Welcome to the World of Realpolitik, China!

The dwindling world of Communism is getting more and more aggressive: towards each other.

Chinese authorities said Sunday that more than 3,000 Chinese had already been evacuated from Vietnam after protests over China’s decision to move an oil rig into disputed waters of the South China Sea spiraled into riots last week in which foreign-owned factories were burned and looted.

Two Chinese citizens were killed in the violence and more than 100 were injured, authorities said.

The crisis has frayed ties between the two Communist-run Asian nations, and there is little sign of either side backing down over the increasingly bitter territorial dispute.

Vietnam has often played the part of pawn with respect to China. China, through Vietnam as proxy, fought two deadly wars with NATO allies, first France and then the United States (together known as the War in Vietnam in American history class). Of course, the Soviet Union also supplied materiel and advisors to the North Vietnamese factions, this may have aided in the Sino-Soviet split created by rival hegemonies in the region. Foolishly, Deng Xiaoping tried to bribe Vietnam to refuse all Soviet assistance.

This inflamed long-standing suspicions of Chinese imperialism over the Vietnamese. Indeed, Vietnam only received true independence as a result of some concatenations arising from the French-China war’s Treaty of Tientsin in 1884 (two World Wars and a 180 degree pivot by FDR on Vietnamese rule were later developments).

Finally, in 1979, tensions between Vietnam and China broke out into open warfare. Vietnam, still heavily influenced by the Soviet Union, engaged in a war with the Cambodian government, acting as China’s proxy. The Vietnamese eventually prevailed, ousting the Khmer Rouge – sort of. That didn’t completely unravel until 1990 – and forcing China’s hand.

At this point, Vietnam had become more and more reliant on Soviet assistance, creating closer ties between the two nations (indeed, any reasonable assessment of Soviet policy at the time would have revealed the Cold War was a sham). China, fearing a Soviet puppet in the region, decided it was time to act.

After the Vietnamese government was accused of oppressing the Hoa people – Vietnamese of Chinese extraction – China withdrew all of its assistance to Vietnam. On February 17, 1979, Chinese forces invaded Vietnam. The initial skirmishes were brutal and bloody, and China withdrew to the border, amassing troops in large numbers there until after 1990.

Tensions have never really been calm between both nations, but in 1991, after the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two nations attempted to mend fences, and introduced Vietnam into what is known as the Bamboo Network, Chinese companies operating in Southeast Asian nations.

And then, in 2011, you may remember I pointed out that the Spratly Islands (and the Paracels) were becoming a growing point of contention between the two nations, as well as Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines, all who claim a stake in the oil reserves there. Last year, Vietnam accused China of deliberately sinking a fishing vessel in the Paracels.

And so here we are. Do I imagine a full-scale war will break out between China and Vietnam? No. While both nations have become economic powerhouses, Vietnam would be foolish to challenge the Chinese in full-scale war. That doesn’t exclude skirmishes and even some long-term conflict, but it does rule out war economies on both sides.

What we are seeing is China flexing its muscles in a way that no nation has since America and the Soviets after World War II. That could spell trouble around the world and see the China-Vietnam conflict as a facet in a far larger conflagration, perhaps adding fuel to a fire that sparks someplace else.

9 Replies to “Welcome to the World of Realpolitik, China!”

  1. “China, through Vietnam as proxy, fought two deadly wars with NATO allies…” I don’t agree that the Vietnamese were Chinese proxies, or that China instigated either the French or American war (as they are known in Vietnam).

    Red China directly fought the US/UN in Korea, and thus had lots of weapons and battlefield experience to aid the Vietnamese in their independence struggles against French and American colonialism, but the Viets would be very insulted to be called “Chinese proxies”, or Chinese anything. The Viets first war of independence was against the Chinese.

        1. Yes, you recall correctly. The Soviet Union (now just Russia) was North Vietnam’s main supplier and their AA batteries brought down our bombers and fighters. It’s probably how the Soviets fine tuned their AA missiles to their present effectiveness.
          I fear that with the present level of journalism here; the Agonist will incur a big hurt.

          1. Already has. Mostly travelouges and reprinted articles from elsewhere and the commentary reflects it. Not much thought is put into discussion of items when not much thougt is put into writing them. Gone are the discussions with 20+ inputs, except occasionally when Numerian contributes.

            1. Yep, I’ve lodged my objections and get threatened with being banned because I’m accused of “ad hom” attacks. Who the hell else would I attack other than the author/s????
              I’m not sure how much more of this I can tolerate.
              The Agonist is a mere ghost of its past…
              Pity really…
              Cheers to you

    1. Imma just leave this here:

      Along with the Soviet Union, Communist China was an important strategic ally of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The Chinese Communist Party provided arms, military training and essential supplies to help the Communist North defeat South Vietnam and its ally, the United States, between 1954 and 1975.[21] However, the Vietnamese Communists remained suspicious of China’s perceived attempts to increase its influence over Vietnam.[1]

      Vietnam was an ideological battleground of the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping secretly promised the North Vietnamese 1 billion yuan in military and economic aid, on the condition that they refused all Soviet aid.

      During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese and the Chinese had agreed to defer tackling their territorial issues until South Vietnam was defeated. These issues included the lack of delineation of Vietnam’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, and the question of sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[1] During the 1950s, half of the Paracels were controlled by China and half by South Vietnam. In 1958, North Vietnam accepted China’s claim to the Paracels, relinquishing its own claim;[22] one year earlier, China had ceded White Dragon Tail Island to North Vietnam.[23] The potential of offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Tonkin heightened tensions between China and South Vietnam. In 1973, with the Vietnam War drawing to a close, North Vietnam announced its intention to allow foreign companies to explore oil deposits in disputed waters. In January 1974, a clash between Chinese and South Vietnamese forces resulted in China taking complete control of the Paracels.[1] After its absorption of South Vietnam in 1975, North Vietnam took over the South Vietnamese-controlled portions of the Spratly Islands.[1] The unified Vietnam then canceled its earlier renunciation of its claim to the Paracels, while both China and Vietnam claim control over all the Spratlys, while both controlling portions of the island group.[22]

      Any questions?

      I didn’t think so. Your apologies are all cheerfully accepted.

      1. No one would deny that there was significant Chinese logistical (and political) aid. The issue of contention is whether the level of Chinese involvement extended to China using Vietnam as a proxy. I don’t think there’s good evidence for the level of involvement / control that entails. The parts of the war that I am familiar with (the “spookier” bits for lack of a better word) generally have a flavour that shows more Soviet involvement than Chinese (and that’s keeping in mind that there appears to have been systemic under-reporting on more direct forms of Sov involvement for fear of inflaming tensions).

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