Trận chiến tranh 1979
giữa Trung quốc và Việt Nam
Lời giới thiệu: Chương 13 trong cuốn “On China” tiến sĩ Kissinger vừa cho xuất bản, dành nói về trận chiến tranh biên giới giữa Việt Nam và Trung quốc tháng 2/1979 với nhan đề
“Touching the Tiger’s Buttock The third Vietnam War” (Trận chiến tranh Việt Nam thứ 3: Sờ Đít Cọp). Ông Kissinger đã mang đến cho chương này những thông tin và lý giải chưa bao giờ được nói tới. Theo tiến sĩ Kissinger cuộc chiến đã có những hậu quả thay đổi bàn cờ thế giới và là lý do gián tiếp đưa đến sự sụp đổ của Nga hơn 10 năm sau đó.
Cuộc đấu trí giữa Trung quốc, Việt Nam, Hoa Kỳ và Liên bang Xô viết đang được tái diễn và lần này giữa Trung quốc, Hoa Kỳ và Việt Nam. Cao điểm là việc Trung quốc công khai ngăn chận việc dò tìm dầu của Việt Nam trong vùng đặc quyền kinh tế 200 hải lý của Việt Nam ngày 26/5/2011.
Cái khác là vào năm 1979, Việt Nam công khai xem Trung quốc là kẻ thù và Trung quốc đang lo tìm cách phá kế hoạch thôn tính thế giới của Xô viết. Hiện nay trên nguyên tắc Việt Nam là đồng minh với Trung quốc, và Hoa Kỳ là nước đang lo tìm cách ngăn chận ý đồ bá chủ của Trung quốc.
Đối với Việt Nam, dù màu sắc quan hệ giữa Trung quốc và Việt Nam lúc đó và lúc này có khác nhau, nhưng sự lo lắng của người cầm quyền tại Việt Nam vẫn là mối lo móng vuốt của Trung quốc.
Còn nữa, vào thập niên 1970 tuy thất bại tại Việt Nam Hoa Kỳ vẫn còn đủ mạnh để lèo lái thế giới, và Nga chỉ phô trương nhưng thực chất yếu. Hiện nay Hoa Kỳ đang gặp nhiều khó khăn, ngân sách thâm thủng, nợ nần chồng chất, kinh tế suy thoái không biết còn có khả năng lãnh đạo thế giới tự do không. Và Trung quốc đang mạnh và quyết tâm trở thành đệ nhất siêu cường.
Vì vậy, cái khó của Việt Nam lại càng khó hơn. Nhưng trong thời nào nhân dân Việt Nam cũng nhất quyết không chịu Bắc thuộc.
Xin mời quý bạn xem phần lược thuật chương 13 cuốn “On China”. Nguyên văn bản Anh ngữ đính kèm sau bài lược thuật.
** Trần Bình Nam **
Tháng 4/1979 thủ tướng Hoa Quốc Phong miêu tả động thái của Liên bang Xô viết (TBN: hiện nay là Liên bang Nga. Trong bài lược thuật này khi nói đến Liên bang Xô viết tôi viết gọn là “Nga”) đối với cuộc xâm lăng 6 tuần của Trung quốc vào Việt Nam mấy tháng trước đó như sau: “Chúng tôi đã có thể “sờ đít cọp, mà cọp không dám vồ”. Cọp đây là Nga.
Trung quốc xâm lăng Việt Nam nói là “dạy Việt Nam một bài học” ngày 17/2/1979 sau khi Việt Nam ký Hiệp ước an ninh với Nga và tấn công lật đổ chế độ Polpot (thân Trung quốc) tại Cam Bốt. Cuộc xâm lăng rất đắt giá đối với Trung quốc, nhưng là một thắng lợi chiến lược của Trung quốc vì Nga đã không dám hành động, cho thế giới thấy khả năng của Nga rất giới hạn. Nhìn trên phương điện đó trận chiến tranh biên giới 1979 là điểm khởi đầu tiến trình sụp đổ của Nga, mặc dù lúc đó không ai dám bạo gan tiên đoán điều đó. Và trận chiến tranh cũng là cao điểm hợp tác giữa Hoa Kỳ và Trung quốc trong cuộc chiến tranh lạnh.
Việt Nam làm các siêu cường bối rối: Nghĩ cho cùng Trung quốc dính líu vào cuộc chiến với Việt Nam năm 1979 (TBN: đúng ra phải nói là dính líu vào cuỘc chiến chống Hoa Kỳ của Việt Nam)cũng giống như Hoa Kỳ đã can thiệp vào Việt Nam. Cả hai đều đánh giá thấp khả năng chịu đựng của Việt Nam. Hoa Kỳ nghĩ rằng Việt Nam là một nước nhỏ cho nên khi chấp nhận đương đầu với Hoa Kỳ Việt Nam chỉ là con tốt đầu của một chiến lược thôn tính Á châu của Nga và Trung quốc. Các nhà chiến lược Hoa Kỳ nghĩ rằng khi Hoa Kỳ đổ quân vào Việt Nam, Nga và Trung quốc thấy không thể ăn được sẽ tìm cách thúc đẩy Hà Nội thương thuyết.
Điều này đã tỏ ra không đúng, vì Việt Nam có ý định riêng là thực hiện cho bằng được Liên bang Đông Dương do Hà Nội lãnh đạo bất chấp Nga và Trung quốc tính toán gì.
Trung quốc cũng hiểu nhầm ý định của đảng cộng sản Việt Nam. Trung quốc giúp Bắc việt cốt ngăn không cho Hoa Kỳ thiết lập căn cứ quân sự tại mạn nam Trung quốc. Trong khi mục tiêu của đảng cộng sản Việt Nam là thống nhất rồi sau đó bành trướng thế lực ra vùng Đông Nam Á.
Để giúp Việt Nam Trung quốc đã gởi qua Việt Nam 100.000 dân quân giúp bảo trì hệ thống chuyển vận và tiếp liệu. Nhưng sau khi Hà Nội thắng và thống nhất đất nước Trung quốc đứng trước một mối đe dọa lớn hơn sự hiện diện của Hoa Kỳ.
Việt Nam không bao giờ tin Trung quốc, và điều này có tính lịch sử. Việt Nam bị Trung quốc thôn tính từ thế kỷ 2 đến thế kỷ 10, thâm nhập ảnh hưởng Trung quốc từ chữ viết đến văn hóa, nhưng Việt Nam không để bị đồng hóa. Từ năm 907 sau khi thu hồi được độc lập các vua chúa Việt Nam đã dùng văn hóa Trung quốc làm chất liệu xây dựng một quốc gia độc lập riêng biệt.
