The New York Times

The Island That Changed History

A 1969 BORDER CLASH BETWEEN MOSCOW AND BEIJING PUSHED THE TWO APART, AND OPENED THE DOOR FOR NIXON TO GO TO CHINA.

There was once an uninhabited islet lying close to the Chinese side of the Ussuri River, which marks the border between Russia and China in the Far East. “Was,” because it has since attached itself to the Chinese bank in a defiant act of geographic irony. But during the turbulent spring of 1969 this little islet — called Damanskii in Russian and Zhenbao Dao in Chinese — was a stage for a game-changing encounter.

It was here that on March 2 the Chinese set up an ambush, killing 31 Soviet border guards. The daring provocation was an effort to deter the Soviets from invading China, something that seemed only too possible after

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