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Sino-Vietnamese War
Part of the Third Indochina War, the Sino-Soviet split and the Cold War

Map of Vietnamese cities that were attacked by China
Date17 February – 16 March 1979
(3 weeks and 6 days)

Status quo ante bellum; both sides claim victory

 China  Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
  • Chinese claim:
  • 200,000 soldiers[6]
  • 400–550 tanks[6] and 60 APCs[7]
  • Vietnamese claim:
  • 600,000 soldiers[8]
  • 70,000–100,000 soldiers
  • 150,000 irregulars and militia[9]
Casualties and losses
  • Chinese estimate:
  • 6,954 killed
  • 14,800–21,000 wounded
  • 238 captured[6][10][11]
  • 76 tanks/APCs destroyed, 533 damaged[7]
  • Vietnamese estimate:
  • 62,000 casualties, including 48,000 deaths[12][13][14][15]
  • 420 tanks/APCs destroyed[16]
    66 heavy mortars and guns destroyed[16]
  • Western estimate:
  • 26,000 killed
  • 37,000 wounded
  • 260 captured[17]
  • Chinese estimate:
  • 42,000[13]–57,000 soldiers killed
  • 70,000 militia killed[10]
  • 1,636 captured[14][15]
  • 185 tanks/APCs destroyed[16]
  • 200 heavy mortars and guns destroyed[16]
  • 6 missile launchers destroyed[16]
  • Western estimate:
  • 30,000 killed
  • 32,000 wounded
  • 1,638 captured[11]
Sino-Vietnamese War
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese中越战争
Traditional Chinese中越戰爭
Official name in the PRC
Simplified Chinese对越自卫反击战
Traditional Chinese對越自衛反擊戰
Literal meaningSelf-defensive war against Vietnam
Vietnamese name
VietnameseChiến tranh biên giới Việt-Trung
Literal meaningVietnamese-Chinese border war

The Sino-Vietnamese War (also known by other names) was a brief conflict that occurred in early 1979 between China and Vietnam. China launched an offensive ostensibly in response to Vietnam's invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978, which ended the rule of the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge. The conflict lasted for about a month, with China withdrawing its troops in March 1979.

In February 1979, Chinese forces launched a surprise invasion of northern Vietnam and quickly captured several cities near the border. On 6 March of that year, China declared that its punitive mission had been accomplished. Chinese troops then withdrew from Vietnam. However, Vietnam continued to occupy Cambodia until 1989, which means that China did not achieve its goal of dissuading Vietnam from involvement in Cambodia. However, China's operation at least successfully forced Vietnam to withdraw some units, namely the 2nd Corps, from the invasion forces of Cambodia to reinforce the defense of Hanoi.[18] The conflict had a lasting impact on the relationship between China and Vietnam, and diplomatic relations between the two countries were not fully restored until 1991. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Sino-Vietnamese border was finalized. Although unable to deter Vietnam from ousting Pol Pot from Cambodia, China demonstrated that the Soviet Union, its Cold War communist adversary, was unable to protect its Vietnamese ally.[19]



The Sino-Vietnamese War is known by various names in Chinese and Vietnamese. The neutral names for the war are 中越战争 (Sino-Vietnamese war) in Chinese and Chiến tranh biên giới Việt-Trung (Vietnamese-Chinese border war) in Vietnamese. The Chinese government refers to the war as the "Self-defensive war against Vietnam" (对越自卫反击战)[20] or the "Self-defensive counterattack against Vietnam" (对越自卫还击保卫边疆作战).[21][22] The Vietnamese government calls it the "War against Chinese expansionism" (Chiến tranh chống bành trướng Trung Hoa).[23]

The Sino-Vietnamese War is also known as the Third Indochina War in Western historiography.[24]



Just as the First Indochina War—which emerged from the complex situation following World War II—and the Vietnam War both arose from the indecisive aftermath of political relations, the Third Indochina War again followed the unresolved problems of the earlier wars.[25]

