Border pact under wraps to keep the nationalists quiet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 12:00am

Final demarcation agreement appears to have given China three islands

China and Russia are keeping the details of their newly signed border demarcation agreement deliberately vague because of fears it might rekindle nationalistic fervour and lead to animosity.

The agreement dealt with three disputed islands at the eastern end of the 4,300km border, completing a demarcation process that had stretched over four decades.

A statement by Xinhua did not specify how the island disputes were resolved. But Chinese analysts at government think-tanks said a supplementary agreement accompanying the demarcation agreement recognised thalweg - the international standard for demarcation along the 'main channel' of a river - which in effect put both disputed islands on the Chinese side.

The agreement calls for 'joint use' of the islands formerly in dispute, but that should not be regarded as joint sovereignty, they said.

Under the supplementary agreement, China would allow Russian residents to live on the islands for a limited period of time, they said.

Demarcation of the border has been a sensitive issue, with tensions nearly erupting into armed conflict in 1969.

It has continued to be an emotionally charged issue in the post-Soviet period, especially with China's rising economic power and the undocumented Chinese population in Siberia, which is perceived as a threat by Moscow.

President Hu Jintao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said the agreement would 'create more favourable conditions for the long-term, healthy and stable development of the China-Russia strategic partnership of co-operation'.

A joint statement by the two heads of state on Thursday described the agreement as 'balanced and reasonable' and politically a 'win-win' solution which should be 'valued and fully affirmed'.

Since 1997, only three islands on the border had remained in dispute: Heixiazi or Bolshoi Ussuriiski, which comprises two islands, on the Ussuri River in Heilongjiang province ; and Abagaitu or Bolshoi on the upper reach of the Ergan River in Inner Mongolia .

'The agreement resolved the border dispute once and for all,' said Li Jingjie , former head of the Russian Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

'It was a pragmatic and forward-looking endeavour by the leaders of both countries.'

The joint statement said the border deal would create 'new favourable conditions for joint actions in environmental protection, utilisation of natural resources, shipping, economic co-operation, and security and stability in the border areas'.