Quá trình chống Trung quốc duy trì độc lập làm cho Việt Nam là một dân tộc biết tự hào và giỏi chinh chiến. Nếu Trung quốc xem mình là một nước lớn nằm giữa trời đất(đại trung) thì Việt Nam cũng tự coi mình là một tiểu quốc nằm giữa (tiểu trung) đối với các nước chung quanh. Trong chiến tranh chống Pháp và chống Hoa Kỳ Việt Nam đã khai thác sự trung lập của Lào và Cam bốt, và sau chiến tranh (1975)đã hành xử như nước đàn anh của hai quốc gia này.
Khi giúp Việt Nam, Trung quốc biết rằng rồi ra Trung quốc và Việt Nam sẽ tranh chấp nhau chiếm thế chủ động tại Đông Dương và vùng Đông Nam Á (TBN: và đó là lý do tại sao Trung quốc không muốn Hà Nội thắng miền Nam, thống nhất đất nước.) Trớ trêu là trong cuộc chiến tranh chống Hoa Kỳ (1963- 1975) Trung quốc giúp Việt Nam đánh đuổi Hoa Kỳ ra khỏi Đông Dương, nhưng thật ra Hoa Kỳ và Trung quốc có mục đích giống nhau. Đó là duy trì 4 nước Nam, Bắc Việt Nam, Lào, Cam Bốt độc lập và ngang hàng nhau. Năm 1965 Mao đã nói với nhà báo Edgar Snow rằng Trung quốc có thể chấp nhận sự tồn tại một nước Nam Việt Nam.
Năm 1971 trong chuyến đi bí mật đến Bắc Kinh Chu Ân Lai nói với Kissinger rằng hành động của Trung quốc tại Việt Nam không phải là tính toán chiến lược hay phục vụ chủ nghĩa mà chỉ đơn thuần là nhiệm vụ trả món mợ truyền thống giữa hai quốc gia. Có lẽ Trung quốc nghĩ Bắc Việt không thể thắng Hoa Kỳ, và khi Việt Nam bị chia đôi Bắc Việt Nam phải lệ thuộc vào Trung quốc như Bắc Hàn sau trận chiến tranh 1950- 1953.
Nhưng khi có dấu hiệu Hà Nội có thể thắng Trung quốc bắt đầu cho xây dựng đường sá ở Bắc Lào để chuẩn bị. Năm 1973 sau khi Hiệp Định Paris được ký kết Kissinger và Chu Ân Lai bàn với nhau một giải pháp cho Cam Bốt dựa vào 3 thành phần chính trị: Sihanouk, chính phủ Lon Nol và Khmer Đỏ nhắm mục đích chận ảnh hưởng của Hà Nội. Vụ này không thành vì quốc hội Hoa Kỳ cấm các hoạt động quân sự của Mỹ tại Đông Dương.
Kissinger thuật lại rằng tháng 2/1973 khi ông đến Hà Nội bàn việc thi hành Hiệp Định Paris vừa được bút phê (initial) hai tuần trước tại Paris, Lê Đức Thọ dẫn ông đến xem viện bảo tàng quốc gia chỉ để chỉ cho ông nơi trưng bày chứng tích của cuộc chiến đấu chống Trung quốc trong suốt chiều dài của lịch sử Việt Nam.
Sau khi Hà Nội chiếm miền Nam thống nhất đất nước, bất hòa giữa hai nước không còn che đậy được nữa. Với tham vọng lãnh đạo vùng Đông Nam Á, Việt Nam trở thành một khâu trong vòng vây Trung quốc. Để phá khâu, Trung quốc bắt đầu đóng chốt tại Cam Bốt.
Tháng 8 năm 1975, khi Khieu Samphan thăm Bắc Kinh, Đặng Tiểu Bình nói với Khieu Sampang rằng ”Mỹ đi Nga tới. Hai nước chúng ta có bổn phận hợp tác nhau chống đế quốc và bá quyền.”
Cuối năm 1975, nạn “cáp duồng (giết người Việt) đã đuổi 150.000 người Việt cư trú lâu đời tại Cam Bốt về Việt Nam. Cùng trong khoảng thời gian đó người Việt gốc Hoa bị áp lực rời Việt Nam. Từ tháng 2/1976 đến đầu năm 1977 Trung quốc chấm dứt dần mọi viện trợ cho Việt Nam. Hành động của Trung quốc làm cho Việt Nam càng ngả về Nga. Trong một buổi họp của Bộ chính trị tháng 6/1976 đảng cộng sản Việt Nam công khai xác định Trung quốc là kẻ thù chính của Việt Nam. Cũng trong tháng 6/1976 Việt Nam gia nhập khối kinh tế Comecon do Nga cầm đầu. Tháng 11/1978 Việt Nam và Nga ký Hiệp Ước An ninh (Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation). Tháng 12/1978 quân đội Việt Nam xâm lăng lật đổ chính phủ Polpot thân Trung quốc và thiết lập tại Nam Vang một chính phủ thân Việt Nam.
Trung quốc cảm thấy tứ bề thọ địch. Phía Bắc, 50 sư đoàn Hồng quân Xô viết; phía Tây, Afghanistan nằm dưới ảnh hưởng của Nga. Bắc Kinh cũng nghi Nga đứng sau lưng cuộc các mạng Hồi giáo tại Iran trong tháng 1/1979. Trong khi đó Nga đang thương thuyết giảm vũ khí chiến lược (SALT II) với Hoa Kỳ để yên mặt Tây. Và giờ đây liên minh quân sự với Việt Nam. Trung quốc tự hỏi: Nga còn có mục đích gì khác ngoài việc thắt chặt vòng vây Trung quốc?
Tây phương và Trung quốc có những đối sách khác nhau khi bị đe dọa. Tây phương dè dặt để tránh bùng nổ, trong khi Trung quốc có khuynh hướng phản ứng mạnh. Hoa Kỳ đã khuyên Đặng Tiểu Bình dè dặt sau khi Việt Nam xâm lăng Cam Bốt. Nhưng Đặng, mặc dù biết quân đội Trung quốc không tinh nhuệ như quân đội Việt Nam, vẫn thấy cần động binh trả đũa để nâng tinh thần quần chúng và quân đội.
Để chuẩn bị Đăng kết thân với các nước Đông Nam Á đang bị Việt Nam đe dọa và tìm cách xích lại gần Hoa Kỳ.
