Daily Archives: 5 February 2009

Rise and Fall of the Sino-Viet Alliance

From A History of the Modern Chinese Army, by Xiaobing Li (U. Press of Kentucky, 2007), pp. 205-206 (footnote references omitted):

SINCE THE FOUNDING OF THE PRC in 1949, China has involved itself in two wars in Vietnam. During the French Indochina War (the First Indochina War), from 1949 to 1954, it assisted the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) against French forces. China sought to secure its southwestern border by eliminating the Western power’s presence in Vietnam. The PLA’s military assistance to Vietnam maintained Beijing’s brooding influence in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia throughout the Cold War. The PLA’s second involvement occurred from 1965 to 1970, when China sent 320,000 troops to aid North Vietnam against American forces in the Vietnam War (the Second Indochina War). Through its war efforts in North Vietnam, Beijing tried to break a perceived U.S. encirclement of China. But China was not interested in a “more powerful” Vietnam on its southern border. Some Vietnamese Communists complained about China’s limited assistance to the Viet Minh.

This chapter traces the rise and fall of the Sino-Vietnamese alliance through the two episodes of Chinese involvement in Vietnam. It examines the changing international strategic environment and external conflicts that influenced the Chinese military’s organization and strategy. It begins with Mao’s continuous revolution, his central theme in shaping Chinese foreign policy and security strategy. The CCP supported Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, in his war against the French forces in 1946-54. The stories of Senior General Chen Geng and General Wei Guoqing show that Chinese economic and military aid to Ho and the PAVN increased until the end of the French Indochina War. The PLA continued to support Ho’s regime against the U.S. Air Force and Navy in the Vietnam War in 1965-70. The PLA’s deployment successfully deterred any U.S. invasion of North Vietnam, as the United States feared provoking China…. In 1968, Chinese influence over North Vietnam decreased as Soviet influence grew. The PLA withdrew its antiaircraft artillery units in March 1969 and its support troops by July 1970.

The 1960s was the most controversial as well as the most crucial decade in Chinese military history. By 1969, the Soviet Union had replaced the United States as Beijing’s leading security concern, prompting changes in China’s strategic thought. Thereafter, the high command prepared to repel a Soviet invasion. In 1969-71, the PLA clashed with the Soviet forces along the Sino-Soviet border. As a result of its frequent engagements, the PLA increased to more than six million men, the highest point in its history. The Soviet threat and conflicts pushed the Chinese leaders to improve their relations with the United States. Their strategic needs eventually led to the normalization of the Sino-American relationship in the early 1970s.

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Who Instigated the Cambodian Genocide?

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), p. 78 (footnote references omitted):

Were the Cambodian people somehow Pol Pot’s “willing executioners,” with the violence of the Khmer Rouge regime reflecting an underlying cultural trait of the Cambodian people, historically unique to the time and place it occurred? Or did the violence of the Khmer Rouge regime emanate from some more broadly distributed ideological origin, therefore rendering it amenable to comparison? Perhaps the Khmer Rouge mass killing arose from the same tenets of communism that brought about the mass killing of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China but that was, by absolute numbers, much less evil. Or perhaps the killing in Cambodia can be understood as a response to the perceived threat from Vietnam, as the Khmer Rouge themselves have argued at some length. These same themes and issues lay at the heart of the Historikerstreit, and they also are part and parcel of genocide studies.

In the scholarly literature on the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea, there have been two principal schools of thought regarding the nature of the violence that took so many lives in such a short period of time. One school of thought holds that the primary locus of the violence was local and that it was largely the result of the spontaneous excesses of a vengeful, undisciplined peasant army. A prominent proponent of this school of thought is Michael Vickery. A second school of thought holds that the locus of the violence was centralized and that it was largely the result of a carefully planned and centrally controlled security apparatus. Several observers have proposed this explanation of the violence in the Democratic Kampuchea regime, including, for example, the recently retired U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, Kenneth Quinn. It can be argued, however, that until recently there was an inadequate amount of data to make an unambiguous determination on this question.

A wide range of new evidence uncovered by the Documentation Center of Cambodia over the course of the last ten years has done much to resolve this controversy. In particular, data on the frequency, distribution, and origin of mass graves, combined with data gleaned from newly discovered Khmer Rouge internal security documents, have given us new insight into the question of the economy of violence within Democratic Kampuchea. The data lead inexorably to the conclusion that most of the violence was carried out pursuant to orders from the highest political authorities of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. In this chapter I briefly review some of the new evidence that so strongly suggests this new and now well-documented conclusion.

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