Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Assessing Sino-Vietnamese Relations through the Management of Contentious Issues

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Assessing Sino-Vietnamese Relations through the Management of Contentious Issues

Article excerpt

The China-Vietnam Relationship since 1975--an Overview

Sino-Vietnamese relations 1975 to 1991

Following the end of the war in Vietnam in late April 1975, relations between China and Vietnam went through a dramatic change from seemingly good and normal relations to war in early 1979. (1) Relations deteriorated over a number of issues. First, there were differences in opinion concerning the Soviet Union (2) and China's uneasiness about Vietnam's relations with that country. As relations deteriorated between China and Vietnam in 1978, Vietnam gradually moved closer to the Soviet Union and eventually an alliance between the two countries was formalized through the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed on 3 November. Second, there were conflicting interests in Cambodia. China's gradually increasing support for Cambodia in the conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1978 also caused tension between China and Vietnam. The Vietnamese military intervention in Cambodia in late December 1978 led to a further deterioration in relations with China. Third, the territorial disputes between the two countries along the land border, in the Gulf of Tonkin and in the South China Sea, caused tension. The maritime disputes contributed to the deterioration of bilateral relations by adding two more issues to the deepening differences between the two sides, however it is difficult to discern their specific impact. The clashes that occurred along the border were indicative of the divergences with regard to other issues and of the overall deterioration of relations rather than important disputed issues in their own right. Fourth, the situation of the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and the way in which this minority was treated emerged as another dispute. It was the mass migration of ethnic Chinese from Vietnam in the spring of 1978 that officially led to the open and public deterioration of bilateral relations between the two countries. Talks on the issue of "repatriation" to China of the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam were held from mid-June to mid-July and from early August to late September 1978, but no agreement was reached.

The overall deterioration of relations led to a militarized conflict that escalated into China's attack on Vietnam in February and March 1979. The Chinese withdrawal from Vietnam was followed by attempts at negotiations between China and Vietnam from April 1979 to March 1980. However, the two parties did not manage to reach an understanding; bilateral relations remained tense during these talks and for much of the 1980s. The tension was most visible along the common border with mutual accusations about military incursions.

The normalization process between the two countries began with low-level contacts in the mid-1980s and extended to high-level meetings from early 1989. In early September 1990 a (then secret) high-level meeting was held in China. Despite this meeting the normalization process lacked momentum on the political front. This situation prevailed up to mid-1991 when the process gained momentum. The increased diplomatic interaction paved the way for a high-level summit from 5 to 10 November 1991 during which the bilateral relations were fully normalized.

Sino-Vietnamese Relations since Full Normalization in Late 1991

During this period the relationship between China and Vietnam has been characterized by two contradictory trends; one positive with expanding contacts and cooperation in many fields, and the other negative with continued differences relating primarily to the territorial disputes. (3) The positive trend prevails but is at times slowed down by fluctuating levels of tension relating to the territorial disputes.

Expanding political, cultural, economic, and military contacts between the two countries illustrate the positive trend in improving and expanding bilateral relations. On a regular basis, official delegations visit the other country to discuss ways of expanding cooperation in various fields. …

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