1979: The Sino-Vietnamese War (Part I)

The border war between China and Vietnam in 1979 was a controversial one.  Both sides claimed victory, with varying degrees of evidence.  China claimed that it met its objective, that it had taught Vietnam a lesson and that it was time to leave.  Vietnam has then disputed that China never met its objective, that they couldn’t go on fighting, and that they just gave up in the end.  Simply put, the Vietnamese claimed that China lost the war, while the Chinese say different.

One of the causes for this war can be traced back to Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.  Pol Pot was the Communist Dictator of Cambodia, and his organization was known as the Khmer Rouge.  The story of Pol Pot is a frightening one.  Not only was his model of Communism extremely idiotic and alien, it turned out to be one of the most destructive policies in the history of Communism.  Pol Pot’s aim was to turn Cambodia into an agrarian socialist society.  He wanted to erase all traces of modern society, envisioning the rise of a new era of civilization, starting with “Year Zero.”

In order to achieve his demented ideal, Pol Pot instituted a nationwide purge of anyone who he believed threatened his political objectives.  The victims of Pol Pot’s executions were mainly teachers, artists, intellectuals, and those in the educated realm.  The purges didn’t stop there.  Certain accounts claim that anyone who showed signs of intelligence were hunted and killed by Pol Pot’s people.  Even those who wore glasses were murdered, simply because they looked like they were the learned type.  As a result of this policy, combined with the poor agricultural reforms of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as a whole, a staggering number of Cambodia’s population was lost.  The death toll in Cambodia is estimated to be between 2-3 million people.

Besides the genocide he committed on his people, Pol Pot was saw the deterioration of his relations with Vietnam.  From his rule in 1975 to his fall 1978, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge faced a number of military confrontations against the People’s Army of Vietnam.  As relations soured between Vietnam and Cambodia, Pol Pot switched his sites to the Vietnamese people living in Cambodia, ordering his military to exterminate any ethnic Vietnamese that resided in the country.  With the support of Communist China, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge further instigated military conflicts at the Cambodia-Vietnam border, at the same time attacking the ethnic Vietnamese inside the country.

By late 1978, relations with Cambodia completely broke down.  As a result, General Secretary Le Duan of Vietnam ordered a full scale invasion of Cambodia.  Within 24 hours of Le Duan’s command, the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled by Vietnam’s forces, with Pol Pot’s forces driven from the country.  In Pol Pot’s place, a puppet government was installed by the Vietnamese, who were now in formal control of all of Cambodia.  This greatly angered the Communist Party of China, who were in full support of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  As retaliation for Vietnam’s total disregard for Sino-Vietnamese relations, the People’s Republic of China mobilized for their invasion of Vietnam.  The Chinese forces were extremely confident of their strength, as famously expressed by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, “We’ll have breakfast in Lang Son, but we’ll have dinner in Hanoi.”

To Be Continued…

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