and the Qing Dynasty had agreed to mark the border along the ridge of the Sarikol Range, but the exact location of the border remained an area of contention throughout the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, the Chinese demanded that the Soviet Union evacuate the region.

In July 1964, Mao Zedong, in a meeting with a Japanese socialist delegation, stated that Tsarist Russia had stripped China of vast territories in Siberia and the Far East as far as Kamchatka. Mao announced that China still had not presented a bill for this list. Outraged by Mao's comments, which were leaked to the public, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev refused to approve the border agreements, which had already been reached.

Since around 1900, after the Treaty of Beijing, where Russia gained Outer Manchuria, the east side of the border had mainly been demarcated by three rivers, the Argun River from the triparty junction with Mongolia to the north tip of China, running southwest to northeast, then the Amur River to Khabarovsk from northeast to southwest, where it was joined by Ussuri River running southeast to northwest. Because of Chinese weakness, the Ussuri River was demarcated in non-standard manner: the demarcation line was on the right (Chinese) side of the river, putting the river with all islands in Russian possession.

China claimed these islands, as they were located on the Chinese side of the river (if demarcated according to international rule using shipping lanes). The USSR wanted (and by then, already effectively controlled) almost every single island along the rivers.

Border conflict of 1969

The number of troops on both sides of the Sino–Soviet border increased dramatically after 1964.

On March 2, 1969, a group of Chinese troops ambushed Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island. The Soviets suffered 58 dead, including a senior colonel, and 94 wounded. They retaliated on March 15 by bombarding Chinese troop concentrations on the Chinese bank of the Ussuri and by storming Zhenbao Island. The Soviets sent four then-secret T-62 Tanks to attack the Chinese patrols on the island from the other side of the river. One of the leading tanks was hit and the tank commander was killed. On March 16, 1969, the Soviets entered the island to collect their dead, the Chinese held their fire. On March 17, 1969, the Soviets tried to recover the disabled tank, but their effort was repelled by the Chinese artillery. On March 21, the Soviets sent a demolition team attempting to destroy the tank. The Chinese opened fire and thwarted the Soviets. With the help of divers of the Chinese navy, the PLA pulled the T-62 tank onshore. The tank was later given to the Chinese Military Museum.

On March 15, 1969, the Chinese troops were repelled from Zhenbao Island (Damansky Island) with significant losses and did not return until September of that year, when Soviet border guards received the order to not open fire against them.[1]

Further border clashes occurred in August 1969, this time along the western section of the Sino–Soviet border in Xinjiang. Heightened tensions raised the prospect of a nuclear war between China and the Soviet Union. In the early 1960s, the United States had "probed" the level of Soviet interest in joint action against Chinese nuclear weapons facilities; now the Soviets probed what the United States' reaction would be if the USSR attacked the facilities.[4]

As war fever gripped China, Moscow and Beijing took steps to lower the danger of a large-scale conflict. On September 11, 1969, Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin, on his way back from the funeral of the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, stopped over in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai. Symbolic of the frosty relations between the two communist countries, the talks were held in Beijing airport. The two premiers agreed to return ambassadors previously recalled and begin border negotiations.

Consequences of 1969

The view on the reasoning and consequences of the conflict differ between western and Russian historians. Western historians believe the events at Zhenbao Island and the subsequent border clashes in Xinjiang caused Mao to re-appraise China's foreign policy and to seek rapprochement with the United States[citation needed], while Russian historians point out that the consequences of the conflict stem directly from the desire of the PRC to take a leading role in the world and strengthen ties with the US. Such a local conflict with the USSR would be a sign of a split with the USSR and signal the US that China was ready for dialogue.[5] The PRC began ideological preparation for the split with the USSR in the late 1950s,[6] and that the Soviet Border Service started to report intensifying Chinese military activity in the region during the early 1960s.

After the conflict, America showed actual interest in strengthening ties with the Chinese government by secretly sending Henry Kissinger to China for a meeting with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in 1971, paving the way for Richard Nixon to visit China and meet with Mao Zedong in 1972, during the so-called Ping Pong Diplomacy.[7]

China's relations with the USSR remained sour after the conflict, despite the border talks, which began in 1969 and lasted inconclusively for a decade. Domestically, the threat of war, caused by the border clashes, inaugurated a new stage in the Cultural Revolution; that of China's thorough militarization. The 9th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in the aftermath of the Zhenbao Island incident, confirmed Defense Minister Lin Biao as Mao's heir-apparent. Following the events of 1969, the Soviet Union further increased its forces along the Sino–Soviet border, and in Mongolia.

