102. Telegram From the Liaison Office in China to the Department of State1

1352. CINCPAC for POLAD. Subj: Chinese Deliver “Strong Protest” on Soviet Border Incursion.

1. Summary. PRC Vice Foreign Minister Yu Chan, concurrently senior Chinese negotiator in Sino-Soviet border negotiations in progress in Peking, handed strong protest to Soviet Ambassador Tolstikov on May 11 concerning border incident on May 9. According to Chinese note, the Soviets dispatched a helicopter, military boats and troops some 4 kilometers into China territory in an area some 40 miles south of the major border clash at Damansky (Chen Pao) Island in March 1969. In Peking both sides seem intent on playing down the incident. Chinese spokesmen have declined comment. Soviet Embassy officers have informally indicated that the Chinese protest was accepted and “regrets” expressed, and a 2nd plenary session on the border talks was appar[Page 372]ently held as scheduled in Peking on May 12. Although the timing of the incident was provocative—following resumption of the border talks during Chairman Hua Kuo-feng’s state visit to North Korea—we are inclined to believe pending additional information that the Soviet action was unpremeditated. End summary.

2. New China News Agency (NCNA) reported on May 11 that PRC Vice Foreign Minister Yu Chan had “lodged a strong protest with the Soviet Union against its recent organized military provocation against China with aircraft and military boats.” Yu Chan, who is concurrently the senior Chinese border negotiator in the recently resumed talks with the Soviet negotiator Ilichev, delivered the protest at a May 11 meeting with Soviet Ambassador Tolstikov.

3. According to the NCNA account of the incident, the Soviets on the morning of May 9 had dispatched a helicopter, 18 military boats and some 30 troops about 4 kilometers into Chinese territory at Yuenyapao District, Huling County, Heilungkiang. (The location is along the Ussuri River, approximately 40 miles south of Damansky (Chen Pao) Island where major Sino-Soviet clashes had occurred in March 1969.) After landing on the Chinese bank of the river, they allegedly chased, tried to round up, shot at, and wounded a number of Chinese inhabitants. Some 14 Chinese were dragged to riverside but ultimately released by the Soviet troops “under the repeated protests of the Chinese inhabitants.”

4. The protest note termed the incident “an organized military provocation against China occurring at a time when the Sino-Soviet boundary negotiations had just resumed . . . a grave, calculated step to create tension on the border.” The Chinese Government therefore demanded an apology, punishment of the culprits, and guarantees against similar incidents occurring in the future. The note concluded with a standard—but stiff—admonition that the Soviet side “must bear full responsibility for the consequences” if the demands were not met.

5. The People’s Daily played the story on page one of its May 12 issue and Peking Radio has broadcast the text of the note on its regular news programs since the evening of May 11.

6. In Peking both sides seem intent on playing down the incident for the time being. Chinese MFA Information Department spokesmen have declined comment on the incident and offered no details on precise location of the incursion or nature of injuries suffered by the Chinese inhabitants. By late evening of May 11 the TASS Bureau in Peking seemed genuinely to have no knowledge of the incident or protest. Throughout May 12 Soviet Embassy officers have been passing the word in low-key fashion that Ambassador Tolstikov had accepted the Chinese protest and expressed “regrets” over the incident. (One Soviet account has it, however, that Ambassador Tolstikov also expressed “re[Page 373]gret that the Chinese side had chosen to blow up this incident out of proportion.” This rings true to us.)

7. We understand that a second plenary session of the border talks was held as scheduled in Peking on May 12. Yu Chan and Ilichev presumably discussed the incident at that session.

8. Comment: Although timing of the incident was provocative—following resumption of the border talks and during Chairman Hua Kuo-feng’s highly publicized visit to North Korea—we are inclined to believe pending additional information that the Soviet action was unpremeditated on the political level. Even assuming that the Chinese version of the events is essentially accurate, it seems clear that a rather minor incident occurred. The note makes plain that an armed clash did not occur (although it attributes this to the “restraint” of the Chinese side). We therefore join with FBIS [less than 1 line not declassified] in concluding that Chinese reporting of the formal protest—the first since 1974—is related to recent upsurge in polemics over the border issue.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780201–1102. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Hong Kong, Moscow, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo.