The Breakdown of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance, 1970-1979

The Breakdown of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance, 1970-1979

The Breakdown of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance, 1970-1979

The Breakdown of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance, 1970-1979

Excerpt

For twenty-five years, spanning two Indochina wars, China and Vietnam were allies, as close, so Beijing often proclaimed, as lips and teeth. By the early 1970s, to continue the simile, a mouth ulcer had begun to develop as serious tensions arose within the alliance. Within five years of the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975, China and Vietnam were embroiled in a third Indochina conflict, but this time as bitter enemies.

The Sino-Vietnamese alliance was embedded in a complex history of cultural attraction and political resistance, particularly on the part of the Vietnamese, which inevitably colored China's and Vietnam's attitudes toward the alliance. Before turning our attention to the particular dynamics of the alliance and its disintegration, we shall briefly consider their long historical association.

The Historical Context

Historically, Sino-Vietnamese relations were rooted in Confucianism (the institutionalization of hierarchy), which underlay the Chinese tributary system. Imperial China had sought to enhance its security by frontier pacification, asserting its influence over contiguous territories either by military conquest or by tributary status. For centuries, the Vietnamese paid tribute to their powerful neighbor, and Annam (as Vietnam was then known), on China's southern border, was at times subject to direct invasion and occupation, although never for long. The tributary system was founded on Chinese faith in their moral superiority over foreigners (barbarians); and while the system effectively reflected a laissez faire attitude, which abjured excessive militarism, the threat of force was ever present. The Confucian scholar Pan Ku outlined the system thus: "To control the barbarians the sage rulers punished and resisted them when they came [to invade China ], and prepared and guarded against them when they left. If, attracted by China's civilization, they came to offer tribute, they would be treated with courtesy, and kept under a loose rein without severing . . .

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