Exploring Chinese History
- Conflict and War -

Soviet Aggression



Soviet forces invaded Manchuria in 1929 to support the Soviet claims to the disputed Chinese Eastern Railway; they withdrew after Chinese acceptance of the Soviet position regarding the railway.

In 1950 the People’s Republic of China signed a treaty of friendship and alliance with the USSR, reflecting Mao’s policy to "lean to one side" by aligning with the socialist camp. Relations between China and the USSR deteriorated, however, due in part to ideological differences, disagreements over strategy toward the West, and border disputes, and by 1960 the split between China and the Soviet Union was evident. The two countries fought border battles in 1969 and 1970. During the 1960s, therefore, China was on bad terms with both the USSR and the United States, and was isolated from world affairs.

In the late 1980s, just before the collapse of the USSR, China’s relationship with the Soviet Union also warmed.

Soviet- KMT Relations

In August 1945 the Soviet Union concluded a treaty of friendship and alliance with the Republic of China’s Kuomintang (KMT) government, granting it economic concessions and defense facilities, as previously agreed upon by the wartime Allies. Although the Soviets promised to respect KMT sovereignty in Manchuria, they stripped the region of nearly all of its industrial machinery, resisted efforts by the Chinese government to reestablish its authority, and gave arms taken from captured Japanese soldiers to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the KMT’s adversary in a civil war. When Soviet troops withdrew, all Manchuria fell to the CCP. The subsequent victory of the Chinese Communists over the KMT in 1949 altered the balance of power in Asia to the momentary advantage of the Soviet Union.

Border skirmishes occurred at the Ussuri river between the USSR and China in 1972; the river forms part of the border between China and Russia.

1969 Border Conflict

Map highlighting the 1969 Sino- Soviet border conflict
Map highlighting the 1969 Sino- Soviet border conflict.

The Sino-Soviet border conflict of 1969 was a series of armed clashes between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China, occurring at the height of the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s. An island in the Ussuri River, called Zhenbao Island (珍宝岛) by the Chinese and Damansky Island (Остров Даманский) by the Soviets, almost led the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China to war in 1969.

Tension built up during the late 1960s along the 4,380 km (2,738 mi) border, where 658,000 Soviet troops faced 814,000 Chinese troops.

On March 2, 1969 a Soviet patrol and Chinese forces came into conflict. Both sides claimed that the other side attacked first. The Soviets suffered 31 dead and 14 wounded. They then retaliated by bombarding Chinese troop concentrations in Manchuria and by storming Damansky/ Zhenbao Island. The Soviet forces claimed that the Chinese suffered 800 casualties while the Soviets only had 60 killed or wounded. The Chinese claim to have suffered only a few casualties, far less than Soviet losses.

The Soviets claimed that the Chinese Army used the tactic of advancing while surrounded with civilians, farmers, and their animals. After a series of further clashes in this area and in Central Asia, each side prepared for nuclear confrontation. It was only when the Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin visited Beijing on his way home from the funeral of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi that a political solution cooled the situation. The border dispute was suspended, but not actually resolved, and both sides continued their military build-up along the border.

Border Negotiations in the 1990s

Serious border demarcation negotiations did not occur until shortly before the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. In particular, both sides agree that Damansky/ Zhenbao Island belongs 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 km 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. In a border agreement between Russia and China, signed on 14 October 2004, that dispute was finally resolved. In the agreement, China was granted control over Tarabarov Island (Yinlong 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, 2005. The transfer was finalized on June 2, 2005, when the agreement was signed by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov.


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