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The Amur River forms part of the boundary between Manchuria and eastern Siberia, as established by treaty between Russia and China in 1689. Arising in the mountains of northwest Manchuria at the junction of two tributaries, it flows some 2763 miles (4,444 km) to its mouth on the Asian coast opposite northern Sakhalin. The river is navigable along its entire length during the summer months, when it is free of ice. It remains the longest undammed river in the world today.
When Japan seized control of Manchuria in 1931, the Amur became a potential flash point. War nearly broke out after 31 May 1937 over Kanchatzu Island (128.265E 49.529N). The treaty between Russia and China that established the Amur as the border was interpreted according to the thalweg doctrine of international law, under which the centerline of the main navigable channel of a boundary river is taken as the international boundary and the channel itself is an international waterway. Accordingly, sovereignty over islands is determined by which side of the channel the island is on. The main river channel originally ran south of Kanchatzu, but in early 1937 ice floes carried away the ferroconcrete barriers the Russians had placed north of the island, and this became the main river channel. On 31 Maythe Japanese sent a flotilla of river vessels through the north channel to assert its status as an international boundary. The Russians responded by putting twenty soldiers on the island. The officers of 1 Division, which had been exiled to Manchuria for its part in the attempted coup d'état of 26 February 1936, were barely restrained from launching a large-scale counterattack. Gunners from the division did sink two of three Soviet gunboats that entered the south channel on 30 June. Thirty-seven Soviet sailors were killed, including some who were machine gunned as they tried to swim to the north bank. The Soviets, in the depths of the Red Army purge and preoccupied with events in Peiping, refrained from retaliating and relinquished their claim on the island.
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