Created: 11/10/1969

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Intelligence Memorandum

Sino-Soviet Border Talks: Problems and Prospects




CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of Intelligence9


Sino-Soviet Border Talks: Problems and Prospects


When the Sino-Soviet border talks opened in Peking onctober, the two sides came to the table with different objectives and points of view.esult, there has been difficulty in agreeing on what to talk about, and the initial three weeks of negotiation apparently have failed to produce noticeable progress. Nevertheless, by agreeing to talk at all, the two countries have clearlyesire to turn away from the collision course on which they were earlier embarked. The motivation of the Chinese is simple: the desire toossible Soviet attack. Mounting Soviet diplomatic and military pressure has forced Peking to seek an casing of tensions through negotiation. Thefor their part, believe that others have taken advantage of their preoccupation with the Chinese problem and want relief from theuncertainty, and political embarrassment that the tense situation on the border has caused them.

Ironically, one thing these talks almostcannot achieve is settlement of theSino-Soviet border dispute. Although some historic territorial claims are involved, thein its broadest sense, is part and parcel of Peking's current bitter rivalry with Moscow. Peking has no intention of abandoning its claim toquare miles of Sovietolitical rathererritorial issue that the Chinese

Kote_: Thte memorandum aae produced eolely by CIA. It was prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated with the Office of National Estimates, the Office of Strategic Research, and the Office of Basic Ceographic Intelligence.


have been effectively exploiting for six years. Both sides, however, may now be ready to agree to disagree on this broad and intractable issue and move on to other issues where some accord is The Soviets are clearly anxious to bring about some improvements in state relations and appearto make some compromises on areas in dispute alon the border- The Chinese,osition of relative weakness, may be ready to improve their statewith the USSR and possibly to compromise on the question of border demarcation in certainareas. Any positive results would provide at least short-term relief from the tension of recent months and avert new, more serious military actions across the Sino-Soviet border.


Territorial Issues--Real and Otherwise

A major block to any effort to ease border tensions has been the "unequal" treatiesolitical rather than territorial issue that grew out of propaganda-sparring between Moscow and Peking after the Cuban missile crisis InChinese criticism of his withdrawal of Russian missiles, Soviet Premier Khrushchev, inhided the Chinese for their continuedof "colonial outhouses" in Hong Kong and Macao Peking responded by reminding Khrushchev that Czar-ist Russia had been an eager participant in theof Chinese territory and suggestedubstantial chunk of Soviet Siberia could be added to the list of colonial enclaves tolerated by China. Since then, this issue hasatter ofprinciple and national prestige for both sides.

The Chinese polemicists citeh century treaties under which Russia acquiredquare miles of territory that had beenthe nominal control or domination of lanchu China. The Chinese contend that these "unequal treaties" were invalidated by Leninn when the new Soviet government renounced "all seizure of Chinese territory and all the Russian concessions

in China." Peking also contends that thiswas incorporated in the Sino-Soviet agreementhich stipulated the annulment of "allagreements, treaties, protocols, contractsoncluded between the government of China and the Tsarist Moscow has flatlythese contentions, arguing that the boundary treaties were the results of historical developments that they were freely arrived at betweenof imperial Russia and imperial China, and, that they, therefore, remain valid. The Sovietsthat all the "unequal treaties" were eliminated0nd that no document of the Soviet state or any statement by Lenin ever qualified the border treaties with China as unequal or subject to revision. According to the Russians, there is no "territorial issue" between the USSR and China, butatter of defining the few specific areas in

which there islear or aareed demarcation of the border.



it does not incorporate aterritorial claim, the "unequal" treatieshas become an integral part of Peking'spolitical challenge of Moscow. The Chinesethe Russians particularly vulnerableon this subject, pointing to Soviet defense

ofh century treaties as proof of Moscow's "revisionism" and "social-imperialist* character.esult, Peking has continued to maintain that any final settlement of Sino-Soviet borderwill require the negotiationew, "equal" treaty. Disavowing any intention of actuallyterritory lost to imperial Russia, thehave consistently stated their willingness to accept the existing frontier as the basis for aborder demarcation, provided that Moscow first acknowledgeh century treaties establishing it as "unequal." The Soviets, largely for reasons of national prestige, are unwilling to makeoncession. Even if new "equal" treaties were signed confirming Soviet possession of the Far Easterna Soviet admission that the old treaties had been unequal would give the appearance that thehad come to Moscow only through Peking's Thisircumstance Moscow clearly finds unacceptable, although the Soviets might be amenable to some compromise wording that would allowiffering interpretation by each side.

