Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in his speech marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said that the Party had thoroughly nullified all the unequal treaties imposed on China by past imperialist powers. A few days earlier, he had issued a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring that the two countries had satisfactorily resolved the border issue left over by history and neither side had territorial claims on the other. However, a little dose of history would reveal the falsehood in Xi’s remarks.
The CCP did not and has never nullified the unequal treaties imposed by Czarist Russia. Instead, it signed a new border treaty with Russia in 1991 that recognized all the unequal treaties that Czarist Russia had imposed on China, annexing roughly 579,153 square miles of land from China. Thus the so-called “satisfactorily resolution” of the border issue was but a unilateral forfeiture by China on its legitimate claims on the lost lands.
After the Soviet Union was established in 1917, it issued three statements on July 25, 1919, Sept. 27, 1920, and Sept. 4, 1923, respectively, committing itself to rescinding all the treaties between Czarist Russia and the Chinese Qing Dynasty–by returning every piece of territories seized and surrendering every right grabbed from China back then. On the basis of these public commitments, China agreed to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1924.
Article 3 of the 1924 agreement, regarding establishing diplomatic relations, stated unequivocally that all the treaties, conventions, agreements, and contracts between Czarist Russia and the Chinese Qing Dynasty would be nullified. However, in practice, the Soviet Union never honored these commitments. Not only did it retain all the previous treaty rights, but also invaded China in 1929 over control of the Chinese Eastern Railroad. Bilateral diplomatic relations broke down as a result, and there has been no attempt to resolve the border issue since then.
Thus any attempt to negotiate a genuinely “equal” border treaty should start from the 1924 Russian commitments, not from the border settlement imposed by the Czarist invasion. If the new treaty is based on the border status quo, then it is tantamount to forfeiting the land that has been legitimately China’s and that Russia once agreed to return.
When the CCP came to power in 1949, it pledged to nullify all unequal treaties. It did so with respect to all Western powers but kept the Russian ones intact. While the 1991 new border treaty served to confirm that all the previous “unequal treaties” forced upon China by the Czar became legal, the 2001 accord, “Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation,” further re-affirmed their legality.
From the Chinese point of view, the new border treaty with Russia seriously impaired Chinese national interests:
- It meant that the huge tract of land, roughly 579,153 square miles, was forever lost. These were lands forming the southern parts of present-day Amur Oblast, Kamchatka Oblast, Sakhalin Oblast, and the Khabarovsk Krai of the Far Eastern Federal District. These account for about 386,102 square miles in the eastern sector, not counting another 193,050 square miles in the western sector.
- Another 65,891 square miles in the northwest part of Mongolia, or the present-day Tuva Republic of Russia (or Tangnu Wuliang Hai in Chinese), was annexed by Russia unilaterally without any written treaty with China (more below).
- The territorial right to part of present-day Amur Oblast, usually referred to as the 64 villages east of Amur River near Blagoveshchensk/Hailanpao, which even the Czar recognized as Chinese territories, was forever lost.
- A strategic island, the Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island, (called Heixiazi Island in Chinese), in the Ussuri River, was also lost. This island was seized by Russia during the 1929 invasion of China. The Treaty of Khabarovsk that legalized the seizure represented the only cession treaty imposed on China in modern times. After hard negotiations, in 2004, Russia agreed only to return half of the island to China but still kept the other half.
- The important Pacific seaport of Vladivostok was forever lost. This port could provide a second sea outlet after Dalian for the vast landlocked northeastern provinces of China.
In essence, the so-called “new border treaty” was but a document legalizing all the unequal treaties imposed on China by Russia. It re-affirmed the existing border that had begun to take shape since 1850. I was the first to point out the traitorous nature of the new border treaty in my article headlined, “Will China give up its claim to the Spratlys?” published in Straits Times on Nov 18, 1997. Then on Sept. 30, 2004, in a commentary published in the Chinese newspaper Ming Pao, I dared then CCP leader Jiang Zemin to explain to the Chinese people the rationale of concluding such a treaty, without the people’s knowledge. As a result, I was jailed for three years.
The ridiculous thing is that up to now, details of the territorial stretch of China remain a state secret. On Aug 15, 2017, Chinese journalist Yin Minhong reached out to the Foreign Ministry about the issue and asked if China had signed any treaty with Russia after 1949 regarding the status of Tangnu Wuliang Hai (called the Tuva Republic in Russian). The Ministry didn’t answer the question and said it couldn’t disclose information on the sensitive issue.
So, Yin appealed to the Beijing Middle Court, which declined to accept and hear the case. He then appealed to the Beijing High Court. Similarly, the High Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the original verdict. In other words, anyone who wanted to get information about the territorial extent of the country, or to question the legitimacy of a border treaty, would be charged with breaching state secrets, as seen in my case.
If the CCP had really resolved “satisfactorily” China’s historical border issue with Russia, as Xi claimed, then there would be no need to hide such a matter behind the cloak of state secrets.
Ching Cheong is a graduate of the University of Hong Kong. In his decades-long journalism career, he has specialized in political, military, and diplomatic news in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, and Singapore.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.