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Chinese invasion of Vietnam - a proxy war with the USSR?


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I found this article from the Guardian's archives interesting - it's the editorial from the day China invaded Vietnam in 1979.

What I found interesting is that although I'd only ever read it was an attempt to capture an oilfield, at the time it seems to have been painted as a result of tensions between the USSR and the PRC.

What they have done creates a clear possibility of Soviet intervention

It [China] lost a great deal of face with the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, which was achieved with the massive help of Vietnamese troops acting with Soviet encouragement.

warnings repeatedly issued by the Soviet Union about China's "imperialist" ambitions

Now proxy wars between the US and the USSR weren't so rare, but between the USSR and PRC? (although in this case at least, only one side was using a proxy). Was it ever likely this could have happened anywhere else - Mongolia, or elsewhere in SE Asia?


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I'm not quite sure about other "proxy wars". But Albania was in the Chinese orbit of influence during the Cold War, up to 1977. China and the Soviet Union were jockeying for influence all over South East Aisa and Africa.

Then, Kissenger exploited this rift by repproachment with China, of course. After this, from an African leader's point of view, ideologically speaking, Communism appeared less as a revolutionary way to leap into modernity from tribalism; instead, Communism seemed like a choice between two equally imperialistic, expansionist capitals- Beijing and Moscow, thus making the Western democratic/capitalistic camp seem more attractive.

Here is a very interesting article from the South China Morning Post talking about a Chinese academic who was jailed for writing about China's pro-revolutionary, aggresive foreign policy at this time:

Monday May 27 2002

High price for baring war's secret

Glenn Schloss

LANGUISHING IN A mainland jail is an academic described as a renowned historian. Dr Xu Zerong has also been labelled a British spy.

Xu, who holds Hong Kong permanent residency, was working as a researcher at Guangzhou's Zhongshan University when arrested in mid-2000 for allegedly selling state secrets. He was sentenced in January to serve 13 years.

While an international outcry erupted over the jailing of Hong Kong-based academic Li Shaomin last year, which led to his early release, Xu's case has failed to generate much publicity.

It has aroused the attention of human rights groups and academic colleagues but there have been few ripples of the type which would likely influence mainland authorities into reconsidering the jailing of Xu.

Now, following an extensive investigation, the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor has concluded that the likely cause of Xu's problems with the authorities was an article he wrote for a Chinese-language magazine, Yazhou Zhoukan, nearly two years ago.

His article claimed that a radio transmitter and facilities were built in Hunan province in 1969 and continued to broadcast propaganda for 12 years to assist communist insurgents in Malaysia. It had been widely believed that the broadcasts originated from Malaysian jungles.

Xu's report also took China to task for apparent double standards in foreign policy: berating nations which criticise its human rights record for interfering in internal affairs while having previously supported revolutions abroad.

'Communist China's support for international revolution is based on the rationale of 'class above sovereignty' [that is, the interests of the international proletarian class are above a nation's sovereignty], which indeed bears the same intrinsic logic as 'human rights above sovereignty' promoted by the United States,' Xu's report said.

'To criticise the 'human rights above sovereignty' principle will be extremely hard if communist China does not cover up the fact that it had previously been marketing 'class above sovereignty'. This might be the reason for China to mask its support for international revolution.

'In the '60s and '70s, resources worth about US$50 billion [HK$390 billion at today's exchange rates] were appropriated by the Chinese communist Government to support international revolution. Should not the people who provided that money have the right to know where it went?'

The article then outlines Xu's visit in May 2000 to the 'ruins' of the Voice of Malayan Revolution radio station and a transmitter hidden in a tunnel near Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.

He cited a Mao Zedong quote written on a tunnel wall: 'The righteous struggles of the people in countries around the world are and will be firmly supported by the 650 million people in China.'

Xu also speculates on the reasons for building the station and its 50,000-watt transmitter. Eighty Malayan Communist Party members, 100 mainland Chinese assistants and a company of soldiers providing security manned the station.

He believed there were fears the transmission tower could have been spotted by 'foreign spy planes' in Guangdong, Yunnan or Guangxi provinces - all closer to Malaysia. Changsha was a traditional meeting place for Southeast Asian communists visiting China as well as being linked to supply lines for the region.

The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor's findings place importance on the article as a cause of his troubles, with the potential to overshadow the two offences he was actually jailed over: illegally providing state secrets by sending abroad reference material about the Korean War that was classified as 'top secret', and engaging in the illegal publication of periodicals and books on the mainland.

The monitor's May newsletter carries an English translation of the article along with a commentary saying it had information that Xu was imprisoned because of the article, rather than the Korean War material.

'The article itself is very startling,' said Paul Harris, a barrister and founding chairman of the watchdog group. He believed Xu's problems partly arose from comments in the article about China's sponsorship of revolution abroad.

'One can see that is political dynamite because of its reported comments to other countries that human rights transcend no boundaries,' said Mr Harris.

He conceded Xu's research into Beijing's role in the Korean War could also have been an issue.