The major allied victors of World War II, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union, all agreed that the area belonged to the French.[26] As the French did not have the means to immediately retake Indochina, the major powers agreed that the British would take control and troops would occupy the south while Nationalist Chinese forces would move in from the north.[26] Nationalist Chinese troops entered the country to disarm Japanese troops north of the 16th parallel on 14 September 1945. The parallel divided Indochina into Chinese and British controlled zones (see Timeline of World War II (1945)).[27] The British landed in the south and rearmed the small body of interned French forces as well as parts of the surrendered Japanese forces to aid in retaking southern Vietnam, as there were not enough British troops immediately available.[26]

On the urging of the Soviet Union, Ho Chi Minh initially attempted to negotiate with the French, who were slowly reestablishing their control across the area, although still under British control until hostilities had ceased. Once hostilities had ended, the British handed over the territory to the French.[28] In January 1946, the Viet Minh won elections across central and northern Vietnam.[29] On 6 March 1946, Ho signed an agreement allowing French forces to replace Nationalist Chinese forces, in exchange for French recognition of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a "free" republic within the French Union, with the specifics of such recognition to be determined by future negotiation.[30][31][32] British forces departed on 26 March 1946, leaving Vietnam in the control of the French.[33] The French landed in Hanoi by March 1946 and in November of that year they ousted the Viet Minh from the city.[28] Soon thereafter, the Viet Minh began a guerrilla war against the French Union forces, beginning the first Indochina War.

French colonialism and the First Indochina War


Vietnam first became a French colony when France invaded in 1858. By the 1880s, the French had expanded their sphere of influence in Southeast Asia to include all of Vietnam, and by 1893 both Laos and Cambodia had become French colonies as well.[34] Rebellions against French colonial power were common up to World War I. The European war heightened revolutionary sentiment in Southeast Asia, and the independence-minded population rallied around revolutionaries such as Hồ Chí Minh and others, including royalists.

Prior to their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese occupied French Indochina, but left civil administration to the Vichy French administration.[35][36] On 9 March 1945, fearing that the Vichy French were about to switch sides to support the Allies, the Japanese overthrew the Vichy administration and forces taking control of Indochina and establishing their own puppet administration, the Empire of Vietnam. The Japanese surrender in August 1945 created a power vacuum in Indochina, as the various political factions scrambled for control.[37]

The events leading to the First Indochina War are subject to historical dispute.[38] When the Việt Minh hastily sought to establish the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the remaining French acquiesced while waiting for the return of French forces to the region.[36][38] The Kuomintang supported French restoration, but Viet Minh efforts towards independence were helped by Chinese communists under the Soviet Union's influence. The Soviet Union at first indirectly supported Vietnamese communists, but later directly supported Hồ Chí Minh.[39][40] The Soviets nonetheless remained less supportive than China until after the Sino-Soviet split, during the time of Leonid Brezhnev when the Soviet Union became communist Vietnam's key ally.

The war itself involved numerous events that had major impacts throughout Indochina. Two major conferences were held to bring about a resolution. Finally, on 20 July 1954, the Geneva Conference resulted in a political settlement to reunite the country, signed with support from China, the Soviet Union, and Western European powers.[39] While the Soviet Union played a constructive role in the agreement, it again was not as involved as China.[39][40] The U.S. did not sign the agreement and swiftly moved to back South Vietnam.

Sino-Soviet split


The Chinese Communist Party and the Viet Minh had a long history. During the initial stages of the First Indochina War with France, the recently founded communist People's Republic of China continued the Soviet mission to expand communism. Therefore, they aided the Viet Minh and became the connector between Soviets and the Viet Minh.[41]: 45 

After the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953, relations between the Soviet Union and China began to deteriorate. Mao Zedong believed the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had made a serious error in his Secret Speech denouncing Stalin in February 1956, and criticized the Soviet Union's interpretation of Marxism–Leninism, in particular Khrushchev's support for peaceful co-existence and its interpretation. This led to increasingly hostile relations, and eventually the Sino-Soviet split. From here, Chinese communists played a decreasing role in helping their former allies because the Viet Minh did not support China against the Soviets.