Chính thức thiết lập quan hệ ngoại giao với Hoa Kỳ: Từ khi tổng thống Carter lên cầm quyền, Trung quốc và Hoa Kỳ xúc tiến việc thiết lập quan hệ ngoại giao giữa hai nước. Chướng ngại chính là quan hệ ngoại giao giữa Hoa Kỳ và Đài Loan.
Trước đó tổng thống Ford đã đề nghị thiết lập bang giao với Trung quốc, và sau khi bang giao Hoa Kỳ sẽ duy trì một hình thức quan hệ nào đó với Đài Loan, nhưng Trung quốc không chấp thuận.
Giữa năm 1978 Hoa Kỳ và Trung quốc đều cảm thấy áp lực của Nga tại Phi châu, Trung Đông và Đông Nam Á nên nhượng bộ nhau trong vụ Đài Loan.
Ngày 17/5/1978 Cố vấn an ninh Zbigniew Brzezinski của tổng thống Carter đi Bắc Kinh. Qua chuyến đi Brzezinski nhận thấy Đặng và Bộ trưởng Ngoại giao Hoàng Hoa “làm ra vẻ” không quan tâm đến an ninh của Trung quốc mà chỉ trình bày bức tranh đe dọa của Nga đối với thế giới, cho rằng Hoa Kỳ đã quá nhân nhượng với Nga, và thuyết phục Hoa Kỳ cùng hành động. Trung quốc hàm ý với Brzezinski nếu Hoa Kỳ do dự Trung quốc sẽ hành động một mình. Đặng và Hoàng Hoa cho rằng chỉ có áp lực mới chận được tham vọng của Nga. Nga chỉ phô trương chứ không mạnh. Và rằng Nga chỉ có thể dọa nạt các nước yếu, nhưng sẽ sợ kẻ làm mạnh.
Về tình hình ở biên giới phía nam Trung quốc, Hoàng Hoa nói Việt Nam đang thành lập Liên bang Đông Dương với sự yểm trợ của Nga. Hoàng Hoa tiên đoán sẽ có chiến tranh giữa Việt Nam và Cam Bốt chứ không phải chỉ có những vụ đụng độ nhỏ ở biên giới như hiện nay.
Kết quả công tác của Brzezinski là Hoa Kỳ và Trung quốc đồng ý cần gác qua các trở ngại để thiết lập bang giao vì đó là nhu cầu thiết yếu ổn định thế giới. Ngày 15/12/1978 Hoa Kỳ và Trung quốc tuyên bố bang giao hai nước sẽ được tái lập ngày 1/1/1979 và Hoa Kỳ chính thức mời Đặng Tiểu Bình thăm viếng Hoa Kỳ trong tháng 1/1979.
Tháng 4/1979 sau khi hai bên đã thiết lập bang giao, quốc hội Hoa Kỳ thông qua luật “Quan Hệ với Đài Loan” (Taiwan Relations Act)cam kết bảo vệ Đài Loan.
Vòng du thuyết chống Nga và Việt Nam của Đặng Tiểu Bình: Trong 2 năm 1978 và 1979 Đặng thực hiện một loạt thăm viếng các nước Đông Nam A để rỉ tai và tuyên truyền chính sách chống bá quyền Nga và Việt Nam tại Đông Nam Á, đồng thời vận động mua bán hiểu biết kỹ thuật, đặc biệt tại Nhật và kêu gọi người gốc Hoa tại các nước Đông Nam Á mang tiền bạc về đầu tư ở quê Mẹ.
Các nước Đông Nam Á vốn không sợ Nga và Việt Nam bằng sợ Trung quốc. Ở nước nào cũng có một cộng đồng người Hoa sẵn sàng làm việc cho Bắc Kinh hơn là trung thành với nước đang sống (và mang quốc tịch), và đó là một mối đe dọa lớn. Tuy nhiên Đặng thành công làm cho các nước Đông Nam Á ít sợ Trung quốc hơn trước.
Đặng Tiểu Bình công du Hoa Kỳ sau khi bang giao được thiết lập và trước khi Trung quốc đánh Việt Nam. Cốt ý của Trung quốc là cho thế giới hiểu rằng Hoa Kỳ ủng hộ việc Trung quốc đánh Việt Nam. Cũng như năm 1958 Mao cho pháo kích Kim Môn & Mã Tổ 3 tuần lễ sau khi Khrushchev đến thăm Bắc Kinh để khéo léo cho thế giới hiểu rằng Nga khuyến khích Mao làm mạnh.
Trên thực tế Trung quốc có thông báo cho Hoa Kỳ biết sẽ đánh Việt Nam trước khi Đặng Tiểu Bình lên đường đi Mỹ, nhưng Hoa Kỳ không hứa hẹn gì. Tuy nhiên Đặng đã thành công làm cho Nga dè dặt nếu định trả đũa.
Trong chuyến đi Hoa Kỳ Đặng làm tất cả những gì cần thiết cho Trung quốc: ngoại giao, mậu dịch, xin yểm trợ kỹ thuật, tuyên truyền cảnh giác thế giới tham vọng của Nga có thể đưa đến Thế giới Chiến tranh lần thứ 3 … nhưng Đặng tránh không ký kết một Liên Minh Quân sự với Hoa Kỳ. Đặng tạo ra một sự thỏa thuận an ninh bất thành văn để chống Nga tại Á châu. Đặng muốn một NATO Á châu, nhưng là một NATO không văn bản. Đặng cho Hoa Kỳ biết Trung quốc sẵn sàng dùng quân sự để chận đứng sự bành trướng của Nga tại Á châu dù quân đội Trung quốc còn yếu kém nhiều mặt. Đặng cảnh giác tổng thống Carter rằng Việt Nam sẽ không ngừng ở Liên bang Đông Dương. Sau Đông Dương sẽ là Thái Lan và các nước Đông Á khác!
Trung quốc có nghĩ đến một cuộc tấn công quy mô của Nga vào biên giới phía bắc Trung quốc do sự ràng buộc của Hiệp Ước An ninh Nga- Việt. Nhưng Đặng nói với tổng thống Carter rằng một cuộc tấn công ngắn hạn (của Trung quốc vào Việt Nam) sẽ không cho Nga đủ thì giờ chuẩn bi nhất là đang vào mùa đông giá tuyết. Đặng nhấn mạnh, nếu Nga đánh, Trung quốc cũng không sợ. Trung quốc đã cho di tản 300.000 ngàn dân sống dọc biên giới và đặt các sư đoàn Bắc phương trong tình trạng sẵn sàng. Điều Trung quốc cần là thái độ “ỡm ờ” của Hoa Kỳ để làm cho Nga lúng túng.
