China–Vietnam relations

China–Vietnam relations
Sino-Vietnamese relations
Map indicating locations of People's Republic of China and Vietnam



The bilateral relations between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the People's Republic of China (PRC) have been turbulent, despite their common socialist background. Centuries of conquest by the PRC's imperial predecessor have given Vietnam an entrenched suspicion of Chinese attempts to dominate it.[1] The two nations fought a brief border war in 1979, but have since worked to improve their diplomatic and economic ties.


Prior history

China and Vietnam have interacted since the Chinese Warring States Period and the Vietnamese Thục Dynasty of the 3rd century BC, as noted in the Vietnamese historical record Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư. Over the centuries, Vietnam has been subject to four separate periods of imperial Chinese domination, but Vietnamese forces were eventually successful in repelling their Chinese overlords, and maintained their independence as a vassal state.

In 1884, during the time of Vietnam's Nguyễn Dynasty, Qing China and France fought a war which ended in a Chinese defeat. The resulting Treaty of Tientsin recognized French dominance over Vietnam and Indochina, spelling the end of Chinese influence on Vietnam, and the beginning of the Vietnamese French colonial period.

World War II

Both China and Vietnam faced invasion and occupation by Imperial Japan during World War II, while Vietnam languished under the rule of the pro-Nazi Vichy French. In the Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong, Vietnamese revolutionaries led by Phan Boi Chau had arranged alliances with the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang prior to the war by marrying Vietnamese women to Chinese officers. Their children were at an advantage, since they could speak both languages, and they worked as agents for the revolutionaries, spreading revolutionary ideologies across borders. This intermarriage between Chinese and Vietnamese was viewed with alarm by the French. In addition, Chinese merchants married Vietnamese women, and provided funds and help for revolutionary agents.[2]

Late in the war, with Japan and Nazi Germany nearing defeat, US President Theodore Roosevelt privately decided that the French were not to reacquire their colonial property of French Indochina after the war was over. Roosevelt offered the Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek the entirety of Indochina to be put under Chinese rule. Reportedly, Chiang Kai-shek replied: "Under no circumstances!".[3]

After the war, 200,000 Chinese troops under General Lu Han were sent by Chiang Kai-shek to invade northern Indochina north of the 16th parallel, with the aim of accepting the surrender of Japanese occupying forces. These troops remained in Indochina until 1946.[4] The Chinese used the VNQDD, the Vietnamese branch of the Chinese Kuomintang, to increase their influence in Indochina and put pressure on their opponents.[5] Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war to force them to negotiate with the Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh. In February 1946, Chiang Kai-shek forced the French to surrender all of their concessions in China and renounce their extraterritorial privileges, in exchange for withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region.[6][7][8][9]

Cold War

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.[10] 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.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, Vietnam's 1976 intervention in Cambodia provoked tensions with China, which had allied itself with the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime.[1][11] This, and Vietnam's proximity to the Soviet Union, made China consider it a threat to its regional sphere of influence.[11][12] Tensions were furthermore heightened by the Vietnamese government's oppression during the 1970s of the 2 million Hoa, or Vietnamese of Chinese ethnicity.[1][11][12] By 1978, China ended its aid to Vietnam, which had signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union, establishing extensive commercial and military ties.[1][11]

Sino-Vietnamese War

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 the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[1] The potential of offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Tonkin heightened such tensions. In 1973, with the Vietnam War drawing to a close, North Vietnam announced its intention to allow foreign companies to explore these oil deposits, and in January 1974, Chinese forces seized the Paracels, which were then occupied by South Vietnamese armed forces.[1] After its takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, Vietnamese forces took over the Spratly Islands, over whom China had asserted sovereignty.[1]

On February 17, 1979, the Chinese People's Liberation Army crossed the Vietnamese border, withdrawing on March 5 after a two-week campaign which devastated northern Vietnam and briefly threatened the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.[1][12] Both sides suffered relatively heavy losses, with Chinese casualties put at over 40,000 and Vietnamese casualties at over 20,000. Subsequent peace talks broke down in December 1979, and both China and Vietnam began a major build-up of forces along the border. Vietnam fortified its border towns and districts and stationed as many as 600,000 troops; China stationed approximately 400,000 troops on its side of the border.[12] Sporadic fighting on the border occurred throughout the 1980s, and China threatened to launch another attack to force Vietnam's exit from Cambodia.[1][12] In the 1980s, China unsuccessfully attempted to pressure the Soviet Union into obtaining Vietnam's withdrawal.