Following worsening relations between the Soviet Union and China as a result of the Sino-Soviet split of 1956–1966, as many as 1.5 million Chinese troops were stationed along the Sino-Soviet border in preparation for a full-scale war against the Soviets.

Vietnam antagonized China by increasing its alignment with the Soviet Union by joining the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) (and signing the Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union, which had the Soviet Union pledge to aid Vietnam if attacked.[42]

Following the death of Mao in September 1976, the overthrow of the Gang of Four and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leadership revised its own positions to become compatible with market aspects, denounced the Cultural Revolution, and collaborated with the US against the Soviet Union.

Vietnam War


As France withdrew from a provisionally divided Vietnam in late 1954, the United States increasingly stepped in to support the South Vietnamese leaders due to the Domino theory, which theorized that if one nation would turn to communism, the surrounding nations were likely to fall like dominoes and become communist as well. The Soviet Union and North Vietnam became important allies together due to the fact that if South Vietnam was successfully taken over by North Vietnam, then communism in East Asia would find its strategic position bolstered. In the eyes of the People's Republic of China, the growing Soviet-Vietnamese relationship was a disturbing development; they feared an encirclement by the less-than-hospitable Soviet sphere of influence.

The United States and the Soviet Union could not agree on a plan for a proposed 1956 election meant to unify the partitioned Vietnam. Instead, the South held a separate election that was widely considered fraudulent, leading to continued internal conflict with communist factions led by the Viet Cong that intensified through the late 1950s. With supplies and support from the Soviet Union, North Vietnamese forces became directly involved in the ongoing guerrilla war by 1959 and openly invaded the South in 1964.

The United States played an ever-increasing role in supporting South Vietnam through the period. The U.S. had supported French forces in the First Indochina War, sent supplies and military advisers to South Vietnam throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, and eventually took over most of the fighting against both North Vietnam and the Viet Cong by the mid-1960s. By 1968, over 500,000 American troops were involved in the Vietnam War. Due to a lack of clear military success and facing increasingly strident opposition to the war in the U.S., American forces began a slow withdrawal in 1969 while attempting to bolster South Vietnam's military so that they could take over the fighting. In accordance with the Paris Peace Accords by 29 March 1973 all U.S. combat forces had left South Vietnam, however North Vietnamese combat forces were allowed to remain in place. North Vietnam attacked South Vietnam in early 1975 and South Vietnam fell on 30 April 1975.

The People's Republic of China started talks with the United States in the early 1970s, culminating in high level meetings with Henry Kissinger and later Richard Nixon. These meetings contributed to a re-orientation of Chinese foreign policy toward the United States.



Although the Vietnamese Communists and the Khmer Rouge had previously cooperated, the relationship deteriorated when Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot came to power and established Democratic Kampuchea on 17 April 1975. The People's Republic of China, on the other hand, also supported the Maoist Khmer Rouge against Lon Nol's regime during the Cambodian Civil War and its subsequent take-over of Cambodia. China provided extensive political, logistical and military support for the Khmer Rouge during its rule.[43] After numerous clashes along the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, and with encouragement from Khmer Rouge defectors fleeing purges of the Eastern Zone, Vietnam invaded Cambodia on 25 December 1978. By 7 January 1979 Vietnamese forces had entered Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge leadership had fled to western Cambodia. The offensive took the Chinese by surprise, and its Phnom Penh embassy fled to the jungle with the Khmer Rouge where it remained for 15 days.[44]

However, the fall of the Khmer Rouge was not a surprise, but from China's perspective, Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia threatened China's interests on the Indochina peninsula and its position among non-communist Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states of Southeast Asia.[45] Members of ASEAN saw Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia as a blatant violation of international borders and an act of aggression.[46]

Ethnic minorities


China supported the ethnic minority United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races against Vietnam during the FULRO insurgency against Vietnam.[citation needed]

The Vietnamese executed collaborators who worked for the Chinese, regardless of ethnicity.[47]

