Maxwell, Neville
September 1978
Foreign Affairs;Fall1978, Vol. 57 Issue 1, p138
This article discusses the circumstances and motivation behind the Soviet Union's lifting of the blockade at Bear Island which it had imposed. In 1967 the first Chinese river boat attempting after the thaw of that year to navigate down the Amur to the confluence, intending to turn there and go back up the Ussuri, was stopped by Soviet gunboats some 40 kilometers upstream from the confluence, boarded, detained, and finally sent back. Establishing a matching blockade on the Ussuri, the Soviet Union, by the exercise of superior military force, thus denied China the right, which it had exercised since the establishment of the People's Republic, to send vessels from one river to another through the confluence. The blockade forced Chinese vessels wishing to travel from one river into the other to try to navigate through a narrow channel that connects the rivers upstream from their true confluence. At this point the question of navigation rights on the border rivers interlocks with the Sino-Soviet quarrel in its most vexed aspect, the dispute over territory. The 1860 Treaty of Peking, which made the Amur and the Ussuri Rivers the boundary between the empires of China and Russia, stipulates that the boundary lies through the rivers' confluence. The blockade established by the Soviet Union in 1967 not only imposed Moscow's reading of the boundary at the rivers' meeting point, but also marked the most severe step to that date in a progressive attempt to force China to recognize Moscow's sovereignty over the entire width of the border rivers, or, failing such acknowledgment, to deny China all use of the rivers. The intensifying Sino-Soviet quarrel through the 1960s made the question of navigation rights in the rivers a fundamental Lest of resolve and strength between the two contestants.


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