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Boundaries and Boundary Disputes

Beijing has since 2000 resolved territorial disputes by demarcating boundaries with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. Land boundary negotiations continue with Bhutan and India. China established a maritime boundary with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000 but has no maritime boundaries in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea, where it lays competing claims to islands and waters.

China's borders, more than 20,000 kilometers of land frontier shared with nearly all the nations of mainland East Asia, were disputed at a number of points. In the western sector, China claimed portions of the 41,000-square-kilometer Pamir Mountains area, a region of soaring mountain peaks and glacial valleys where the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, and China meet in Central Asia. North and east of this region, some sections of the border remained undemarcated at the end of the Cold War.

The China-Burma border issue was settled October 1, 1960, by the signing of the Sino-Burmese Boundary Treaty. The first joint inspection of the border was completed successfully in June 1986.

The 6,542-kilometer frontier with the Soviet Union had been a source of continual friction. In 1954 China published maps showing substantial portions of Soviet Siberian territory as its own. In the northeast, border friction with the Soviet Union produced a tense situation in remote regions of Nei Monggol Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia) and Heilongjiang Province along segments of the Ergun He (Argun River), Heilong Jiang (Amur River), and Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri River). Each side had massed troops and had exchanged charges of border provocation in this area. In a September 1986 speech in Vladivostok, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev offered the Chinese a more conciliatory position on Sino-Soviet border rivers. In 1987 the two sides resumed border talks that had been broken off after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In the early 1990s, relations got a boost from China's interest in renewed weapons imports from Russia and other forms of military cooperation. In December 1992, Yeltsin went to China and signed a nonaggression declaration that theoretically ended what each called the other's search for regional hegemony in Asia. Chinese party chairman Jiang Zemin visited Moscow in September 1994 and concluded a protocol that resolved some border disputes and generally strengthened bilateral ties. During Yeltsin's visit to China in April 1996, both sides described their relationship as evolving into a "strategic partnership," which included substantially increased arms sales. At the April meeting, new agreements made progress toward delineating and demilitarizing the two countries' 3,645 kilometers of common border. Although border security and illegal Chinese immigration into the Russian Far East were controversial issues for Russian regional officials, Yeltsin demanded regional compliance with the agreements.

A major dispute between China and India focuses on the northern edge of their shared border, where the Aksai Chin area of northeastern Jammu and Kashmir is under Chinese control but claimed by India. Eastward from Bhutan and north of the Brahmaputra River (Yarlung Zangbo Jiang) lies a large area controlled and administered by India but claimed by the Chinese in the aftermath of the 1959 Tibetan revolt. The area was demarcated by the British McMahon Line, drawn along the Himalayas in 1914 as the Sino-Indian border; India accepts and China rejects this boundary. In June 1980 China made its first move in twenty years to settle the border disputes with India, proposing that India cede the Aksai Chin area in Jammu and Kashmir to China in return for China's recognition of the McMahon Line; India did not accept the offer, however, preferring a sector-by-sector approach to the problem. In July 1986 China and India held their seventh round of border talks, but they made little headway toward resolving the dispute. Each side, but primarily India, continued to make allegations of incursions into its territory by the other.

China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim sovereignty over both the Xisha (Paracel) and the Nansha (Spratly) islands, but the major islands of the Xisha are occupied by China. The Philippines claims an area known as Kalayaan (Freedom Land), which excludes the Nansha in the west and some reefs in the south. Malaysia claims the islands and reefs in the southernmost area, and there also is a potential for dispute over the islands with Brunei.

Liu Jianfei wrote in 2012 that "The issue of sovereignty of the territorial land and waters could easily arouse extreme nationalism. Some people who are highly focused on this issue in fact know little about the history and strategy underlying the disputes. They are inclined to adopt hard-line measures in order to ensure that sovereignty is assured, whilst displaying their dissatisfaction with the policies set by the ruling parties and government. The highly advanced state of new media provides a convenient platform for these people to air their views, and disputes have the potential to incite the publics dissatisfaction with the government, and even the basic system of the country."



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