The Chinese received a significant number of defectors from the Thu Lao ethnic minority in Vietnam during the war.[48] During the war China received as migrants the entire A Lù based population of the Phù Lá ethnic minority.[49] China received so many defectors from the ethnic minorities in Vietnam that it raised shock among Vietnam which had to launch a new effort to re-assert dominance over the ethnic minorities and classify them.[50] Post Vietnam War, an insurgency against Vietnam lasted among the indigenous Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesians of the Central Highlands.[51] Assistance was sought from China by the Hmong ethnic minority.[52] The border was frequently crossed by Chinese, Lao, Kinh, Hmong, Yao, Nung, and Tai.[53] The Laotian Hmong and FULRO were both supported against Vietnam by China and Thailand.[47][54]

China attacks Vietnam


China, now under Deng Xiaoping, was starting the Chinese economic reform and opening trade with the West, in turn, growing increasingly defiant of the Soviet Union. China grew concerned about the strong Soviet influence in Vietnam, fearing that Vietnam could become a pseudo-protectorate of the Soviet Union.[55] Vietnam's claim to be the world's third largest military power following its victory in the Vietnam War also increased Chinese apprehensions.[55] In the Chinese view, Vietnam was pursuing a regional hegemonic policy in an attempt to control Indochina.[55] In July 1978, the Chinese Politburo discussed possible military action against Vietnam in order to disrupt Soviet deployments and, two months later, PLA General Staff recommended punitive actions against Vietnam.[55]

The major breakdown in the Chinese view of Vietnam occurred in November 1978.[55] Vietnam joined the CMEA and, on 3 November, the Soviet Union and Vietnam signed a 25-year mutual defense treaty, which made Vietnam the "linchpin" in the Soviet Union's "drive to contain China".[56] (However, the Soviet Union had shifted from open animosity towards more normalized relations with China soon after.)[57] Vietnam called for a special relationship between the three Indochinese countries, but the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea rejected the idea.[55] On 25 December 1978, Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea, overrunning most of the country, deposing the Khmer Rouge, and installing Heng Samrin as the head of the new Cambodian government.[58] The move antagonized China, which now viewed the Soviet Union as capable of encircling its southern border.[59]

On 29 January 1979, Chinese Vice-premier Deng Xiaoping visited the United States for the first time and told U.S. President Jimmy Carter: "The child is getting naughty, it is time he got spanked" (小朋友不听话,该打打屁股了).[60] Deng sought an endorsement from the United States in order to deter the Soviet Union from intervening when China launched a punitive attack against Vietnam.[59] He informed Carter that China could not accept Vietnam's "wild ambitions" and was prepared to teach it a lesson.[59] According to United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter reserved judgment, an action which Chinese diplomats interpreted as tacit approval.[59]

Deng returned to China on 8 February 1979, and on 9 February, made the final decision to invade Vietnam.[61] On 15 February, the first day that China could have officially announced the termination of the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance, Deng Xiaoping declared that China planned to conduct a limited attack on Vietnam. Thus, he further developed China's burgeoning cooperation with the United States against the Soviet Union and would take a similar stance later regarding Afghanistan.[62] According to academic Suisheng Zhao, "The proximity in the timing of the military thrust against Vietnam, was to take advantage of the normalization to bluff the Soviets with a nonexistent US endorsement."[61]

The reason cited for the attack was to support China's ally, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, in addition to the mistreatment of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese minority and the Vietnamese occupation of the Spratly Islands which were claimed by China. To prevent Soviet intervention on Vietnam's behalf, Deng warned Moscow the next day that China was prepared for a full-scale war against the Soviet Union; in preparation for this conflict, China put all of its troops along the Sino-Soviet border on an emergency war alert, set up a new military command in Xinjiang, and even evacuated an estimated 300,000 civilians from the Sino-Soviet border.[63] In addition, the bulk of China's active forces (as many as one-and-a-half million troops) were stationed along China's border with the Soviet Union.[64]

Order of battle

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Chinese forces


Although the People's Liberation Army vastly outnumbered the Vietnamese forces, the Soviet-Vietnamese alliance compelled the Chinese to deploy the majority of their forces along China's northern frontier with the Soviet Union (as well as, to a lesser extent, Soviet-allied Mongolia) as a deterrent to Soviet intervention.

