Restive Republics Slow Sino-Soviet Talks Moscow Tacitly Allows Assertive Soviet Central Asian Republics More Say in Longtime Border Dispute with China

By James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 1991 | Go to article overview

Restive Republics Slow Sino-Soviet Talks Moscow Tacitly Allows Assertive Soviet Central Asian Republics More Say in Longtime Border Dispute with China


James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE improving relationship between China and the Soviet Union has been strained over the self-assertive claims of Soviet republics bordering China.

The Soviet republics have objected to concessions offered by Moscow in border talks with Beijing and demanded a say in determining their frontiers with China, diplomatic sources say.

The restive republics are unlikely to halt the steady rapprochement between China and the Soviet Union in trade, defense, Communist Party ties, and other fields since 1989, say the diplomats.

But the republics have upset the efforts by the two countries to quickly settle conflicting border claims that for centuries have symbolized the mistrust and enmity between them, they say.

The intrusion of the republics in the border negotiations is the most glaring sign of how the Kremlin has apparently resigned itself to the partial autonomy of regional officials in relations with China. Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov flouted diplomatic protocol last October and visited Taiwan, the island ruled by the Nationalist rivals of Beijing's Communist leaders. Also, officials in the Soviet Union's Central Asian republics that border the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang are deepening their diplomatic contacts across the frontier, diplomats say.

Soviet officials resent the role of the republics in determining the Sino-Soviet border. But they must consider the republics' claims or risk inflaming the regional sentiments that threaten to rip the Soviet Union apart, the diplomats say.

"Now, if for instance Moscow gives a portion of a Central Asian republic to China, it will be like setting off a bomb in that republic," an East European diplomat says.

China and the Soviet Union skirmished over parts of the 4,500-mile-long border in the late 1960s. Beijing several years ago dropped a claim to vast areas of territory it says were taken from it by czarist Russia in unequal treaties in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, thousands of square miles of land on the eastern and western parts of the border remain under dispute.

When Moscow and Beijing formally ended three decades of estrangement in 1989, the two countries swiftly agreed to solve the border problem. They privately pledged that negotiators from each country would yield on one stretch of the border in return for concessions on another part, say the diplomats.

THE quid pro quo collapsed last year when the Soviet Union's increasingly assertive republics objected to how Soviet diplomats were bargaining away their territory.

Opposition by the republics has drastically slowed the talks. Instead of trading concessions on different stretches of the border, Beijing and Moscow must take the more complicated and contentious approach of discussing each disputed section separately, the diplomats say. …

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