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The Sino-Vietnamese War, 1979 Paper

The rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia unleashed one of the profoundest revolutions in world history. The upheavals were huge and resulted in misery and suffering for millions of people. One outcome was persecution of ethnic Vietnamese who had been living in Cambodia. Migration of many peoples throughout Southeast Asia has been a feature of history. This has resulted in a great deal of ethnic diversity. While most people are generally able to rub along together tolerably well, there are some exceptions and the treatment of the ethnic Vietnamese is one of these.

The Vietnamese had traditionally been considered with some suspicion because of economic success wherever they had settled and because of the large numbers of the Vietnamese and, hence, the perceived threat they represented to other peoples. This situation was exacerbated in the wake of WWII when attempts to throw off European colonialism were led by the Vietnamese both in terms of success and in terms of a sustainable ideology. Communism appeared to many to be the only realistic alternative to colonial rule, since religious ideology and monarchism appealed only to minorities of people.

As a result, the Vietnamese took an older brother position with respect to communism in mainland Southeast Asia. Intentionally or not, advisors and political experts quickly came to dominate thought and practice in both Cambodia and Laos. Vietnamese communism provided a real alternative to Chinese or Soviet forms and there seemed to be a real sense of an indigenous political ideology which would be able to unite the peoples of mainland Southeast Asia in independent autonomy. The Khmer Rouge victory destroyed whatever fraternal feelings were really involved in this movement.

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In their unleashed and unrestrained zeal, Khmer Rouge cadres turned against ethnic Vietnamese as bourgeois traitors to the revolution and undesirables. The turmoil to which this led on the border with Vietnam, as well as the instability it led to throughout the region, caused the Vietnamese to launch an invasion of Cambodia to bring some end to the decades of fighting there. This was of course condemned by the USA and looked upon by suspicion by China and, indeed, the rest of the Communist world, who looked askance upon Communist fighting supposedly Communist brother.

In February of 1979, the formal alliance between China and Vietnam expired. This alliance had been born in a spirit of comradeship after centuries of Vietnamese resistance to Chinese attempts to dominate the region in one form or another. With the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the tacit support of the USA, which was more concerned with annoying the Soviet Union, the Chinese launched an offensive when their ultimatum was ignored. Approximately 100,000 Chinese personnel invaded northern Vietnam on February 17th of that year, rapidly reaching and destroying the towns of Cao Bang and Lang Son.

The Vietnamese forces resisted fiercely and, better prepared for the difficult terrain in which fighting took place, managed to kill around 30,000 Chinese. The figures for Vietnamese casualties are not known. Laos supported the Vietnamese in their invasion and in their resistance to the Chinese aggression. Really, there was little else that the Lao government could do, since it was reliant upon technical assistance and aid from both Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

Deprived of diplomatic support and suffering in the Vietnamese highlands, the Chinese withdrew to within their own borders. However, this was only the precursor to years of persistent raiding on both sides of the border. The Vietnamese used a base on Mount Laoshan to launch a series of raids onto Chinese territory. Most of the action for the next eight years involved artillery fir from both sides and the terrible effects of suffering endless bombing and deprivation.

Soviet warships were invited to use the Cam Ranh Bay naval facility in Vietnam, thus helping to satisfy the Soviet requirement for a warm water port which would not see their vessels iced into incapacity for months every year. From the social perspective, the war resulted in harsh treatment to ethnic Chinese who had settled in Vietnam over the years. Economic aid to both Vietnam and Cambodia was officially suspended by the international community and thousands more sought to flee either country, whether by land or by sea.

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