The Chinese force that engaged the Vietnamese consisted of units from the Kunming Military Region, Chengdu Military Region, Wuhan Military Region and Guangzhou Military Region, but commanded by the headquarters of Kunming Military Region on the western front and Guangzhou Military Region in the eastern front.

Vietnamese forces


The Vietnamese government claimed they only had a force of about 60,000 including several army regular divisions in its northern area.[66]

1st Military Region: commanded by Major General Đàm Quang Trung, responsible for the defense at Northeast region.[67]

2nd Military Region: commanded by Major General Vũ Lập, responsible for the defense at Northwest region.[67]

In addition, Vietnamese forces were supported by about 50,000 militia at each Military Region

Air force

The Vietnam People's Air Force did not participate in the combat directly, instead they provided support to the ground troops, transported troops from Cambodia to northern Vietnam as well as performed reconnaissance missions.

Air Defence[70]



On 17 February 1979, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) force of about 200,000 troops supported by 200 Type 59, Type 62, and Type 63 tanks entered northern Vietnam in the PLA's first major combat operation since the end of the Korean War in 1953.[71]

The PLA invasion was conducted in two directions: western and eastern

Vietnam quickly mobilized all its main forces in Cambodia, southern Vietnam and central Vietnam to the northern border. From 18 to 25 February, the 327th Infantry Division of Military District 3 and the 337th Infantry Division of Military District 4 were deployed to join Military District 1 for the defense of northwestern region. From 6 to 11 March the Second Corp (Huong Giang Corp) stationed in Cambodia was deployed back to Hanoi.

The 372nd Air Division in central Vietnam as well as the 917th, 935th and 937th Air Regiments in southern Vietnam were quickly deployed to the north.[70]

The PLA quickly advanced about 15–20 kilometres into Vietnam, with fighting mainly occurring in the provinces of Cao Bằng, Lào Cai and Lạng Sơn. The Vietnamese avoided mobilizing their regular divisions, and held back some 300,000 troops for the defence of Hanoi.[citation needed] The People's Army of Vietnam (VPA) tried to avoid direct combat and often used guerrilla tactics.[citation needed]

The initial PLA attack soon lost its momentum and a new attack wave was sent in with eight PLA divisions joining the battle. After capturing the northern heights above Lạng Sơn, the PLA surrounded and paused in front of the city in order to lure the VPA into reinforcing it with units from Cambodia. This was the main strategic ploy in the Chinese war plan as Deng did not want to risk escalating tensions with the Soviet Union. After three days of bloody house-to-house fighting, Lạng Sơn fell on 6 March. The PLA then took the southern heights above Lạng Sơn[73] and occupied Sa Pa. The PLA claimed to have crushed several of the VPA regular units.[10] Supporting attacks were also conducted by the PLA at Quảng Ninh Province in the Battle of Mong Cai and Battle of Cao Ba Lanh but were unsuccessful.[74] However, Bangkok analysts gave a completely different count, heavy Vietnamese resistance near Lao Cai in the west and Cao Bang in the middle of the front also resulted in Vietnamese defeats. The Chinese also captured the far northeastern provincial capital, Mong Cai, analysts said.[75] According to Vietnam,[72] since January 1979 Chinese forces performed numerous reconnaissance activities across the border and made 230 violations into Vietnamese land. To prepare for a possible Chinese invasion, the Central Military Committee of the Communist Party ordered all armed forces across the border to be on stand-by mode.

