Heixiazi Island to Return to PRC by End of 2008

Liu Guchang, the Chinese ambassador to Russia, announced that the demarcation of borders for the Heixiazi Island (Bol’shoi Ussuriiskiy Island) is complete and the island will be officially returned to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) jurisdiction by the end of 2008 (China Times, March 10).

Heixiazi Island is located next to the Russian city of Khabarovsk, and covers an area about 327 to 350 km², which is about one-third the size of Hong Kong. It is situated at the mouth of the Ussuri and Amur rivers, and bounded closely by Yinlong Island (Tarabarov Island), Mingyue Island and 93 islets (Wen Wei Pao, March 10).

The island is the last remaining vestige of a longstanding border dispute between China and Russia since the Sino-Soviet Chinese Eastern Railway (CER) conflict in 1929, after which Russia effectively occupied the islands. In 2004, China and Russia signed the Complementary Agreement between the PRC and the Russian Federation on the Eastern Section of the China-Russia Boundary, in which Russia agreed to give China control of the Yinlong Island and half of the Heixiazi Island to China. Russia will retain control over the eastern half of the island (China Times, March 10). The plan was approved by the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Russian State Duma in 2005.

Liu said that what China intends to do with the island after it is under the PRC’s jurisdiction is something that Beijing is carefully considering, however, China will not heavily garrison the island, nor will either side make any significant arrangements without due considerations for the other party. Liu’s comments were meant to dispel unconfirmed reports that surfaced last year that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is planning to fortify the area (China Review News, April 13, 2007). There were also reports that China is planning to turn the area into a port for border trade, and there may be a need for border patrols. Feasibility studies to turn the area into a free trade zone were reportedly complete, and Singapore was invited to participate to offer technical advice and development of the area (China Review News, April 13, 2007). Currently, the planning and development of Heixiazi Island is the responsibility of the Jiamusi city government in Heilongjiang province. Liu revealed that China and Russia are currently finalizing mapping and survey data information, and the borders will be officially set up by the end of the year.

Liu added that he believes the resolution of the Heixiazi Island dispute will become a stepping stone to furthering better cooperation between China and Russia, and the island itself will become the band that will hold Russia and China’s 4,300-kilometer-long border together (China Review News, March 10).