Vietnam and China’s land demarcation itinerary

Published: 21/03/2010 05:00


It was 7pm on the last day of 2008 when Vietnamese and Chinese negotiators announced the completion of the demarcation and marker planting for the Vietnamese-Chinese border, the official end of a marathon negotiation process spanning nearly 20 years. In fact, two issues remained unresolved.

Field photo of the Huu Nghi border crossing.

It was 7pm on the last day of 2008 when Vietnamese and Chinese negotiators announced the completion of the demarcation and marker planting for the Vietnamese-Chinese border, the official end of a marathon negotiation process spanning nearly 20 years. In fact, two issues remained unresolved.

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Particularly in the last eight years, the two countries held 13 official high level negotiations, many meetings between the two chief negotiators, and 31 rounds of negotiations between the Chairmen of the Joint Committee for Demarcation and Marker Planting. As the negotiations approached their end, the more difficult they became.

In 2008 alone, the two sides conducted 11 rounds of working level negotiations. The shortest round lasted nine days and the longest was 23 days. The longest meeting lasted more than 30 consecutive hours.

Could the negotiation finish?

Not only negotiators but also retired senior diplomats kept close watch as the negotiations climaxed in late December, 2008. A Hanoi-Beijing telephone ‘hot line’ was always open to update the information from the negotiation.

The two sides planned to finish the talks and release a joint declaration at 5pm, December 31, 2008. Vietnamese and foreign journalists assembled to report the great event. However, the negotiation was still in progress.

Border guards examine a large scale border map.

A senior official phoned the Vietnamese team from Hanoi to ask if the two sides would reach final agreement that day. At 7pm, the two countries told the world that they had finished their work. Yet, in fact, they had not.

There were still two undecided issues – the location of the border at the Ban Gioc Waterfall and at the Bac Luan River. Informal discussion continued during a celebratory joint dinner. At eleven, with these issues still unresolved, Chinese negotiators left the meeting room. So did Vietnam’s chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Vu Dung. The two sides returned to the meeting room at 12pm and by 1.30am, final agreement was reached.

The two sides signed the minutes at 2.05 am of January 1, 2009 and at 4 am, the final formalities were completed.

The Vietnam-China land border is more than 1400 kilometers in length. Starting from a mere two-page convention concluded between the French colonial regime and China’s Ching Dynasty in 1887 and the supplemental Convention of 1895, also two pages, Vietnam and China now have a 30 page descriptive document supplemented by a thick stack of maps. From 314 markers before the negotiation, the number has increased to 1,971.

Trying to keep every centimeter of border land

The border at the Ban Gioc Waterfall was contentious to the end.

Nguyen Truong Giang, a Vietnamese negotiator in the negotiation in Beijing last November, recalled that sometimes negotiators had to meet continuously for 30 hours, taking their meals in the meeting room. Much of the time, however, they were there not to negotiate so much as to glare at each other in “a war of nerves”.

Giang said that when, at 7 pm on December 31, 2008, the Chinese chief negotiator proposed to sign the Vietnam-China Border Agreement, the two sides had agreed only to apply international laws and precedents to decisions on where the border lay at the Ban Gioc Waterfall and the Bac Luan River.

Vietnamese negotiators asked the Chinese counterparts to show the waterfall and the river on the map, for the Ban Gioc Waterfall did not appear on Vietnam’s land. The two sides continued the negotiation, meanwhile consulting local authorities, and seven hours later, the final document was signed.

The demarcation on Bac Luan River.

For the Bac Luan River, which has five major channels, it was the most important to define the channel that boats can travel on as the border. Vietnam suggested drawing the border close to China’s river bank while China suggested the opposite, and both sides held to their position up to the last minute.

Vietnam explained that the channel close to China’s river bank is the deepest one and China admitted that fact. However, the Chinese side argued that this channel was dredged by China in the 1960’s to transport cargos to help Vietnam in the Vietnam War. It was an artificial current to help Vietnam in the war, so how could it be the foundation for demarcation, China asked. Finally, the two countries agreed to divide the river in the middle and create a free transit area for local people.

Each side made concessions. For example, in principle, Ma Ly San village in Ha Giang Province must be divided, half to Vietnam and half to China. However, China agreed to move markers to ensure the integrity of this Vietnamese village.

In Cao Bang Province, according to strict principles of demarcation, many tombs of Vietnamese people would have been located on Chinese territory. In another case, Vietnam made conceded relocation of markers to leave 13 houses belonging to Chinese on Chinese land.

“Preserving our border is extremely sacred, so, though friendly relationships between the two countries are a priority, these negotiations on border demarcation were quite stormy, as though they were decisive battles of a war,” Giang said.“

The sea boundary between Vietnam and China remains a contentious issue between the two nations, in particular the matter of sovereignity over the Truong Sa (Paracel) archipelago.

Hoang Phuong – Doan Quy

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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