On 6 March, China declared that the gate to Hanoi was open and that their punitive mission had been achieved. Coincidentally, the Vietnamese government called, on the same day, for a nationwide general mobilization for the war.[76] Some analysts said that the belligerent Vietnamese language could indicate a desire to counterattack, or simply an attempt to mount a propaganda campaign that would end in a declaration of Vietnamese victory as the Chinese leave the country.[77] During the withdrawal, the PLA used a scorched-earth policy, destroying local infrastructure and looting useful equipment and resources (including livestock), this severely weakened the economy of Vietnam's northernmost provinces.[10] The PLA crossed the border back into China on 16 March. Both sides declared victory with China claiming to have crushed the Vietnamese resistance and Vietnam claiming to have repelled the invasion using mostly border militias. Henry J. Kenny, a research scientist for US Center for Naval Analyses, noted most Western writers agree that while Vietnam outperformed the PLA on the battlefield, the PLA's seizure of Lang Son did allow the Chinese the option of moving into the Red River Delta and thence into Hanoi. However, Kenny also mentions that Lang Son is farther from Hanoi than it is from the Chinese border, and at least 5 PAVN divisions in the delta remained ready for a counterattack and thirty thousand additional PAVN troops from Cambodia along with several regiments from Laos were moving to their support. Thus, had the PLA decided to attack Hanoi, the PLA would have suffered huge losses.[78]

Contrary to the views above, it was reported by the New York Times that Western intelligence analysts believed that even though the border war was coming to an end, and that the provincial Vietnamese troops, who took the brunt of the fighting that started on February 17, suffered such high casualties and became so disorganized as a result of the invasion, they had to be replaced with regular troops.[79] Vietnam sent one regular division, as well as armor and artillery support units, into the fight at the height of the fighting for Lang Son, which was captured by Chinese forces, but the regular division failed to take the town. The Chinese made their withdrawal announcement following their victory at Lang Son, which Hanoi refused to recognize. Analysts interpreted this as a warning to Vietnam that any military objective there may be taken by China. Analysts claimed that regardless of the outcome of the combat, China had managed to permanently divert Vietnamese troops, supplies, attention, and energy to the border region. This was due to Vietnam's intensive resupply and remanning of the border zone.[80]

Despite using a force that did not see major combat since the early 1950s and whose weaponry was inferior to the Vietnamese weaponry, the PLA was considered to have fought well.[81] Most of the weaponry and military vehicles used by the PLA were either obsolete or unfit for combat.[81] In contrast, the Vietnamese forces had a combat-seasoned force and modern weaponry from America and the Soviet Union.[81] The PLA pushed Vietnamese forces 25 miles (40 km) from the border and succeeded in severely damaging the area they occupied.[81]

Soviet support to Vietnam


The Soviet Union, although it did not take direct military action, provided intelligence and equipment support for Vietnam.[82] A large airlift was established by the Soviet Union to move Vietnamese troops from Cambodia to Northern Vietnam. Moscow also provided a total of 400 tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs), 500 mortar artillery and air defense artillery, 50 BM-21 rocket launchers, 400 portable surface-to-air missiles, 800 anti-tank missiles and 20 jet fighters. About 5,000 to 8,000 Soviet military advisers were present in Vietnam in 1979 to train Vietnamese soldiers.

During the Sino-Vietnamese War, the Soviet Union deployed troops at the Sino-Soviet border and Mongolian-Chinese border as an act of showing support to Vietnam, as well as tying up Chinese troops. However, the Soviets refused to take any direct action to defend their ally.[83]

The Soviet Pacific Fleet also deployed 15 ships to the Vietnamese coast to relay Chinese battlefield communications to Vietnamese forces.[84]

Soviet inaction


While the Soviet Union deployed naval vessels and supplied materiel to Vietnam, they felt that there was simply no way that they could directly support Vietnam against China; the distances were too great to be an effective ally, and any sort of reinforcements would have to cross territory controlled by China or U.S. allies.[citation needed] The only realistic option would be to restart the unresolved border conflict with China.[citation needed] Vietnam was important to Soviet policy but not enough for the Soviets to go to war over.[85] When Moscow did not intervene, Beijing publicly proclaimed that the Soviet Union had broken its numerous promises to assist Vietnam.

Another reason why Moscow did not intervene was because Beijing had promised both Moscow and Washington that the invasion was only a limited war, and that Chinese forces would withdraw after a short incursion. After moderation by the U.S., Moscow decided to adopt a "wait and see" approach to see if Beijing would actually limit their offense. Because Vietnam's anti-air capabilities were among the best in the world at the time and in order to reassure Moscow it was conducting a limited war, Deng Xiaoping ordered the Chinese navy and air force to remain out of the war; only limited support was provided by the air force.[86] When Beijing kept its promise, Moscow did not retaliate.


