Vietnam marks 40 years since it defeated China

The 40th anniversary of the short, decisive Sino-Vietnamese War was not marked in China but the Vietnamese media ran features and commentaries of the conflict that occurred between February 17 to March 16, 1979.

The Voice of Vietnam, an official Communist Party publication, said the conflict, which marked Vietnam’s third victory over a permanent member of the UN Security Council in 30 years, was a “righteous … struggle to defend the motherland”. It condemned the “brutal and illogical invasion” by the Chinese.

Xiaoming Zhang in Deng Xiaoping’s Long War wrote: “Such were the crudities of operational art that PLA infantry fastened themselves to the top of tanks with ropes so that they would not fall off. Accordingly, when they came under enemy fire, they were effectively bound in place.”

The repressive regime in Beijing targeted its former ally after Vietnam signed the defence-based Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, China’s great rival, in November 1978.

As it prepared to invade in 1979, China also mobilised troops on its northern border with the Soviet Union.

The ill-fated invasion also followed Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, controlled by the China-backed Khmer Rouge tyranny.

But Vietnam’s occupation of most of Cambodia lasted until the late 1980s and Beijing’s ally Pol Pot was forced into the jungles near the Thai border, where western and regional powers backed his terror campaign against the Vietnamese invasion.

After the brief war with China, Hanoi forged a closer alliance with Moscow.
Chinese troops reportedly left housing and infrastructure in ruins to inflict maximum “punishment” on Vietnam. The Hanoi regime claimed 10,000 civilians were killed by the PLA.

The two communist neighbours have failed to give details of the death toll, but western sources estimate that 28,000 Chinese soldiers died and 43,000 were wounded, while Vietnam suffered 20,000 to 35,000 casualties, including many civilians.

Beijing had supported Vietnam during the decades of war with France and the USA, sending about 320,000 troops across its southern border.

The international community was alarmed by the sight of 600,000 Chinese soldiers crossing the 600km Chinese Yunnan and Guangxi provincial border without apparent justification.

On March 5, Vietnam announced a general mobilisation of the population and began airlifting forces out of Cambodia. Simultaneously, China announced its campaign had concluded and began pulling out its humiliated forces.

Skirmishes followed during the communist neighbours in the 1980s, including a 1988 naval battle over islands in the South China Sea, before diplomatic relations were restored in 1991.


The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war is often neglected by both sides because of its ongoing sensitivities. Picture credit: Flickr