St Antony's College at Oxford University - where Xu studied for his PhD - criticised his detention and said it had received information from various sources regarding the allegations. The main charge apparently was that he obtained four 1950s-era publications on the Korean War which he photocopied, microfilmed and sent to the director of an international relations institute in South Korea. He was allegedly paid US$2,500.

A committee of the PLA had been asked to provide a security classification for the material and judged it to be 'top secret', leading the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court to declare he had endangered national security and sentenced him to 10 years. Xu was also convicted of illegally publishing books and periodicals on the mainland and received a five-year sentence. His jail term was set at 13 years to take into account the time he had already spent in detention, said the college in a newsletter. Xu went by the name of David Tsui at Oxford.

When his detention was first reported in April last year, some media reports said Xu had links to British intelligence, but did not supply any evidence. The link might have been made because St Antony's College was reputed to be a recruiting ground for MI6 - Britain's foreign secret service - along with other colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, Mr Harris said.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said it had a policy of refusing to comment on whether individuals were associated with intelligence agencies.

There has been speculation that Xu was targeted because of his background. His father was a PLA colonel and his mother has been described as party secretary at Zhongshan University. She reportedly has funded an appeal hearing.

'I have heard it suggested that the Government wanted to make an example of him because of his background,' said Mr Harris. 'It is obvious that he was doing good and important historical research. That sort of thing in other countries gets you promoted and you are made a professor for discoveries of that kind.'

Having parents with a good communist background while seeking to write articles with dissenting views made it even more important for authorities to round him up, said Mr Harris.

The human rights group has been seeking to pressure the Hong Kong Government to do more to help Hong Kong residents detained on the mainland.

A Security Bureau spokeswoman said: 'Mr Xu's family members have approached the Immigration Department and upon their request, we have reflected their views to the relevant mainland authorities. I regret that Xu's family members have not given us consent to disclose further details.'

John Kamm, of the Dui Hua Foundation, said: 'I have been raising this case with the central authorities and the Guangdong provincial government.

'Obviously I am hoping that there will be a satisfactory resolution of this. I can't say at this point what that might be.'

Human Rights in China senior researcher Nicolas Becquelin said it was usually difficult to isolate any single factor in the arrests and detentions of academics. 'What we have noticed is that the one point is to remind academics and people that they are standing on shaky ground, that at any time they can be singled out by authorities and arrested,' said Mr Becquelin.

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  • 2 weeks later...


It is an open secret that PRC supported Communist insurgency all over Southeast Asia until early '70s.

In Lee Kuan Yew's memoir, Lee clearly stated that during his meeting with Deng Xiao Ping in late '70s, Lee stunned Deng what overseas Chinese didn't like about PRC and asked CCP to stop rendering "party-to-party" support to those Communist Parties in Southeast Asia.

After Lee returning home, all supports had abruptly stopped except those provided to Khmer Rouge against Vietnam invasion indirectly via Thailand.

Malaysia's Communist insurgent leader, Mr. Chen Ping, was pardoned by Malaysian government and sought refuge in Guangzhou in early '80s (anyway by early '80s Malaysian Communists didn't have much appeal to the emerging Middle Class).

When Lee Kuan Yew was in charge, he used to parade all those detained Communists on Singapore's TV whenever he made a visit back from PRC :twisted:

Anyway, the cessation of support doesn't mean that it is okay the dirt can be digged up.

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The article below appeared in today's New York Times.


March 1, 2005

Was the War Pointless? China Shows How to Bury It


MALIPO, China - After a walk up a steep stone staircase, first-time visitors are astonished when the veterans' cemetery just outside this town finally pops into view: as far as the eye can see, the curving arcade of hillside is lined with row after row of crypts, each with its concrete headstone emblazoned with a large red star, a name and an inscription.

Long Chaogang and Bai Tianrong, though, had both been here before. The two men, veterans of China's war with Vietnam, which began with intense combat in mid-February of 1979, return from time to time looking for lost friends. And for more than an hour this day, they climbed up and down the deserted mountainside near the Vietnam border searching in vain through the names of the 957 soldiers buried here, stopping now and then to light a cigarette and place it on a tomb in offering to a comrade.

The silence that prevails here, disturbed only by a gentle breeze rustling through the cemetery's bamboo groves, is fitting for a war that is being deliberately forgotten in China. By official reckoning, 20,000 Chinese died during the first month of fighting, when this country's forces invaded Vietnam in the face of spirited resistance, and untold others died as the war sputtered on through the 1980's. There are no official estimates of Vietnamese casualties, but they are thought to have been lower.

Many of the veterans themselves are hard-pressed to say why they fought the war. Most are reluctant to discuss it with an outsider, and even rebuff their families. Asked what the war was about, Long Chaogang, a reticent 42-year-old infantryman who saw heavy combat, paused and said, "I don't know." Asked how he explained his past to his family, he said that when his 12-year-old daughter had once inquired he simply told her it was none of her business.