Tổng thống Carter và Cố vấn An ninh Brzezinski có ý kiến khác nhau trước ý định đánh Việt Nam của Đặng. Brzezinski muốn đánh. Carter trong thâm tâm do dự, nói “Không” với Đặng, nhưng bằng một cung cách có thể hiểu ngầm là “Có”.
Carter nói với Đặng rằng sau khi Việt Nam xâm lăng Cam Bốt, khối Asean, Liên hiệp quốc đều lên án Việt Nam hiếu chiến như Nga và Cuba. Nếu bây giờ Trung quốc đánh Việt Nam dư luận thế giới đang chống Việt Nam trở nên có cảm tình với Việt Nam. Hơn nữa chính sách của Hoa Kỳ không khuyến khích bạo lực. Hoa Kỳ nghĩ rằng việc đánh Việt Nam sẽ làm mất sự ổn định trên thế giới. Nhưng, Hoa Kỳ có thể giúp cung cấp tin tức tình báo cho Trung quốc. Tin tình báo đầu tiên là Hoa Kỳ biết Nga không chuyển thêm quân đến biên giới Nga-Hoa. Trong một cuộc họp riêng giữa Carter và Đặng (và chỉ một phiên dịch viên) Đặng nói với Carter lợi ích chiến lược quan trọng hơn dư luận thế giới. Và Trung quốc phải “dạy Việt Nam một bài học” nếu không thế giới sẽ xem Trung quốc là yếu kém.
Ngày 4/2/1979 Đặng rời Hoa Kỳ. Trên đường về Đặng ghé lại Nhật Bản (lần thứ hai trong vòng chưa quá 6 tháng) và không do dự cho thủ tướng Nhật Masayoshi Ohira biết Trung quốc sẽ đánh Việt Nam trong nay mai.
Chuyến đi của Đặng qua các nước Miến Điện, Nepal, Mã Lai Á, Sigapore, Nhật và Hoa Kỳ xem như thành công đưa vai trò của Trung quốc lên cao trên bình diện quốc tế, đồng thời cô lập Việt Nam.
Cuộc chiến tranh Việt Nam lần thứ 3: Ngày 17/2/1979 Trung quốc xua khoảng 300.000 quân gồm hải lục không quân, quân chính quy và địa
phương quân từ các tỉnh Vân Nam và Quảng Tây tiến vào Việt Nam nói là “Cuộc phản công đánh Việt Nam bảo vệ biên giới”. Cuộc hành quân rầm rộ không khác gì cuộc đổ quân vào Bắc Hàn tháng 11 năm 1950. Trung quốc tuyên bố cuộc tấn có giới hạn và nhắm mục đích chận kế hoạch bành trướng của Việt Nam.
Đặng Tiểu Bình đã đoán đúng. Nga không nhảy vào trận để bênh Việt Nam. Một ngày sau khi chiến tranh bùng nổ Nga tố cáo “Trung quốc phạm tội gây chiến, và nhân dân Việt Nam anh hùng sẽ đánh thắng Trung quốc như đã từng đánh thắng…”, đồng thời cho không vận vũ khí (một cách giới hạn) đến Hà Nội, và gởi hạm đội đến Vịnh Bắc Việt đề phòng quân đội Trung quốc đổ bộ lên vùng Thanh hóa Nghệ An. Nói cách khác, Nga giúp Việt Nam những gì có thể làm nhưng tránh không để bị lôi vào một cuộc chiến tranh quy mô với Trung quốc có thể làm cho Hoa Kỳ phải nhập cuộc. Thái độ của Nga không khác gì 20 năm trước đó Nga đã không tích cực giúp Trung quốc trong vụ khủng hoảng trên eo biển Đài Loan do việc tranh chấp hải đảo Kim Môn Mã Tổ đưa đến việc chạm trán tưởng chừng có chiến tranh giữa Trung quốc và Hoa Kỳ. Như với cuộc chiến biên giới với Ấn Độ năm 1962, Trung quốc dùng chiến thuật biển người đánh ồ ạt trong 29 ngày bất chấp tổn thất rồi rút quân sau khi chiếm giữ những vùng đang tranh chấp và các điểm cao chiến lược tại biên giới.
Sau cuộc tấn công, Hoa Quốc Phong tuyên bố: “Nga chỉ dọa như rộn ràng chuyển quân nơi biên giới, gởi hạm đội đến Biển Đông, nhưng không dám can thiệp. Chúng ta đã có thể “sờ đít cọp”.
Một tháng sau, tiến sĩ Kissinger thăm Bắc Kinh. Giữa Đặng Tiểu Bình và Kissinger có cuộc trao đổi đáng nhớ:
Đặng: Sau khi thăm Hoa Kỳ trở về, chúng tôi đã đánh Việt Nam. Ở quý quốc tôi đã hỏi ý kiến tổng thống Carter. Tổng thống Carter trả lời “nước đôi” nhưng nghiêm túc bằng cách đọc ý kiến của ông đã được ghi sẵn trên giấy. Tôi nói với tổng thống chúng tôi sẽ hành động một mình và nhận trách nhiệm một mình. Nghĩ lại phải chi chúng tôi đánh sâu hơn vào Việt Nam thì tốt hơn.
Kissinger: Có thể là vậy.
Đặng: Quân đội Trung quốc lúc đó có khả năng tiến sâu vào Hà Nội, nhưng chúng tôi không làm.
Kissinger: Nếu làm thì quý vị đã đi quá xa với mục tiêu đã định.
Đặng: Ông nói đúng. Nhưng chúng tôi có thể tiến sâu hơn 30 km nữa. Chúng tôi đã chiếm tất cả các cứ điểm phòng thủ. Con đường tiến vào Hà Nội mở rộng thênh thang.
Dư luận chung trong giới sử gia cho rằng trận đánh của Trung quốc là một thất bại tốn kém vì trong cuộc Cách mạng Văn Hóa quân đội chỉ được học tập chính trị mà thiếu rèn luyện quân sự, vũ khí lỗi thời, tiếp vận yếu kém, chiến thuật cứng nhắc. Quân đội Trung quốc chỉ có thể tiến sâu vào Việt Nam với chiến thuật biển người với một giá rất đắt về nhân mạng. Trong một tháng Trung quốc tổn thất hơn 50.000 binh sĩ, xấp xỉ bằng con số tổn thất của Hoa Kỳ tại Việt Nam từ năm 1964 đến 1975.
