Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Contested Border: A Historical Investigation into the Sino-Korean Border Issue, 1950-1964

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Contested Border: A Historical Investigation into the Sino-Korean Border Issue, 1950-1964

Article excerpt

The contested Sino-Korean border issue has received very little study. Making use of presently available sources in the several different archives in China and Taiwan, as well as documents made public in South Korea, we examine in this article the historical background of the Sino-Korean border issue and border relations from 1950 to 1964. North Korea was dissatisfied with the Jiandao Treaty of 1909, but was uneasy about raising that dissatisfaction with the Chinese in the 1950s. When China was caught in a number of woeful domestic and international predicaments in 1962, Pyongyang seized the opportunity and proposed to Beijing that the border issue be settled. It took the two sides only six months to negotiate and sign a new boundary treaty. As a result, North Korea emerged with a larger share of Tianchi and other disputed areas. KEYWORDS: China, North Korea, Sino-Korean border.

THE SINO-KOREAN BORDER ISSUE HAS BEEN A SENSITIVE ONE FOR CHINA and the two Koreas. Although the three governments have been reticent on the issue on official occasions, and the Chinese government has even forbidden scholars to study it, people have hotly debated this topic for years. For an idea of the intensity of the debate, read the results of an online search of Chinese words such as ZhongChao bianjie (Sino-North Korean border), Baitoushan (Paektusan), and Gaogouli (Koguryo). But was the Sino-Korean border dispute resolved in history?

Chinese scholars have extensively studied the contested Sino-Korean border, but they mainly cover the Ming and Qing dynasty periods (1368-1911). Very little study on joint Sino-Korean efforts to resolve the border dispute occurred either during the era of the Republic of China (1911-1949) or under the People's Republic of China (PRC).1 Two factors contribute to the situation: first and most important, the lack of historical documentation; second, the sensitivity of the issue, which applies to Chinese as well as Korean scholars. But when we study the history of Sino-North Korean relations in the 1950s and 1960s, we cannot avoid the border issue.

Even scholars writing in English have been unable to delve deeply into the process of negotiating the Sino-Korean border. In his seminal book on China's territorial disputes with its neighbors, political scientist M. Taylor Fravel, for example, wrote in the early 1960s, "China pursued compromise in disputes with North Korea, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union in order to rebuild its economy and consolidate state control by easing external tensions" (Fravel 2008, 7). But because the Chinese government had not published its boundary treaty with North Korea, Fravel was only able to briefly introduce the 1962 Sino-Korean boundary agreement. He offered few details on the negotiation process (Fravel 2008).

Making use of currently available sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) archives in Beijing, several provincial and local archives in China, the State History Archives and Foreign Ministry Archives in Taiwan, and documents made public in South Korea, we examine the historical background of the Sino-Korean border dispute and border relations between the PRC and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) from 1950 to 1964. We analyze in depth Chinese leaders' rationale and justifications in reaching a territorial compromise with North Korea, one of China's few allies. With this article, we hope to shed new light on the recent history of the contested border between China and North Korea.

The Historical Context

The PRC and the DPRK inherited the disputed boundary from history. Geography and national feelings affect the resolution of the border issue. In the early years of Ming China (1368-1644) and the Choson Dynasty of Korea (1392-1910), China and Korea both recognized the Yalu and Tumen rivers as their border. Both rivers originate from Changbaishan (Ever-White Mountain in China, Paektusan or White Head Mountain in Korea). …

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