factor probably affectingis that most of Russia's borderso more equitable manner than waswith China. Thus admission of the "unequal"of the border agreements with China couldlead to agitation on the part of othersthe USSR. In particular, it could aidstated case for the return ofby the Russians at the end of world War II--

an argument Moscow already finds vexatious.

from the unequal treaties issue,of its political and ideological baggage,some specific, more limited territorialthe USSR that are perhaps more open to Along the eastern sector of theclaims are mostly directed toward the more

charmd (arrow)ha it'.nj on China'i no* (left side o' phoiowapn) ol

OW bo>dt).

slands in the Amur and Ussuri border rivers. Peking charges that, even in violation of the unequal treaty, tho Russians arearge number of Chineseexample, Chen Paohere fighting broke out last spring. By far the most important of the islands is Hei-hsia-tzu, oviet controlled ile-long strip of land at the Amur-Ussuri confluence that dominates thecity of Khabarovsk.

The treaties establishing this sector of the frontier refer to territories on the left and right bank, but never to the river itself. Under such circumstances, ona of two alternatives isaccepted under international law: either the line of the channel or the median line of the stream becomes the boundary. The former is most often used if the river is navigable, the latter if it is not.

The Chinese base their claim to the islands on both chese principles of international law. The Soviets assert, however, that the Sino-Soviet border in most instances runs along the Chinese side of the rivor. The Soviet version of the frontier is not based on the wording of any treaty, but on an al-


leged map that accompanies the border treatyhe Chinese argue that thethe Soviets have chosen not to produce--is too small in scale to show accurately either the river boundary orownership.

Soviet Union's refusal to acceptmain-channel or median-line principle forthe border is clearly related toto holdu Island. The t'rsay that the frontier follows the mainchannel to Khabarovsk, while the Sovietsthe boundary is markedinor channel of

the Amur more distant from the city. If Peking's claim were accepted, the Chinese would be virtuallytone's throw from the center ofondition completely unacceptable to Moscow. There are also two smaller Soviet-occupied areas along the eastern sector that are claimed by Peking: quare miles of territory near the border town of Manchouli in western Manchuria,ection on the Soviet side of the Amur river opposite northern Manchuria. Neither area has been mentioned recently by Peking, but both are still officially in dispute.

the western sector, the only areaisquare miles ofwaste in the Pamir range along China'sfrontier. Peking contends thatoccupied this area2 in violationSino-Russian boundary protocol claim the areaesult of thetreatyn agreement madeapproval.

10. These areas of specific dispute have alwaysource of friction, especially since the two sides began exchanging propaganda accusations over the border Subsequently, minor incidents involving gunfire and other "provocations" haveoccurred with some frequency along the frontier, although both sides acted with restraint to keep the situation under control. This pattern of unpublici2ed and contained tension was abruptly changedowever, by the large-scale clash on theonfrontation thatseven months of overt border conflict.


must not show the sliglttut timid-kyild beast,"

Mao Tse-tung9

"People of all countries, unite endany of aggression launched by Imperialism or social-imperialism,one Pt which atom bombs are used as"

Chinese National Day slogan9

Confrontation on the Border: Peking Flinches

The beginning of border talks in Peking onctober marked the end of China's retreat from determined and aggressive exploitation of tho border disputeosition of defensive concern--asuggested by the contrasting tone of the above Chinese statements. The precise circumstancesthe initial clash on the Ussuri River in9 will probably nover be known. It seems very likely, however, that both the clash and the subsequent seven months of conflict were prompted in targe part by the more aggressive and provocative Chinese moves on the border problem that followed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in

The Soviet intervention afforded Peking new opportunities to attack the USSR as anandpower. Exploitation of Sino-Soviet border tension was an ideal method lor the Chinese to portray Moscow as an unreliable ally menacing all socialist states; to this end thet>egan to publicize widely the Russian military activity and air intrusions along the Sino-Soviet frontier. More importantly, tho Chinese probably alsoore provocative stance on the frontier was necessary in order to offset their own weak position. Beginning inhe Russians hod steadily increased their forces near the Sino-Soviet border, as well as in Mongolia. By early