Tuy nhiên các sử gia đã không đánh giá đúng mức tính toán chiến lược của Trung quốc. Đánh Việt Nam cốt ý của Trung quốc là chận đà bành trướng của Nga trên thế giới.
Về mặt này Trung quốc đạt được kết quả mong muốn. Trận đánh làm cho Trung quốc và Hoa Kỳ dễ bắt tay nhau hơn trong nỗ lực chống Nga. Hai chuyến đi đáng ghi trong sự bắt tay này.
Tháng 8/1979 Phó tổng thống Mondale đi Bắc Kinh bàn thế trận ngăn chận Việt Nam thành lập liên bang Đông Dương. Cái khó của Hoa Kỳ là chính sách này đòi hỏi Hoa Kỳ ủng hộ Polpot trong khi Polpot đang bị thế giới kết tội diệt chủng. Do đó Hoa Kỳ và Trung quốc dàn xếp để Hoa Kỳ giúp các lực lượng Cam Bốt chống Việt Nam qua trung gian Thái Lan và công nhận ghế của chính phủ lưu vong Cam Bốt tại Liên hiệp quốc. Sau đó Bộ trưởng Quốc phòng Harold Brown đi Bắc Kinh thảo luận kế hoạch hợp tác quân sự, qua đó Hoa Kỳ chuyển nhượng một số hiểu biết kỹ thuật quân sự (chưa từng nhượng cho Nga) và bán vũ khí cho Trung quốc.
Áp lực của Trung quốc làm cho Việt Nam và Nga tiêu hao năng lực. Việt Nam duy trì một đạo quân 1 triệu người để bảo vệ biên giới và phòng chống một trận đánh thứ hai của Trung quốc làm cho kinh tế Việt Nam suy kém vì thiếu lao động sản xuất. Riêng Nga mỗi năm viện trợ cho Việt Nam gần 1 tỉ mỹ kim nên sức cạn kiệt dần và đó là một trong những nguyên nhân đưa đến sụp đổ sau này. Khi Nga không còn sức viện trợ cho Việt Nam, Việt Nam phải rút quân khỏi Cam Bốt.
Nhìn chung Trung quốc đã thành công ngăn chận Nga và Việt Nam thống trị Đông Nam và kiểm soát eo biển Malacca. Kẻ thua cuộc chính là Nga.
Mực ký Hiệp ước An ninh với Việt Nam chưa khô (mới 1 tháng) nhưng Nga ngồi yên bất động khi Trung quốc đánh Việt Nam là một dấu hiệu suy yếu của Nga. Phải chăng do cảm nhận này, một năm sau Nga quyết định can thiệp vào Afghanistan để lại chuốc lấy thất bại.
Nhìn lại trận chiến tranh Việt Nam lần thứ 3 năm 1979 cũng như việc quyết định đổ quân vào trận chiến Triều tiên năm 1950 Trung quốc đã thành công chiến lược to lớn vì biết lượng định ván cờ thế giới và tính toán khéo léo “lấy ít đánh nhiều, lấy yếu đánh mạnh” như “Nghệ Thuật Chiến Tranh” của Tôn tử. Trong cả hai cuộc chiến Trung quốc đã chọn đúng thời gian và không gian để nhảy vào cuộc. Lần thứ nhất tại Triều tiên khi quân đội Hoa Kỳ tiến sát biên giới Trung quốc-Triều Tiên; lần thứ hai khi Việt Nam xâm lăng Cam Bốt.
Về cuộc chiến biên giới Hoa-Việt năm 1979, Phó thủ tướng Geng Biao đã tóm tắt với cố vấn an ninh Brzezinski như sau: “Nga giúp Việt Nam là một phần trong sách lược toàn cầu của Nga. Nga và Việt Nam không chỉ nhắm Thái Lan sau Cam Bốt. Mục tiêu nhắm tới còn là Mã Lai Á, Singapore, Indonesia và eo biển Malacca. Nếu Nga-Việt thành công Asean sẽ sụp đổ và con đường biển huyết mạch của Hoa Kỳ và Nhật Bản qua eo biển Malacca sẽ bị nghẽn. Trung quốc đã ngăn chận không cho tình trạng bi đát này xẩy ra. Trung quốc chưa có sức đánh với Nga, nhưng thừa sức đương đầu với Việt Nam”.
Thực tế Trung quốc đã hành đọng và trả một giá vật chất và nhân mạng rất cao. Tuy nhiên Trung quốc đã chứng tỏ cho Hoa Kỳ thấy Nga không mạnh như Hoa Kỳ đã tưởng, và Trung quốc không sợ Nga.
Thủ tướng Lý Quang Diệu của Singapore chí lý khi đánh giá cuộc chiến biên giới Việt Nam như sau: “Báo chí Tây phương đánh giá bài học Trung quốc tặng Việt Nam là một thất bại, nhưng theo tôi trận đánh đó đã thay đổi hướng lịch sử của Đông Á.”
