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Shared Island between China and Russia to BecomeEco-Tourist Zone
Heixiazi Island has long been a thorn in the side of peaceful Sino-Russianrelations. In essence a 126 mi² (327 km²) sandbar bordered by the Amur andUssuri Rivers (Heilongjiang and Wusuli Rivers, in Chinese), the island wasseized by the Soviet Union in 1929 during a border clash.
Since then, both Heixiazi Island (Bolshoi Urrusiysky Island, in Russian) andthe adjacent Yinlong Island (Tarabarov Island, in Russian) have remained inSoviet/Russian hands but China has relentlessly pursued its claim to both.
With the demise of the USSR and the rise of economic activity between China andRussia in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the time was right to put thelongstanding border dispute to rest.
The linchpin of the landmark border demarcation agreement signed by the twocountries in July of 2008 was the status of the river islands which will bedivided north to south.
More importantly, in November of 2010 the premiers of China and Russia issued ajoint communique pledging to develop the islands together for mutual benefit.
The ultimate aim is to create a visa-free, eco-tourist zone that will makeHeixiazi Island a popular leisure travel destination.
On July 20th of 2011, veteran China-watchers and local villagers witnessed anevent they never thought they'd see when 150 Chinese tourists disembarked onthe first official tour of Heixiazi Island. More will soon follow: authoritieshave approved a 6-hour boat tour and a separate land tour.
There are currently two tours designed for the island: a six-hour ship tour anda land tour. Among the highlights of the land tour are a former Russianmilitary camp, the former stone border marker and a designated rest spotfrom which visitors can enjoy an early sunrise. “I'm so lucky to be part ofthe first group of tourists to visit Heixiazi,” stated Yu Zaifu, who livesin the nearby city of Harbin. “I have been longing for this moment for quitea long time, and today I finally made it!”
The popularity of the new Heixiazi Island tours bodes well for the area'sfuture as it courts the trendy eco-tourism crowd with carefully guided,environmentally-friendly development from both China and Russia. About 75 percentof the Chinese side of the island has already been marked off for a wetlandreserve.
In addition, the forests, meadows and swamps on Heixiazi Island have been foundto harbor 7 species of endangered plants and 44 species of endangered animals. “Theresearch that will be conducted on the island's ecosystem will mean a lot forlocal environmental protection and economic development,” explained YanShentang, an engineer with the forestry planning bureau in China's northeasternprovince of Heilongjiang.
Above all, the peaceful (and potentially profitable) plans for Heixiazi Islandcould serve as a precedent for a number of other border disputes involvingChina, Russia, Japan, Korea and other East Asian nations. Share, demilitarize,protect... profit? (via Xinhuanet and CRI)