China Geography

China Map 4 : The People's Republic of China

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China Geography


The contraction of Chinese territory since the Qing period is striking, especially in the north (Mongolia having seceded in 1912) and the north-east (where Russia annexed all the region cast of the Amur-Ussuri River during the last century.

Since the early 1950s the borders of China have remained virtually unchanged, but there have been several serious disputes and clashes. The most serious was probably during the Korean War (1950-53) during which China defended its border against US-backed United Nations forces. (Crises in 1954-55 and 1958 over the island of Quemoy, still occupied by the Nationalist (Guomindang) forces, did not develop into all-out war.)

After the 1960 Sino-Soviet split there were disagreements over the border in the Pamir Mountain region, and armed conflict over Zhenbao Island in the Ussuri River in which hundreds died.

The People's Republic went to war with India in 1962 over two disputed stretches of the Himalayan border, the Aksai Chin and part of the North-East Frontier Agency. (The Aksai Chin region is so remote that it took Indian patrols two years to discover a Chinese built road in 'their' sector.) war resulted in a clear victory for the Chinese.

The 1979 clash with Vietnam was not simply a border dispute: it was principally a military continuation of the quarrel between the two countries over Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978, although there had also been arguments over their respective claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China intended the 1979 campaign to 'teach the Vietnamese a lesson' but a country which had recently defeated one superpower was not so easily dealt with.

At present, border tensions appear to be easing. Internal problems such as the Tibetan separatist movement and pan-Turkic agitation in Xinjiang may become border problems if they are not successfully resolved.

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© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 by David Wright, reprinted from China Now 135, Page 17

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