Trần Bình Nam lược thuật
June 5, 2011
Nguyên văn bản Anh Ngữ Chương 13 “On China”: Kissinger, Henry (2011). On China. The Penguin Press. Kindle Edition
CHAPTER 13 “Touching the Tiger’s Buttocks”The Third VietnamWar IN APRIL 1979, Hua Guofeng, still China’s Premier, summed up the results of the Third Vietnam War, in which China had invaded Vietnam and withdrawn after six weeks, in a contemptuous dig at the Soviet role: “They did not dare to move. So after all we could still touch the buttocks of the tiger.” China had invaded Vietnam to “teach it a lesson”after Vietnamese troops had occupied Cambodia in response to a series of border clashes with the Khmer Rouge, which had taken over Cambodia in 1975, and in ultimate pursuit of Hanoi’s goal of creating an Indochinese Federation
China had done so in defiance of a mutual defense treaty between Hanoi and Moscow, signed less than a month earlier. The war had been extremely costly to the Chinese armed forces, not yet fully restored from the depredations of the Cultural Revolution. But the invasion served its fundamental objective: when the Soviet Union failed to respond it demonstrated the limitations of its strategic reach. From that point of view, it can be considered a turning point of the Cold War, though it was not fully understood as such at the time. The Third Vietnam War was also the high point of Sino-American strategic cooperation during the Cold War
Vietnam: Confounder of Great Powers China found itself involved in the Third Vietnam War by factors comparable to what had drawn the United States into the second one. Something in the almost maniacal Vietnamese nationalism drives other societies to lose their sense of proportion and to misapprehend Vietnamese motivations and their own possibilities. That certainly was America’s fate in what is now treated by historians as the Second Vietnam War (the first being Vietnam’s anticolonial war with France). Americans found it difficult to accept that a medium-sized developing nation could cultivate such a fierce commitment only for its own parochial causes. Hence they interpreted Vietnamese actions as symbols of a deeper design. Hanoi’s combativeness was treated as a vanguard of a Sino-Soviet coordinated conspiracy to dominate at least Asia. And Washington believed as well that once the initial thrust by Hanoi was blocked, some diplomatic compromise might emerge
The assessment was wrong on both grounds. Hanoi was not any other country’s proxy. It fought for its vision of independence and, ultimately, for an Indochinese Federation, which assigned to Hanoi in Southeast Asia the dominant role Beijing had historically played in East Asia. To these single-minded survivors of centuries of conflict with China, compromise was inconceivable between their idea of independence and any outsider’s conception of stability. The poignancy of the Second Vietnam War in Indochina was the interaction between the American yearning for compromise and the North Vietnamese insistence on victory
In that sense, America’s overriding mistake in the Vietnam War was not what divided the American public: whether the U.S. government was sufficiently devoted to a diplomatic outcome. Rather, it was the inability to face the fact that a so-called diplomatic outcome, so earnestly— even desperately— sought by successive administrations of both American political 2 parties, required pressures equivalent to what amounted to the total defeat of Hanoi— and that Moscow and Beijing had only a facilitating, not a directive, role
In a more limited way, Beijing fell into a parallel misconception. When the U.S. buildup in Vietnam began, Beijing interpreted it in wei qi terms: as another example of American bases surrounding China from Korea to the Taiwan Strait and now to Indochina. China supported the North Vietnamese guerrilla war, partly for reasons of ideology, partly in order to push American bases as far from Chinese borders as possible. Zhou Enlai told North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong in April 1968 that China supported North Vietnam to prevent the strategic encirclement of China, to which Pham Van Dong gave an equivocal reply— largely because preventing the encirclement of China was not a Vietnamese objective and Vietnamese objectives were national ones: ZHOU: For a long time, the United States has been halfencircling China. Now the Soviet Union is also encircling China. The circle is getting complete, except [the part of] Vietnam
PHAM: We are all the more determined to defeat the US imperialists in all of Vietnamese territory
ZHOU: That is why we support you
PHAM: That we are victorious will have a positive impact in Asia. Our victory will bring about unforeseeable outcomes
ZHOU: You should think that way
In pursuit of a Chinese strategy from which Pham Van Dong had been careful to stay aloof, China sent over 100,000 noncombat military personnel to support North Vietnamese infrastructure and logistics. The United States opposed North Vietnam as the spearhead of a Soviet-Chinese design. China supported Hanoi to blunt a perceived American thrust to dominate Asia. Both were mistaken. Hanoi fought only for its own national account. And a unified Communist-led Vietnam, victorious in its second war in 1975, would turn out to be a far greater strategic threat to China than to the United States
The Vietnamese eyed their northern neighbor with suspicion approaching paranoia. During long periods of Chinese domination, Vietnam had absorbed the Chinese writing system and political and cultural forms (evidenced, most spectacularly, in the imperial palace and tombs at the former capital of Hue). Vietnam had used these “Chinese”institutions, however, to build a separate state and bolster its own independence. Geography did not allow Vietnam to retreat into isolation as Japan had at a comparable period in its history. From the second century B.C
through the tenth century, Vietnam was under more or less direct Chinese rule, reemerging fully as an independent state only with the collapse of the Tang Dynasty in the year 907
Vietnamese national identity came to reflect the legacy of two somewhat contradictory forces: on the one hand, absorption of Chinese culture; on the other, opposition to Chinese political and military domination. Resistance to China helped produce a passionate pride in Vietnamese independence and a formidable military tradition. Absorption of Chinese culture provided Vietnam with a Chinese-style Confucian elite who possessed something of a regional Middle Kingdom complex of their own vis-à-vis their neighbors. During the Indochina wars of the twentieth century, Hanoi displayed its sense of political and cultural entitlement by availing itself of Lao and Cambodian neutral territory as if by right and, after the war, extending “special relationships”with the Communist movements in each of these countries, amounting to Vietnamese dominance
3 Vietnam confronted China with an unprecedented psychological and geopolitical challenge
Hanoi’s leaders were familiar with Sun Tzu’s Art of War and employed its principles to significant effect against both France and the United States. Even before the end of the long Vietnam wars, first with the French seeking to reclaim their colony after World War II, and then with the United States from 1963 to 1975, both Beijing and Hanoi began to realize that the next contest would be between themselves for dominance in Indochina and Southeast Asia
Cultural proximity may account for the relative absence of the sure touch in strategic analysis that usually guided Chinese policy during America’s Vietnam War. Ironically, Beijing’s longterm strategic interest was probably parallel to Washington’s: an outcome in which four Indochinese states (North and South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) balanced each other. This may explain why Mao, in outlining possible outcomes of the war to Edgar Snow in 1965, listed an outcome preserving South Vietnam as possible and, therefore, presumably acceptable
During my secret trip to Beijing in 1971, Zhou explained China’s objectives in Indochina as being neither strategic nor ideological. According to Zhou, Chinese policy in Indochina was based entirely on a historical debt incurred by ancient dynasties. China’s leaders probably assumed that America could not be defeated and that the north of a divided Vietnam would come to depend on Chinese support much as North Korea did after the end of the Korean War
As the war evolved, there were several signs that China was preparing itself— albeit reluctantly— for Hanoi’s victory. Intelligence noticed Chinese road building in northern Laos that had no relevance to the ongoing conflict with the United States but would be useful for postwar strategy to balance Hanoi or even a possible conflict over Laos. In 1973, after the Paris Agreement to end the Vietnam War, Zhou and I were negotiating a postwar settlement for Cambodia based on a coalition among Norodom Sihanouk (the exiled former ruler of Cambodia residing in Beijing), the existing Phnom Penh government, and the Khmer Rouge. Its main purpose was to create an obstacle to a takeover of Indochina by Hanoi. The agreement ultimately aborted when the U.S. Congress in effect prohibited any further military role for America in the region, making the American role irrelevant
Hanoi’s latent hostility to its then ally was brought home to me on a visit to Hanoi in February 1973 designed to work out the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which had been initialed two weeks earlier. Le Duc Tho took me on a visit to Hanoi’s national museum primarily to show me the sections devoted to Vietnam’s historic struggles against China— still formally an ally of Vietnam