Overall, the Sino–Soviet confrontation, which reached its peak in 1969, paved the way to a profound transformation in the international political system and shattered post-World War II bipolarity.

Border negotiations in the 1990s and beyond

Serious border demarcation negotiations did not occur until shortly before the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. In particular, both sides agreed that Damansky/Zhenbao Island belonged to China. (Both sides claimed the island was under their control at the time of the agreement.) On October 17, 1995, an agreement over the last 54 kilometres (34 mi) stretch of the border was reached, but the question of control over three islands in the Amur and Argun rivers was left to be settled later.

In a border agreement between Russia and China signed on October 14, 2004, that dispute was finally resolved. China was granted control over Tarabarov Island (Yinlong Island), Zhenbao Island, and approximately 50% of Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island (Heixiazi Island), near Khabarovsk. China's Standing Committee of the National People's Congress ratified this agreement on April 27, 2005, with the Russian Duma following suit on May 20. On June 2, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov exchanged the ratification documents from their respective governments.[8]

On July 21, 2008, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, signed an additional Sino-Russian Border Line Agreement marking the acceptance of the demarcation the eastern portion of the Chinese-Russian border in Beijing, China. An additional protocol with a map affiliated on the eastern part of the borders both countries share was signed. The agreement also includes the return of Yinlong/Tarabarov Island and half of Heixiazi/Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island.[9]

See also


1, 2. Exploring Chinese History, 1969 Border Conflict


  1. ^ a b See.: Рябушкин Д.С.(Ryabushkin, D.S.) Мифы Даманского. (Mifi Damanskogo)— Мoscow: АСТ, 2004. — С. 151, 263—264.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "" 1969年珍宝岛自卫反击战. Retrieved on 2009-11-05.
  4. ^ Burr, William. "The Sino–Soviet Border Conflict, 1969" National Security Archive, 12 June 2001.
  5. ^ Lyle J.Goldstein. Return to Zhenbao Island: Who Started Shooting and Why it Matters (
  6. ^ "Bloodshed on Damansky (Кровопролитие на Даманском)" (
  7. ^ Henry Kissinger plays ping-pong (
  8. ^ "China, Russia solve all border disputes". Xinhua. June 2, 2005. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  9. ^ "China, Russia complete border survey, determination". Xinhua. July 21, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sino-Soviet border conflict — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Sino Soviet border conflict partof= the Cold War caption= date=1969 place=border between China and Soviet Union casus= territory= result=Both sides claimed victory. USSR continued to control disputed areas… …   Wikipedia

  • 1991 Sino-Soviet Border Agreement — Chinese name Traditional Chinese 中俄邊界協議 Simplified Chinese 中俄边界协议 …   Wikipedia

  • Sino-Soviet relations — Soviet Union P.R. China relations China …   Wikipedia

  • Sino-Soviet conflict (1929) — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Sino Soviet conflict (1929) partof= caption= date=July 22, 1929 September 9, 1929 place=Inner Manchuria casus=Chinese violation of 1924 agreement territory= result=Provisions of 1924 agreement were upheld… …   Wikipedia

  • Soviet Border Troops — NKVD border guards watching the frontier Soviet Border Guard sleeve patch Soviet Border Troops, (Russian …   Wikipedia

  • Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship — The Sino Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance (Chinese: 中苏友好同盟互助条约, Pinyin: Zhōng Sū Yǒuhǎo Tóngméng Hùzhù Tiáoyuè), or Sino Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance for short, is the treaty of alliance concluded between… …   Wikipedia

  • Sino–Soviet conflict (1929) — Soviet soldiers with captured Kuomintang banners. Date July 22 September 9, 1929 …   Wikipedia

  • Sino-Soviet split — The Sino Soviet split was a gradual divergence of diplomatic ties between the People s Republic of China (PRC) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) during the Cold War. The split began in the late 1950s, reaching a peak in 1969 and… …   Wikipedia

  • 1991 Sino-Russian Border Agreement — Chinese t=中俄邊界協議 s=中俄边界协议 j=zong1 o4 bin1 gaai3 hip3 ji5 p=Zhōng É Biānjiè Xièyì rus=Российско китайское Соглашение о границе rusr=Rossiysko kitayskoye Soglasheniye o granitseThe 1991 Sino Russian Border Agreement was a treaty between the People… …   Wikipedia

  • Sino-Vietnamese War — Sino–Vietnamese War (Third Indochina War) Associated with the Cold War, Cambodian Vietnamese War Invasion of Vietnam by the People s Republic of China …   Wikipedia