Forgetting on such a great scale is no passive act. Instead, it is a product of the government's steely and unrelenting efforts to control information, and history in particular. Students reading today's textbooks typically see no mention of the war. Authors who have sought to delve into its history are routinely refused publication. In 1995, a novel about the war, "Traversing Death," seemed poised to win a national fiction award but was suddenly eliminated from the competition without explanation.

If the Chinese authorities have been so zealous about suppressing debate it is perhaps because the experience, which effectively ended in a bloody stalemate, runs so contrary to the ruling Communist Party's prevailing narratives of a China that never threatens or attacks its neighbors, and of a prudent and just leadership that is all but infallible. The ungainly name assigned to the conflict, the "self-defense and counterattack against Vietnam war," seeks to reinforce these views.

That China initiated hostilities is beyond dispute, historians say, and the conflict was fought entirely on Vietnamese soil. It is also generally held that if the war did not produce an outright defeat for China, it was a costly mistake fought for dubious purposes, high among them punishing Vietnam for overthrowing the Khmer Rouge leader of Cambodia, Pol Pot, a Chinese ally who was one of the 20th century's bloodiest tyrants.

Since then, some historians have speculated that the war may also have fit into the modernization plans of China's former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, by highlighting the technological deficiencies of the Maoist People's Liberation Army, or P.L.A. Others say the war was started by Mr. Deng to keep the army preoccupied while he consolidated power, eliminating leftist rivals from the Maoist era.

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There are many apparent reasons that led to the Sino-Vietnam War in 1979.

The toppling of Pol Pot regime was one of the principal reasons.

But it is not because Khmer Rouge was the ally of PRC. Actually Vietnam was a closer ally to PRC before the war. Ho Chi Minh had cultivated long time relationship with CCP since 1920s.

On the other hand, Beijing supported both moderate Prince Silhanouk and radical Khmer Rouge. After US-staged coup in Cambodia, Silhanouk sought refuge in PRC and was treated as an honorable guest.

So what is the principal reason?

The choice of Hanoi to join with the Soviets to contain PRC.

In 1978, Hanoi allowed the Soviet Navy to use Cam Ranh Bay as a naval base. Deng could not tolerate enemies threatening China from two sides, especially one side was a former ally which PRC rendered support for decades.

Though the war ended in a stalemate, Beijing was successful in allying with ASEAN and US to isolate Vietnam afterwards.

And of course after USSR doomed, PRC made friend with Vietnam again since there is no more threat.

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If your little neighbour lets your enemy open a naval base, and you happen to have a somewhat imperial bent, you punish your neighbour. Just for a silly example, If Ireland had let the Soviets have a naval base in the seventies, some kind of punishment would have been meted out by Britain (and others). It doesn't amount to a "proxy war" with that other big frightening enemy.

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Moreover, Vietnam invaded Cambodia first in 1978 then PRC invaded Vietnam in 1979.

So was Vietnam imperialist bent?

No doubt Pol Pot was nut. But Saddam Hussein was also nut. And Pham Van Dong was also nut.

So Vietnam could invade Cambodia since Pol Pot was nut, UK could invade Iraq since Saddam Hussein was nut, then why couldn't PRC invade Vietnam since Pham Van Dong was nut?

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I have not the faintest intention of saying China is a special case, just the opposite, this is typical big power politics, China is just one of many imperialist minded nations. That's why it is misleading to speak of "proxy war", this punishing of a small neighbour was very much directed at the jumped-up Vietnam, not at the USSR.

Personally, I do not think that a foreign leader being a "nut" is a good reason for a war, not unless that leader is so nutty they seem highly likely to launch very dangerous wars themselves if not stopped. That was not really the case here, to my mind.

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I guess Hanoi government likes to forget the war as Beijing does.

And anyway, Hanoi remains one of the few countries that still maintains "party to party" as well as "state to state" relationship with PRC.

And why did Vietnam invade Cambodia in 1978?

The Communists in Vietnam and Cambodia were comrade-in-arms before they both succeeded to kick out US.

And please don't tell me the noble reason that Hanoi wanted to save the Cambodians from the atrocities committed by Khmer Rouge.

It was because Hanoi wanted to become the hegemon in Indochina and if possible the whole SE Asia.

So after they succeeded, they first "vietnamize" the Pathet Laos, then tried in vain on the Khmer Rouge.

But the Khmer Rouge did not yield, then Hanoi used the pretext that the Khmer Rouge killed Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia to launch the invasion.

That is the same kind of reason used by PRC for invasion that Vietnam persecuted ethnic Chinese in Vietnam.

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But the Khmer Rouge did not yield, then Hanoi used the pretext that the Khmer Rouge killed Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia to launch the invasion.

I think the actual official justification was a series of (very bloody) border violations by the Khmer Rouge.

If you have to tolerate a maniac next door, do you also have to tolerate that he starts breaking your door?

Was it ever likely this could have happened anywhere else - Mongolia, or elsewhere in SE Asia?
Mongolia could always rely on direct soviet aid, and they started building lots of soviet bases after 1967. A war involving Mongolia would have been between China and the SU rather than between China and Mongolia.
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