With the fall of Saigon in 1975, the inherent and historic rivalries burst into the open, leading to a victory of geopolitics over ideology. It proved that the United States was not alone in wrongly assessing the significance of the Vietnam War. When the United States had first intervened, China viewed it as a kind of last gasp of imperialism. It had— almost routinely— cast its lot with Hanoi. It interpreted the American intervention as another step toward the encirclement of China— much as it had viewed the U.S. intervention in Korea a decade earlier
Ironically, from a geopolitical point of view, Beijing’s and Washington’s long-term interests should have been parallel. Both should have preferred the status quo, which was an Indochina divided among four states. Washington resisted Hanoi’s domination of Indochina because of the Wilsonian idea of global order— the right of self-determination of existing states— and the notion of a global Communist conspiracy. Beijing had the same general objective, but from the geopolitical point of view, because it wanted to avoid the emergence of a Southeast Asia bloc on its southern border
4 For a while, Beijing seemed to believe that Communist ideology would trump a thousandyear history of Vietnamese opposition to Chinese predominance. Or else it did not think it possible that the United States could be brought to total defeat. In the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, Beijing was obliged to face the implications of its own policy. And it recoiled before them. The outcome in Indochina merged with the permanent Chinese fear of encirclement
Beijing’s nightmare of encirclement by a hostile power appeared to be coming true. Vietnam alone was formidable enough. But if it realized its aim of an Indochinese Federation, it would approach a bloc of 100 million in population and be in a position to bring significant pressure on Thailand and other Southeast Asian states. In this context, the independence of Cambodia as a counterweight to Hanoi became a principal Chinese objective. As early as August 1975— three months after the fall of Saigon— Deng Xiaoping told the visiting Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan: “[W]hen one superpower [the United States] was compelled to withdraw its forces from Indochina, the other superpower [the Soviet Union] seized the opportunity . . . to extend its evil tentacles to Southeast Asia . . . in an attempt to carry out expansion there.”Cambodia and China, Deng said, “both . . . face the task of combating imperialism and hegemonies. . . . We firmly believe that . . . our two peoples will unite even more closely and march together towards new victories in the common struggle.”During a March 1976 visit of Lao Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane to Beijing, Hua Guofeng, then Premier, warned of the Soviet Union to the effect that: “In particular, the superpower that hawks ‘détente’while extending its grabbing claws everywhere is stepping up its armed expansion and war preparations and attempting to bring more countries into its sphere of influence and play the hegemonic overlord.” Freed from the necessity of feigning Communist solidarity in the face of the American “imperialist”threat, the adversaries moved into open opposition to each other soon after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Within six months of the fall of all of Indochina, 150,000 Vietnamese were forced to leave Cambodia. A comparable number of ethnically Chinese Vietnamese citizens were obliged to flee Vietnam. By February 1976, China ended its aid program to Vietnam, and a year later, it cut off any deliveries based on existing programs. Concurrently, Hanoi moved toward the Soviet Union. At a meeting of the Vietnamese Politburo in June 1978, China was identified as Vietnam’s “principal enemy.”The same month, Vietnam joined Comecon, the Soviet-led trade bloc. In November 1978, the Soviet Union and Vietnam signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which contained military clauses. In December 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, overthrowing the Khmer Rouge and installing a pro-Vietnamese government
Ideology had disappeared from the conflict. The Communist power centers were conducting a balance-of-power contest based not on ideology but on national interest
Viewed from Beijing, a strategic nightmare was evolving along China’s borders. In the north, the Soviet buildup continued unabated: Moscow still maintained nearly fifty divisions along the border. To China’s west, Afghanistan had undergone a Marxist coup and was subjected to increasingly overt Soviet influence. Beijing also saw Moscow’s hand in the Iranian revolution, which culminated with the flight of the Shah on January 16, 1979. Moscow continued to push an Asian collective security system with no other plausible purpose than to contain China
Meanwhile, Moscow was negotiating the SALT II treaty with Washington. In Beijing’s perception, such agreements served to “push the ill waters of the Soviet Union eastward”toward China. China seemed to be in an exceptionally vulnerable position. Now Vietnam had joined the Soviet camp. The “unforeseeable outcomes”predicted by Pham Van Dong to Zhou in 1968 appeared to include Soviet encirclement of China. An additional complication was that all these 5 challenges occurred while Deng was still consolidating his position in his second return to power— a process not completed until 1980
A principal difference between Chinese and Western diplomatic strategy is the reaction to perceived vulnerability. American and Western diplomats conclude that they should move carefully to avoid provocation; Chinese response is more likely to magnify defiance. Western diplomats tend to conclude from an unfavorable balance of forces an imperative for a diplomatic solution; they urge diplomatic initiatives to place the other side in the “wrong”to isolate it morally but to desist from the use of force— this was essentially the American advice to Deng after Vietnam invaded Cambodia and occupied it. Chinese strategists are more likely to increase their commitment to substitute courage and psychological pressure against the material advantage of the adversary. They believe in deterrence in the form of preemption. When Chinese planners conclude that their opponent is gaining unacceptable advantage and that the strategic trend is turning against them, they respond by seeking to undermine the enemy’s confidence and allow China to reclaim the psychological, if not material, upper hand
Faced with a threat on all fronts, Deng decided to go on the diplomatic and strategic offensive. Though not yet in complete control in Beijing, he moved daringly on several levels abroad. He changed the Chinese position toward the Soviet Union from containment to explicit strategic hostility and, in effect, to roll-back. China would no longer confine itself to advising the United States on how to contain the Soviet Union; it would now play an active role in constructing an anti-Soviet and anti-Vietnam coalition, especially in Asia. It would put the pieces in place for a possible showdown with Hanoi
Deng’s Foreign Policy— Dialogue with America and Normalization When Deng returned from his second exile in 1977, he reversed Mao’s domestic policy but left Mao’s foreign policy largely in place. This was because both shared strong national feelings and had parallel views of the Chinese national interest. It was also because foreign policy had set more absolute limits to Mao’s revolutionary impulses than domestic policy
There was, however, a significant difference in style between Mao’s criticism and Deng’s
Mao had questioned the strategic intentions of America’s Soviet policy. Deng assumed an identity of strategic interests and concentrated on achieving a parallel implementation. Mao dealt with the Soviet Union as a kind of abstract strategic threat whose menace was no more applicable to China than to the rest of the world. Deng recognized the special danger to China, especially an immediate threat at China’s southern border compounding a latent threat in the north. Dialogue therefore took on a more operational character. Mao acted like a frustrated teacher, Deng as a demanding partner
In the face of actual peril, Deng ended the ambivalence about the American relationship of Mao’s last year. There was no longer any Chinese nostalgia for opportunities on behalf of world revolution. Deng, in all conversations after his return, argued that, in resisting the thrust of Soviet policy toward Europe, China and Japan needed to be brought into a global design
However close the consultation had become between China and the United States, the anomaly continued that America still formally recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of China and Taipei as the capital of China. China’s adversaries along its northern and southern borders might misconstrue the absence of recognition as an opportunity
6 Normalization of relations moved to the top of the Sino-American agenda as Jimmy Carter took office. The first visit to Beijing of the new Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, in August 1977 did not turn out well. “I left Washington,”he wrote in his memoirs, believing it would be unwise to take on an issue as politically controversial as normalization with China until the Panama issue [referring to the ratification of the Panama Canal treaty turning over operation of the canal] was out of the way, unless— and I did not expect it to happen— the Chinese were to accept our proposal across the board. For political reasons, I intended to represent a maximum position to the Chinese on the Taiwan issue. . .