, the Soviets had massed somend air and missile units in the frontierthe number

faced with this increasingpower along the border and virtuallyinternational support, must have viewedthe application of the "Brezhnev Doctrine"

to Czechoslovakia and, in Chinese eyes, itsfor China. Although Peking almostdid not fear direct Soviet invasion it must have interpreted the *Bre2hnev Doctrine" as anof Soviet readiness to step up political and military pressure against China. Given theseChina's strong action on theand its eagerness to exploit the resulting tension appear to haveistinctly Maoist method of Byard-line posture, Peking was demonstrating to Russia that despite itswith internal problems it was determined to resist Soviet pressures and to defend China's territorial rights, while at the same time calling world attention to the Soviet "threat." As anbenefit, the Chinese could make use oftension with Moscow to foster internal unity androperly militant atmosphere in which to implement the regime's newest domestic social and economic program;.

the spring and earlyruculent line on the borderseizing on alleged border provocations"new tsars" in Moscow in order to drivecase and to play on Moscow's currentwith Eastern Europe. In his report toparty congress in April, Lin Piaoshortly after the initial Ussuri clasheshad refused toelephone call fromleadership regarding the tensefollowing month the Chinese released ato earlier Soviet proposals for talksclearly timed to undercut Moscow's positiondispute on the eve of the World Communistin Moscow. The statement predictablyonus on the Russians for the borderreiterated the rigid Chinese demand thatthat the present frontier was basedtreaties."


By mid-summer, however, there was mounting evidence that the Chinese were becoming lessof their ability to compete successfully in this war of nerves and were rethinking theirposition. Moscow had shown no sign of backing away from the border conflict. On the contrary, it had become increasingly obdurate,ustained campaign of political and military pressure designed to force Peking to the conference table without preconditions.

Following the second Ussuri clash onarch, in which the Soviets claim to have inflicted hundreds of casualties on the Chinese, Moscow implemented its policy of pressing for talks while at the same time displaying its intention to respond in the strongest manner feasible to any provocations. Soviet protests over the continuing border clashes contained hints of military action against China; and prominent Soviet leaders, such as party chief Brezhnev and ForeignGromyko, publicly attacked Mao and his regime.

By late summer, Soviet pressureore ominous turn. Soviet officials began soliciting reactions to the possibility of Sino-Soviet hostilities,oviet pre-emptive strike against China's atomic installations. Obviously with the intention thatshould learn its contents, the Soviets alsoetter to the Australian Communist Partystrongly that more severe military measures were being contemplated.

Chinese at this point dropped theirposition and promptly began seriousat the border river navigation talks atflip-flop that seemed tohinese decisionaway from all-out confrontation with Moscow. same time diplomatic sources began to reportof concern by Chou En-lai and other Chineseover Soviet military intentions; Chinesefocused less and less on China's territorialMoscow and more and more on the details ofmilitary buildup and its nuclearas in the fall5 when Peking fearedof the Vietnam war, standard domestic propaganda

on war preparations, began increasingly toeal fear of Soviet attack.


Kosygin and Chou En-lai at Peking Airport,9

new attitude of the Chineseway for Premier Kosygin's unprecedentedto Peking oneptember, which wasby Moscow to provide the final nudgeon the border issue. Whatever theKosygin's remarks to Chou En-lai at the Pekingstern or conciliatory, they had tho desired ctober, Peking formally announcedChinese would meet with the Russians. Thewhile obviously attempting to strengthencase, abandoned the contention that discussions

to ease the border conflict wouLd require Moscow's prior recognition that the present boundary was based on "unequal treaties." hinese position paper on the border released the following dayPeking's argumentinal, over-allwould require such an acknowledgement, it could not disguise Peking'sChinese had agreed to border talks on Soviet terms.

What Is There To Talk About?

and Peking have come to thotable with different outlooks andthe two aides have had ditficulty in to talk about. Moscow, judging that itenjoys both political and militarythe Chinese, is pressingettlementin effect remove the border problem fromof fundamental Sino-Soviet differences. might wall be circumstances in which thecould find the unsettled border problom with


China useful, they are obviously pressing for aof the contentious issue at this time. s far more limited: the prevention of war,inimum compromise of Chinese territorial and political claims. There has been no sign of Chinese readiness to arrivear-reachingon Soviet terms.

