Sino-Soviet Border Talks: Problems and
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of Intelligenceovember9
Sino-Soviet Border Talks: Problems and Prospect!)
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 easing 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
Note: This memorandum, was produced solely by CIA, It was prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated uith the Office of Nationalhe Office of Strategic Research, and the Office of Basic Geographic 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 along 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 Is9ues--Real and Otherwise
major block to any effort to easehas beennequal" treaties is-oasse,rather than territorial issue thatof propaganda-sparring between Moscow and Pekinq
- *le 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-lst 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.
Chinese polemicists cite threetreaties under which Russia acquiredsquare miles of territory that had beenthe nominal control or domination of The Chinese contend that thesewere invalidated by Leninn whenSoviet government renounced "all seizureterritory and all the Russian concessions
in China. Peking also contends that this renuncia-
in the Sino-Soviet agreementhich stipulated the annulment of "allagreements, treaties, protocols,oncluded between the government of China and the Tsarist Moscow has flatlvthese contentions, arguing that the boundary treaties were the results of historical developments, that they were freely arrived at betweenand imperial China, and, that they, therefore, remain valid. The Sovietsequal treaties" were eliminated04 and 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, butattor of defining the few specific areas in which there islear or aareed demarcation of tne oordc*r.
3. Although it does noterious Chinese territorial claim, the "unequal" treatieshas become an integral part of Peking's ideological and political challenge of Moscow. The Chinese have considered the Russians particularly vulnerable to attack on 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
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
slands in the Amur and Ussuri border rivers. Peking charges that, even in violation of the unequal treaty, the Russians arearge number of Chineseexample, Chen Paohere fighting broke out last spring By far the most important of the islands isoviet controlledile-long strip of land at the Amur-Uaouri 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, one 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 these principles of international law. The Soviets assert, however, that the Sino-Soviet border in most instances runs along the Chinese side of the river. The Soviet version of the frontier ia not based on the wording of any treaty, but on an al-
No Foreign Dissemt
No Foreign Dissem
ieged map that accompanies the border treaty ofChinese argue that thethechosen not totoo small inshow accurately either the river boundary
8. The Soviet Union's refusal to accept either the main-channel or median-line principle forthe border is clearly related to Russian determination to hold Hei-hsia-tzu Island. The ncse say that the frontier follows the main Amur River channel to Khabarovsk, while the Soviets contend that the boundary ia 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 ofcondition 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.
9. In the western sector, the only area in dispute isquare miles ofwaste in the Pamir range along China's extreme southwest frontier. Peking contends that Russian troops occupied this area2 in violation of the Sino-Russian boundary protocol The Soviets claim the areaesult of the Anglo-Russian treaty ofagreement made without China's approval.
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 unpublicizcd and contained tension was abruptly changedowever, by the large-scale clash on theconfrontation thatseven months of overt border conflict.
"HV must noi show the sltrhtatof all countries, unite and op-
ayildany war of aggression launched by
Imperialism or soetalao Tse-iunt pectally one in which atom bombs are9 used as
Chinese national Day slogan9
Confrontation on the Border: Peking Flinches
11. The beginning of border talks in Peking onctober marked the end of China's retreat from determined and aggressive exploitation of the border disputeosition of defensivesuggested by the contrasting tone of the above Chinese statements. The precise circumstancesthe initial clash on the Ussuri River in9 will probably never be known. It seems very likely, however, that both the clash and the subsequent seven months of conflict were prompted in large part by the more aggressive and provocative Chinese moves on the border problem that followed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in
12. The Soviet intervention afforded Peking new opportunities to attack the USSR as anand "revisionist" power. Exploitation of Sino-Soviet border tension was an ideal method for the Chinese to portray Moscow as an unreliable ally menacing all socialist states; to this end the Chi-nose began to publicize widely the Russian military activity and air intrusions along the Sino-Soviet frontier. More importantly, the Chinese probably also believed a'more provocative stance on the frontier was necessary in order to offset their own weak position. Beginning inhe Russians had steadily increased their forces near the Sino-Soviet border, as well as in Mongolia. Byhe 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 "Brezhnev Doctrine" as anof Soviet readiness to step up political and military pressure against China. Given theseChina's strong action on the Ussuri and 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
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."
Sy 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 precondi tions.
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 also sent'a letter 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 domesticwar preparations, began increasingly to reflectfear of Soviet attack.
18. This new attitude of the Chinese opened the way for Premier Kosygin's unprecedented flying trip to Peking oneptember, which was clearly intended by Moscow to provide the final nudge toward negotiations on the border issue. Whatever the thrust of Kosygin's remarks to Chou En-lai at the Pekingstern or conciliatory, they had the desired Onctober, Peking formally announced that the Chinese would meet with the Russians. The Chinese statement, while obviously attempting to strengthen Chi na's case, 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?
19. Moscow and Peking have come to thetable with different outlooks and objectives, and the two sides have had difficulty in deciding what to talk about. Moscow, judging that itenjoys both political and military advantage over the Chinese, is pressingettlement that would in effect remove the border problem from the list of fundamental Sino-Soviet differences. Although there might well be circumstances in which thecould find the unsettled border problem with
China useful, they are obviously pressing for aof the contentious issue at this time. pe-king'saim is 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.
20. Presently, the talks appear blocked by the Chinese contention that the negotiation ofissues should be preceded by agreement on interim steps to cool down the dangerous situation on the border. In its statementctoberto the talks, Peking specifically emphasized military disengagement in "disputed areas." Firm agreement on an end to hostilities along the frontier would probably 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 greatlywithout 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 Dssuri 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, tho Chinese see in the Soviet position.
21. At this point Peking could choose to adopt an intransigent position, insisting thatmoet its demands on the "unequal treaty"before further steps are taken. On balance, however, it seems unlikely that the Chinese will allow these talks to break down in acrimony. presence at the talks is eloquent testimony of its concern over Soviet intentions, and themust consider that the adoptionotally uncompromising position would provide Moscow with
a perfect opportunity for resorting to harshermeasures.
22. Indeed, 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 contral 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 the 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 allropaganda victory that might make compromises more palatable to theI na*
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 roached 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.
No Foreign Dissem
from some progress in resolvingquestion of border demarcation, thewell lead to some degree of improvement in The Soviets have long believed thatfriends and foes have taken advantage ofwith the critical state ofChina and would like to relieve some ofobvious aspects of Sino-Soviet enmity. meeting with Chou En-lai oneptember,reported to haveeturn ofan expansion of trade, and the TASSthe beginning of the current talksthat Moscow expects issues other than theto be taken up. Further evidence of thismay bo the assignment of FirstMinister Kuznetsov to handle theower level official who had beendesignated to head the Soviet delegationrecommended border talks last June. Thecould have only been encouragedctober, which clearly openedfor some movement in this area. Thethat their ideological differencesshould not prevent improvement inrelations, which they added, should beunder the "five principles of peacefulfirst time the formulation hadin this connection in recent years.
of this suggests that the Chineseto uso the prospect of improved statea major bargaining tool in maneuvering awaysorious military confrontation with Chinese acceptance of the steps proposedwould in no way compromise theirposition or significantly interfere withexpressed intention to continueagainst Soviet "revisionism." On thean agreement to improve state relationspaper over failure to achieveof the border dispute.
26. In sum, the talks are likely to result intanddown 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 months would probably be symbolically marked by some degree of improvement in stateperhaps 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 conflict have further increased the basic suspicion andbetween Peking and Moscow; real Sino-Soviet rapprochement appears as far away as ever.Original document.