Nam Quan Gate

China and Vietnam each lost thousands of troops, and China lost 3.45 billion yuan in overhead, which delayed completion of their 1979–80 economic plan.[87] Following the war, the Vietnamese leadership took various repressive measures to deal with the problem of real or potential collaboration. In the spring of 1979, the authorities expelled approximately 8,000 Hoa people from Hanoi to the southern "New Economic Zones", and partially resettled the Hmong tribes and other ethnic minorities from the northernmost provinces. In response to the defection of Hoàng Văn Hoan, the Communist Party of Vietnam removed from its ranks pro-Chinese elements and persons who had surrendered to the advancing Chinese troops during the war. In 1979, a total of 20,468 members were expelled from the party.[88]

After the invasion, Vietnam created a puppet government in Cambodia led by Heng Samrin.[89] Samrin was obligated to consult with the Vietnamese on major decisions.[90] Although Vietnam continued to occupy Cambodia, China successfully mobilized international opposition to the occupation, rallying such leaders as Cambodia's deposed king Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodian anticommunist leader Son Sann, and high-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge to deny the pro-Vietnamese Cambodian People's Party in Cambodia diplomatic recognition beyond the Soviet bloc.

The majority of diplomats and analysts concluded that China's long-term strategy was to stretch Vietnamese resources by having the Vietnamese divert their resources from other problems to the border conflict. Problems include Vietnam's difficulties integrating South Vietnam with the North, the burden of administrating Laos and occupying Cambodia, and economic problems caused by two years of disastrous weather.[91]

After the war, border skirmishes at the Chinese-Vietnamese border continued, and the Vietnamese were not deterred from maintaining their occupation of Cambodia, increasing its control over Laos and threatening the security of Thailand, which turned Vietnam into a greater threat to ASEAN than before.[5] Also, the Vietnamese government intensified its persecution of overseas Chinese living in Vietnam. Vietnamese authorities confiscated property owned in Vietnam by overseas Chinese, and expelled many Chinese from Vietnam to a number of provinces in southern China.[92]

However, China caused Vietnam to suffer from serious economic and military hardship by threatening to launch a second invasion, and by supporting Pol Pot guerrillas in Cambodia. The Vietnamese government had to spend money on maintaining a military presence at the Chinese-Vietnamese border, and on supporting its puppet government in Cambodia. Vietnam's scarce resources were drained, and economic conditions were bad throughout Vietnam.[5]

Assessments of the strategic consequences of the war vary considerably. Journalist Howard W. French quoted some historians of the opinion that "the war was started by Mr. Deng (China's then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping) to keep the army preoccupied while he consolidated power ..."[93] However, China strengthened its relations with ASEAN countries – particularly Thailand and Singapore – due to their fear of Vietnamese aggression. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in 2000: "The Western press wrote off the Chinese punitive action as a failure. I believe it changed the history of East Asia."[94] In contrast, Vietnam's decreasing prestige in the region led it to be more dependent on the Soviet Union, to which it leased a naval base at Cam Ranh Bay.[95] Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote that "China succeeded in exposing the limits of...[Soviet] strategic reach" and speculated that the desire to "compensate for their ineffectuality" contributed to the Soviets' decision to intervene in Afghanistan a year later.[96]

Chinese casualties


The number of casualties during the war is disputed. Shortly after China had announced the withdrawal of its troops from Vietnam, the state-run Vietnam News Agency claimed that the PLA had suffered over 44,000 casualties, a figure which Western analysts at the time considered to be greatly inflated.[97] Other Vietnamese sources claimed the PLA had suffered 62,500 total casualties, including 550 military vehicles and 115 artillery pieces destroyed.[98] Leaks from Chinese military sources indicate that China suffered 6,954 dead.[6][10][99]

Deputy chief of the General Staff Wu Xiuquan revealed in a meeting with a French military delegation that Vietnam suffered 50,000 casualties, whereas China had suffered 20,000 casualties. Regardless of the accuracy of the Vietnamese casualties, it can be concluded that the Chinese losses were severe, according to Daniel Tretiak.[100]

