Heixiazi Island, a 327 sq km sandbar in the middle of the confluence of the Heilongjiang and Wusuli Rivers (Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island, and the Amur and Ussuri Rivers in Russian) has long been a source of conflict between China and Russia and a major border irritant since it was seized by the Red Army in 1929.

Under an agreement designed to iron out all remaining border disputes between the two nations, China and Russia agreed to share the island two years ago. Foreign investment is now poised to stream in as China unfurls plans to develop their side of Heixiazi as a tourist resort, including hotels and a free trade shopping area.

Currently off limits and guarded by the military, the local Heilongjiang government is planning to make it a northern winter rival to Sanya and to attract wealthy tourists from nearby Russia, Japan, and South Korea. The government plans to invest some US$1.47billion to develop Heixizai, leaving the Russians to play catch up on their side of the island.

An industrial park is also planned, geared to house factories making products for the Russian market. Heixiazi is also close to the Russian city of Khabarovsk, which lies just off the north-eastern tip. Khabarovsk is one of the largest cities in Eastern Russia, with a population of about 600,000. Both China and Russia are discussing the joint development of roads, bridges, ports and an airport to link Heixiazi with Khabarovsk and to jointly develop the entire China-Russia border in this area as a tourist and business hub. Khabarovsk is also connected by rail to both Vladivostock and Moscow.

Heilongjiang has had considerable success with the development of its tourism industry. Sun Island, in the middle of the Songhua River near Harbin, is a summer resort, featuring sandy beaches, theme parks and a reserve for the endangered Siberian tiger while in the winter it is the site of the popular Harbin Ice Festival. Russian culture remains fascinating to many Chinese, and many northern Chinese still speak Russian. Harbin and Heilongjiang is also popular with Russian and Japanese tourists, both of whom tend to be high value spenders when it comes to enjoying themselves on vacation.