Real CCP Report Card: When China Lost To Vietnam

27 June, 2021 | Ojasvi Chauhan

Sino-Vietnamese War World

China invaded Vietnam in 1979 with unknown intentions, citing mistreatment of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia as casus belli. Vietnam, despite being heavily outnumbered by the ...

1st July will mark the hundredth anniversary since the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that has remained the permanent administrative body of China ever since winning the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Indo-China, the region east of India and south of China (thus the name) had been colonised by the French in the 19th century. However, the Second World War broke out in 1939 that led to the initial defeat and occupation of France by Nazi Germany. The war tied up French forces in other theatres and Germany’s ally Japan had also managed to occupy Indo-China for some brief period. Although, the Allies eventually won and the British helped France regain control of Indo-China, French authority and military prowess had been severely weakened by the Second World War and a brutal guerrilla campaign against their rule led to the independence of Indo-China. The countries formed out of the region were Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

During the Cold War between USA and the USSR (an espionage war between their respective ideologies of capitalism and communism), Vietnam split into two with a Communist regime in the North and an anti-Communist one in the South, with both being ruled over by autocratic dictators. Attempts at a peaceful reunification failed and a long war ensued, with the US supporting the South and the USSR and China supporting the North. US had deployed hundreds of thousands of troops in Vietnam but the North used the forested terrain to full advantage, using jungle ambushes and guerrilla warfare. The US had to pull out because the war remained stalemated and public opinion about the war at home was faltering, leading to the North winning within an year.

Vietnam, now unified under a Communist regime, helped the Communist Party in neighbouring Cambodia to overthrow the monarchy and establish a Communist state. It also improved relations with the Soviet Union and signed a defensive pact. China, on the other hand, had a falling out with the Soviets when the 3rd Soviet leader, Nikita Krushchev had revealed Stalin’s tyrannical rule after coming to power and their relations had since been in a long decline.

Just four years after the formation of Communist Vietnam, China declared war, citing poor handling of the ethnic Chinese minority and illegal occupation of the Spratley Islands (South China Sea) and Cambodia. The Chinese invaded with two maain armies from the Eastern and Western areas of Vietnam’s borders with China. The Vietnamese militias engaged in guerrilla warfare, attacking supply lines and camps, inflicting heavy casualties and morale loss on the Chinese, whilst slowing down their advance. The regular Vietnamese soldiers, were held mostly in reserve, avoiding direct confrontation and also conducting guerrilla warfare. The Chinese forces only managed to penetrate 20 kilometers into Vietnam, before their attack ran out of steam even as Vietnamese resistance stiffened.

The Chinese forces, sensing that no further gains could be made, declared that they had completed the war’s main objective of subverting Vietnam’s aggression and “teaching it a lesson”. They then turned back North and retreated back to China, pillaging and looting as they went. The war ended with the withdrawal and China made no demands at any concessions, territorial or otherwise. Vietnam had to deal with the economic damage the Northern reaches had suffered by the Chinese looting but had ultimately managed to beat back an invasion by a numerically superior foe. Both China and Vietnam claimed victory and their respective accounts claim unreliable number of casualties, with the Chinese inflating Vietnamese losses and downplaying their own, and Vietnam doing vice versa. Western estimates suggest 25,000-30,000 fatalities on both sides with just as many, if not more, wounded. Civilian deaths remain unknown and harder to estimate, as the Chinese did ravage the occupied territory but also had to avoid killing civilians, as some were Chinese minorities whome they ostensibly claimed to protect with the declaration of the war.