Vietnamese casualties


Like their Chinese counterparts, the Vietnamese government has never officially announced any information on its actual military casualties. China estimated that Vietnam lost 57,000 soldiers and 70,000 militia members during the war.[101][102][103] The Vietnamese state newspaper Nhân Dân claimed that Vietnam suffered more than 10,000 civilian deaths during the Chinese invasion[104][105] and earlier on 17 May 1979, reported statistics on heavy losses of industry and agricultural properties.[104]


Captured Vietnamese soldiers at a Chinese prison camp
Chinese POWs guarded by the Vietnamese

The Chinese held 1,636 Vietnamese prisoners and the Vietnamese held 238 Chinese prisoners; they were exchanged in May–June 1979.[14][15]

PLA reforms


Deng subsequently used the PLA's poor performance to overcome resistance from PLA leadership to further military reforms.[106]

Sino-Vietnamese relations after the war


Border skirmishes continued throughout the 1980s, including a significant skirmish in April 1984 and a naval battle over the Spratly Islands in 1988 known as the Johnson South Reef Skirmish. Armed conflict only ended in 1989 after the Vietnamese agreed to fully withdraw from Cambodia. Both nations planned the normalization of their relations in a secret summit in Chengdu in September 1990, and officially normalized ties in November 1991.

In 1999, after many years of negotiations, China and Vietnam signed a border pact.[107] There was an adjustment of the land border, resulting in Vietnam giving China part of its land which was lost during the battle, including the Ai Nam Quan Gate which served as the traditional border marker and entry point between Vietnam and China, which caused widespread frustration within Vietnamese communities.[108]

A new bridge spanning the Red River between Hekou and Kim Thành, on the main road between Kunming and Hanoi

The December 2007 announcement of a plan to build a Hanoi–Kunming highway was a landmark in Sino-Vietnamese relations. The road will traverse the border that once served as a battleground. It is predicted to contribute to demilitarizing the border region, as well as facilitating trade and industrial cooperation between the nations.[109]


Chinese media


There are a number of Chinese songs, movies and TV programs depicting and discussing this conflict from the Chinese viewpoint. These vary from the patriotic song "Bloodstained Glory" originally written to laud the sacrifice and service of the Chinese military, to the 1986 film The Big Parade which carried veiled criticism of the war.[citation needed] The 1984 Xie Jin film Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain was the earliest mainland China film to depict the war, although its narrative was that the Chinese were on the defensive after Vietnamese attacked the Chinese border first with the objective of Nanning. The male protagonist of the television series Candle in the Tomb was a veteran of conflict.[110] The 2017 Chinese movie Youth covers the period of the Sino-Vietnamese conflict from the perspective of the larger cultural changes taking place in China during that period of time.

Vietnamese media


The war was mentioned in the film Đất mẹ (Motherland) directed by Hải Ninh in 1980 and Thị xã trong tầm tay (Town at the Fingertips) directed by Đặng Nhật Minh in 1982.[111] Besides in 1982, a documentary film called Hoa đưa hương nơi đất anh nằm (Flowers over Your Grave) was directed by Truong Thanh, the film told a story of a Japanese journalist who died during the war.[112] During the war, there were numerous patriotic songs produced to boost the nationalism of Vietnamese people, including "Chiến đấu vì độc lập tự do" ("Fight for Independence and Freedom") composed by Phạm Tuyên, "Lời tạm biệt lúc lên đường" ("Farewell When Leaving") by Vu Trong Hoi, "40 thế kỷ cùng ra trận" ("40 Centuries We Fought Side By Side") by Hong Dang, "Những đôi mắt mang hình viên đạn" ("The Eyes Shaped Like Bullets") by Tran Tien and "Hát về anh" (Sing for you) by The Hien. The Sino-Vietnamese War also appeared in some novels such as: Đêm tháng Hai (Night of February) written by Chu Lai in 1979 and Chân dung người hàng xóm (Portrait of My Neighbors[113]) written by Duong Thu Huong in 1979.

See also







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