China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975

By Bernstein, Lewis | Military Review, July/August 2002 | Go to article overview

China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975


Bernstein, Lewis, Military Review


CHINA AND THE VIETNAM WARS, 1950-1975, Qiang Zhai, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2000, 320 pages, $49.95/$19.95.

China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975; is one of many about Chinese involvement in the Indochina Wars. Qiang Zhai is one of the first to use recently opened Chinese archives; the many memoirs, diaries, and documentary collections published in China over the last decade; and secondary works based on archival sources. He concentrates exclusively on the policies and personalities of those involved in China's Vietnam policy. This is not a definitive study. Many American, Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese archives are still closed, but it does begin to shed light on reasons for Chinese behavior during the period.

Chinese support for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) is an important part of the People's Republic of China's (PRC) diplomatic history and the Cold War in Asia. Ho Chi Minh called the Chinese "comrades plus brothers" during the height of their influence.

In the first 25 years of its existence, the PRC aided the DRV against France and the United States. With varying degrees of success, the DRV used Chinese models in the 1950s and 1960s to fight the French and rebuild the north after the First Indochina War. However, between 1968 and 1972, China adjusted its diplomatic strategy, and the SinoVietnamese alliance slowly fell apart. By 1975, the alliance was in disarray, and China faced the prospect of an alliance between Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

Zhai traces the course of the SinoVietnamese alliance and shows how events in Laos and Cambodia influenced Chinese policy toward Vietnam. He eschews impersonal social scientific models to explain change. Instead, he highlights the individual's role in making history, framing his discussion by identifying four interwoven motives that influenced Chinese policy: geopolitical realities; a sense of obligation and mission to aid a fraternal Communist party and promote Asian anti-imperialist revolutionary movements; personality; and using foreign affairs to promote a domestic political agenda.

Zhai emphasizes Mao Zedong's role as a charismatic revolutionary visionary who set the general framework of China's foreign policy. Mao made the crucial decisions to aid Ho Chi Minh, confront U.S. pressure, accept or reject Soviet initiatives, and change Chinese policy toward the United States. His close associates implemented these decisions. …

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