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Territorial Ownership a State Secret?

Recently, an article titled “Chinese People Have No Right to Know Their Territorial Map” sparked heated discussions on social media. The article told the story of an independent history researcher, Yin Minhong, who requested disclosure from the Chinese Foreign Ministry regarding the territorial ownership of the Tannu Uriankhai region on the Sino-Russian border. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the request on the grounds that it “involved secrecy.”

Yin Minhong made the request in August of 2017.  He told the BBC Chinese that he was hoping that the Chinese authorities would give a legal explanation of whether Tannu Uriankhai is still a territory that China has not given up, and whether there is hope to reclaim it.

Tannu Uriankhai (Chinese: 唐努乌梁海) was a historic region in the Mongolian Empire and, later, the Qing dynasty. It is located north of Xinjiang and northwest of Mongolia, an area near the Tuva Republic under today’s Russia. During World War II, the area became an independent state. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country remained in the Russian Federation as an autonomous republic. Neither the People’s Republic of China nor Taiwan has made a clear statement on the sovereignty of the land.

The letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “According to Articles 14 and 21 of the Regulations on the Openness of Government Information of the People’s Republic of China, the information you applied for is confidential and does not belong to the scope of government information disclosure.”

In March 2018, Yin made appeals to the Beijing No.3 Intermediate People’s Court and later to the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, but the courts decided not to accept his case.

Yin told BBC Chinese, “The signing of a territorial treaty is diplomatic state behavior, but the treaty that was signed belongs to government information.”

Si Weijiang, a lawyer in Shanghai, told BBC Chinese that, according to China’s secrecy system, whether a document is confidential or not can be determined by the authority that issued the document or by the Bureau of State Secrecy. “However,” Si said, “Every citizen should have the right to know information such as national territory and borders.”

Source: BBC Chinese, November 7, 2018