|Sino-Soviet border conflict|
|Part of the Cold War|
|Mao Zedong||Leonid Brezhnev|
|Casualties and losses|
|800 (Soviet claim), casualties unknown
68 killed at zhenbao island
|31 killed and 14 wounded at Zhenbao island alone
1 truck destroyed
1 command car destroyed
1 tank captured (Total casualties unknown)
The Sino-Soviet border conflict (中苏边界冲突) refers to a series of armed border clashes between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China at the height of the Sino-Soviet split in 1969. The most serious of these border clashes occurred in March 1969 in the vicinity of Zhenbao Island (珍宝岛) on the Ussuri River, also known as Damanskii Island (Остров Даманский) in Russia. Chinese historians most commonly refer to the conflict by the Zhenbao Island incident (珍宝岛自卫反击战)  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the island was given to China.
The deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations in the late 1950s and early 1960s resulted in tensions along the 4,380 km (2,738 mi) border between China and Russia. A particularly serious incident occurred in May, 1962, when 60,000 ethnic Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang Province crossed the frontier into the Soviet Union, fleeing the desperate economic conditions. Beijing immediately accused the Soviets of subverting the Uyghur population, a charge that was later supported by some Chinese historiography, though never independently verified.
Amid heightening tensions, the Soviet Union and China began border talks. The Chinese position was that the 19th-century border treaties, concluded by the Qing dynasty China and the Tsarist Russia, were "unequal", and amounted to unfair annexation of the Chinese territory. Moscow could not accept this interpretation. By 1964 the two sides were able to reach a preliminary agreement on the Eastern section of the border, including Zhenbao Island, which, it was agreed, would be handed over to the Chinese side.
However, in July, 1964, Mao Zedong, in a meeting with a Japanese socialist delegation, stated that Tsarist Russia had stripped China of vast territories in Siberia and the Far East as far as Kamchatka. Mao announced that China still had not presented a bill for this list. Outraged by Mao's comments, which were leaked to the public, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev refused to approve the border agreements, which had already been reached.
Since around 1900, after the Treaty of Beijing, where Russia gained Outer Manchuria, the East side of the border had mainly been demarcated by three rivers, the Erguna River from the triparty junction with Mongolia to the North tip of China, running SW to NE, then Amur to Khabarovsk from NE to SW, where it was joined by Ussuri River running SE to NW. Because of Chinese weakness the Ussuri River was demarcated in non-habitual manner: the demarcation line was on the right (Chinese) side of the river. By this way all the river with all islands fall into Russian possession.
China claimed these islands, as they are located on the Chinese side of the river (if demarcated according to international rule using shipping lanes). The USSR wanted (and by then, already effectively controlled) almost every single island along the rivers.
In the meantime, the amount of troops on both sides of the Sino-Soviet border increased dramatically after 1964.
On March 2, 1969, a group of Chinese troops ambushed Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island. The Soviets suffered 31 dead and 14 wounded. They retaliated on March 15 by bombarding Chinese troop concentrations on the Chinese bank of the Ussuri and by storming Zhenbao Island.
Further border clashes occurred in August, 1969, this time along the western section of the Sino-Soviet border, in Xinjiang. The Chinese suffered additional casualties in this engagement. Heightened tensions raised the prospect of a nuclear war between China and the Soviet Union. In the early 1960s, the United States had "probed" the level of Soviet interest in joint action against Chinese nuclear weapons facilities; now the Soviets probed what the United States' reaction would be if the USSR attacked the facilities.
As war fever gripped China, Moscow and Beijing took steps to lower the danger of a large-scale conflict. On September 11, 1969, Soviet Prime Minister Aleksei Kosygin, on his way back from the funeral of the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, stopped over in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai. Symbolic of the frosty relations between the two communist countries, the talks were held in Beijing airport. The two premiers agreed to return ambassadors (previously recalled), and begin conducting border negotiations.
The view on the reasoning and consequences of the conflict differ between western and Russian historians. Western historians believe the events at Zhenbao Island and the subsequent border clashes in Xinjiang caused Mao to re-appraise China's foreign policy and to seek rapprochement with the United States, while Russian historians point out that the consequences of the conflict stem directly from the desire of the PRC to take a leading role in the world and strengthen ties with the US. Such a local conflict with the USSR would be a sign of a split with the USSR and signal the US that China was ready for dialogue. The PRC began ideological preparation for the split with the USSR in the late 1950s, and that the Soviet Border Service started to report about the intensifying Chinese military activity in the region during the early 1960s.
After the conflict, America showed actual interest in strengthening ties with the Chinese government by secretly sending Henry Kissinger to China for a meeting with prime-minister Zhou Enlai in 1971, paving the way for Richard Nixon to visit China and meet with Mao Zedong in 1972, during the so-called Ping Pong Diplomacy.
China's relations with the USSR remained sour after the conflict, despite the border talks, which began in 1969 and lasted inconclusively for a decade.
Domestically, the threat of war, caused by the border clashes, inaugurated a new stage in the Cultural Revolution; that of China's thorough militarization. The 9th CCP Congress, held in the aftermath of the Zhenbao Island incident, confirmed Defense Minister Lin Biao as Mao's heir-apparent.
Following the events of 1969, the Soviet Union further increased its forces along the Sino-Soviet border, and in Mongolia.
Overall, the Sino-Soviet confrontation, which reached its peak in 1969, paved the way to a profound transformation in the international political system and shattered post-WWII bipolarity.
Serious border demarcation negotiations did not occur until shortly before the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. In particular, both sides agreed that Damansky/Zhenbao Island belonged 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 later.
In a border agreement between Russia and China, signed on October 14, 2004, that dispute was finally resolved. In the agreement, China was granted control over Tarabarov Island (Yinlong Island), Zhenbao 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. On June 2, 2005, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov exchanged the ratification documents from their respective governments.
On July 21, 2008, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, signed an additional Sino-Russian Border Line Agreement marking the acceptance of the demarcation the eastern portion of the Chinese-Russian border in Beijing, China. An additional protocol with a map affiliated on the eastern part of the borders both countries share was signed. The agreement also includes the return of Yinlong/Tarabarov Island and half of the Heixiazi/Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island.