the talks appear blockedChinese contention that the negotiation ofissues should be preceded by agreementsteps to cool down the dangerous the border, in its statementctoberto the talks, Peking specificallydisengagement in "disputed areas." on an end to hostilities along theprobably satisfy most of China's objectives

in the talks. The Chinese would create theof becoming more reasonable, and the threat of more serious conflict would be greatly reduced--all without jeopardy to Peking's political andclaims. The Russians, however, arereluctant to acceptimited tacticalwithout broader agreement on specificdifferences. They will certainly raise the question of border demarcation in disputed areas such as the Amur and Ussuri River islands, where fighting broke out last spring. Progress on this sticky and now emotional issue, however, will be difficult. Much will depend on how hard Moscow presses and on what degree of bluff, if any, the Chinese see in the Soviet position.

this point Peking could choosean intransigent position, insisting thatmeet its demands on the "unequal treaty"before further steps are taken. Onit seems unlikely that the Chinesethese talks to break down in acrimony. presence at the talks is eloquentits concern over Soviet intentions, and themust consider that the adoption of aposition would provide Moscow with

a perfect opportunity for rescrtinc to harshermeasures.

ndeed, Peking may believe it isto compromise some of its specific territorial claims in order to keep the talks going and diminish Soviet pressure. In this respect, the question of Hei-hsia-tzu island will undoubtedly be central to any agreement. The Soviet legal claim to this strategically important island is practicallybut Moscow has made it clear that Soviet possession of the island is not negotiable. The Russians conceivably might be willing to accept Peking's claims to other less important areas if tho Chinese formally cede Hei-hsia-tzu to them. Moscow, for example, could agree to abide by the "main channel" formula in other stretches of the Amur and Ussuri rivers. Such an agreement would give China possession of most of the disputed river islands, including Chen Pao (Damansky) island, where the current trouble allpropaganda victory that might make compromises more palatable to the Chinese.

23. Surrendering their claim to Damansky after the events of March would be an extremely bitter pill for the Soviets to swallow. Nevertheless, they haveillingness to consider "mutualand local conditions in negotiations over the disputed territory. This suggests that in order toontentious issue they would be willing to surrender some pieces of real estate that are of little value to them; Damansky, as well as most of the Ussuri islands, seems to have little strategic or economic importance to the Russians. Earlyon the progress of the talks, in fact, claim that the Soviets appear most flexible on theof these islands. Even if agreement is reached on such territorial adjustments, however, there seems no chance that the revisions would be incorporatedew treaty redefining the entire border. In agreeing to the current talks Peking served notice on Moscowinal settlement will still require Moscow's acknowledgement of the "unequal" treaties and the negotiationew "equal" treaty. The Chinese have successfully exploited this artificial territorial issue for six years and clearly intend to keep it alive for use in future polemics.

Aside from some progress ine specific question of border demarcation, the talks may well lead to some degree of improvement in state relations. The Soviets have long believed that both their friends and foes have taken advantage of their preoccupation with the critical state of relations with China and would like to relieve some of the more obvious aspects of Sino-Soviet enmity. During his meeting with Chou En-lai oneptember, Kosygin is reported to haveeturn of ambassadors and an expansion of trade, and the TASS statement announcing the beginning of the current talksthat Moscow expects issues other than theto be taken up. Further evidence of thismay be the assignment of First Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov to handle theower level official who had beendesignated to head the Soviet delegation when Moscow recommended border talks last June. Thecould have only been encouraged by Peking's statementctober, which clearly opened the door for some movement in this area. The Chinese emphasized that their ideological differences with Moscow should not prevent improvement in state-to-state relations, which they added, should beunder the "five orinciples of peacefulfirst time the formulation had been employed in this connection in recent years.

All of this suggests that the Chineseto use the prospect of improved state relationsajor bargaining tool in maneuvering away from possible serious military confrontation with the USSR. Chinese acceptance of the steps proposed by Kosygin would in no way compromise theirposition or significantly interfere withexpressed intention to continue polemical warfare against Soviet "revisionism." On the other hand, an agreement to improve state relations would conveniently paper over failure to achieve broad resolution of the border dispute.

26. In sum, the talks are likely to result in practicalastanddown of provocative military activity in the immediate border area and, possibly, territorialwill

minimize the chance of further conflict. losing out of the dangerous situation of the past seven month* would probably be symbolically marked by soma degree of improvement in state relations--perhaps to the cold but correct status prevailing before the Cultural Revolution. Even if the talks were to drag on almost indefinitely, their very existence couldlimate in which these developments could take place. actical accord, however, would in no way ease the fundamentaland ideological differences separating the two sides- The past seven months of border conflic have further increased the basic suspicion andbetween Peking and Moscow; real Sino-Soviet rapprochement appears as far away as ever.


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