Post-Cold War

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Vietnam's exit from Cambodia in 1990, Sino-Vietnamese ties began improving. Both nations planned the normalization of their relations in a secret summit in Chengdu in September 1990, and officially normalized ties in November 1991.[11] Since 1991, the leaders and high-ranking officials of both nations have exchanged visits. China and Vietnam both recognized and supported the post-1991 government of Cambodia, and supported each other's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).[11] In 1999, the secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Le Kha Phieu visited Beijing, where he met Chinese President Jiang Zemin and announced a joint "16 Word Guideline" for improved bilateral relations; a Joint Statement for Comprehensive Cooperation was issued in 2000.[11] In 2000, Vietnam and China successfully resolved longstanding disputes over their land border and maritime rights in the Gulf of Tonkin.[10][11] A joint agreement between China and ASEAN in 2002 marked out a process of peaceful resolution and guarantees against armed conflict.[11] In 2002, Jiang Zemin made an official visit to Vietnam, where numerous agreements were signed to expand trade and cooperation and resolve outstanding disputes.[10]

Commercial ties

After both sides resumed trade links in 1991, growth in bilateral trade increased from only USD $32 million in 1991 to almost USD $7.2 billion in 2004.[13] By 2011, trade volume had reached USD $25 billion.[14]

Vietnam's exports to China include crude oil, coal, coffee and food, while China exports pharmaceuticals, machinery, petroleum, fertilizers and automobile parts to Vietnam. China has become Vietnam's second-largest trading partner and the largest source of imports.[10][13] Both nations are working to establish an "economic corridor" from China's Yunnan Province to Vietnam's northern provinces and cities, and similar economic zones linking China's Guangxi Province with Vietnam's Lang Son and Quang Ninh Provinces, and the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong.[13] Air and sea links as well as a railway line have been opened between the two countries, along with national-level seaports in the frontier provinces and regions of the two countries.[10] Joint ventures have furthermore been launched, such as the Thai Nguyen Steel Complex, which produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of steel products.[13]

Rekindled tensions over maritime territory

Vietnamese troops on Spratly Island in 2009.

In June 2011, Vietnam announced that its military would conduct new exercises in the South China Sea. China had previously voiced its disagreement over Vietnamese oil exploration in the area, stating that the Spratly Islands and the surrounding waters were its sovereign territory.[15] Defense of the South China Sea was cited as one of the possible missions of the refurbished Chinese aircraft carrier Shi Lang, formerly the Soviet vessel Varyag, which began its sea trials in 2011.[16]

In October 2011, Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, made an official visit to China at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao, with the aim of improving bilateral relations in the wake of the border disputes.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Vietnam - China". U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  2. ^ Christopher E. Goscha (1999). Thailand and the Southeast Asian networks of the Vietnamese revolution, 1885-1954. Psychology Press. ISBN 0700706224. Retrieved Apr 19 2011. 
  3. ^ Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (1985). The march of folly: from Troy to Vietnam. Random House, Inc.. p. 235. ISBN 0345308239. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  4. ^ Larry H. Addington (2000). America's war in Vietnam: a short narrative history. Indiana University Press. p. 30. ISBN 0253213606. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  5. ^ Peter Neville (2007). Britain in Vietnam: prelude to disaster, 1945-6. Psychology Press. p. 119. ISBN 0415358485. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  6. ^ Van Nguyen Duong (2008). The tragedy of the Vietnam War: a South Vietnamese officer's analysis. McFarland. p. 21. ISBN 0786432853. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  7. ^ Stein Tønnesson (2010). Vietnam 1946: how the war began. University of California Press. p. 41. ISBN 0520256026. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  8. ^ Elizabeth Jane Errington (1990). The Vietnam War as history: edited by Elizabeth Jane Errington and B.J.C. McKercher. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 63. ISBN 0275935604. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  9. ^ "The Vietnam War Seeds of Conflict 1945 - 1960". The History Place. 1999. Retrieved 2010-12-28. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "China-Vietnam Bilateral Relations". 2005-10-28. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Womack, Brantly (2006). China and Vietnam: Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge University Press. pp. 26–28. ISBN 0521853206. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "Chinese invasion of Vietnam". Global Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  13. ^ a b c d "China, Vietnam find love". Asia Times. 2005-07-21. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  14. ^ a b China Radio International. Retrieved 2011-10-06.
  15. ^ AP for "Vietnam Plans Live-fire Drill after China Dispute." 10 Jun 2011.
  16. ^ 9 Jun 2011. "China's First Aircraft Carrier Nearing Launch, Top Brass Confirm." Chosun Ilbo.

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