Accordingly, I did not expect the Chinese to accept our proposal, but I felt it wise to make it, even though we might eventually have to abandon it
The American proposal on Taiwan contained a series of ideas involving retention of some limited American diplomatic presence on Taiwan that had been put forward and rejected during the Ford administration. The proposals were rejected again by Deng, who called them a step backward. A year later, the internal American debate ended when President Carter decided to assign high priority to the relationship with China. Soviet pressures in Africa and the Middle East convinced the new President to opt for rapid normalization with China, by what amounted to the quest for a de facto strategic alliance with China. On May 17, 1978, Carter sent his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to Beijing with these instructions: You should stress that I see the Soviet Union as essentially in a competitive relationship with the United States, though there are also some cooperative aspects. . .
To state it most succinctly, my concern is that the combination of increasing Soviet military power and political shortsightedness, fed by big-power ambitions, might tempt the Soviet Union both to exploit local turbulence (especially in the Third World) and to intimidate our friends in order to seek political advantage and eventually even political preponderance
Brzezinski was also authorized to reaffirm the five principles enunciated by Nixon to Zhou in 1972. Long a strong advocate of strategic cooperation with China, Brzezinski carried out his instructions with enthusiasm and skill. When he visited Beijing in May 1978 in pursuit of normalizing relations, Brzezinski found a receptive audience. Deng was eager to proceed with normalization to enlist Washington more firmly in a coalition to oppose, by means of what he called “real, solid, down-to-earth work,”Soviet advances in every corner of the globe
The Chinese leaders were deeply aware of the strategic dangers surrounding them; but they presented their analysis less as a national concern than as a broader view of global conditions
“Turmoil under heaven,”the “horizontal line,”the “Three Worlds”: all represented general theories of international relations, not distinct national perceptions
Foreign Minister Huang Hua’s analysis of the international situation displayed a remarkable self-confidence. Rather than appearing as a supplicant in what was, after all, a very difficult situation for China, Huang struck the attitude of a Confucian teacher, lecturing on how to conduct a comprehensive foreign policy. He opened with a general assessment of the “contradictions”between the two superpowers, the futility of negotiations with the Soviet Union, and the inevitability of a world war: 7 [T]he Soviet Union is the most dangerous source of war. Your excellency has mentioned that the Soviet Union is confronted with many difficulties. That is true. To strive for world hegemony is the fixed strategic goal of Soviet socialist imperialism. Although it may suffer a lot of setbacks, it will never give up its ambition.14 Huang raised concerns that also bothered American students of strategy— especially those which tried to relate nuclear weapons to traditional ways of thinking about strategy. Reliance on nuclear weapons would open up a gap between deterrent threats and the willingness to implement them: “As for the argument that the Soviet Union would not dare to use conventional arms for fear of nuclear attack from the West, this is only wishful thinking. To base a strategic stance on this thinking is not only dangerous but also unreliable.” In the Middle East— “the flank of Europe”and a “source of energy in a future war”— the United States had failed to check Soviet advances. It had issued a joint statement on the Middle East with the Soviet Union (inviting regional states to a conference to explore the prospect of a comprehensive Palestinian settlement), “thus opening the door wide for the Soviet Union to further infiltrate the Middle East.”Washington had left President Anwar Sadat of Egypt— whose “bold action”had “created a situation unfavorable to the Soviet Union”— in a dangerous position and allowed the Soviet Union to “seize the chance to raise serious division among the Arab countries.” Huang summed up the situation by invoking an old Chinese proverb: “appeasement”of Moscow, he said, was “like giving wings to a tiger to strengthen it.”But a policy of coordinated pressure would prevail, since the Soviet Union was “only outwardly strong but inwardly weak. It bullies the weak and fears the strong.” All this was to supply the context for Indochina. Huang addressed “the problem of regional hegemony.”America, of course, had trod this path a good ten years earlier. Vietnam aimed to dominate Cambodia and Laos and establish an Indochinese Federation— and “behind that there lies the Soviet Union.”Hanoi had already achieved a dominant position in Laos, stationing troops there and maintaining “advisors in every department and in every level in Laos.”But Hanoi had encountered resistance in Cambodia, which opposed Vietnamese regional ambitions
Vietnamese-Cambodian tension represented “not merely some sporadic skirmishes along the borders”but a major conflict which “may last for a long time.”Unless Hanoi gave up its goal of dominating Indochina, “the problem will not be solved in a short period.” Deng followed up the Huang Hua critique later that day. Concessions and agreements had never produced Soviet restraint, he warned Brzezinski. Fifteen years of arms control agreements had allowed the Soviet Union to achieve strategic parity with the United States. Trade with the Soviet Union meant that “the U.S. is helping the Soviet Union overcome its weaknesses.”Deng offered a mocking assessment of American responses to Soviet adventurism in Moscow: Your spokesmen have constantly justified and apologized for Soviet actions. Sometimes they say there are no signs to prove that there is the meddling of the Soviet Union and Cuba in the case of Zaire or Angola. It is of no use for you to say so. To be candid with you, whenever you are about to conclude an agreement with the Soviet Union it is the product of [a] concession on the U.S. side to please the Soviet side
It was an extraordinary performance. The country which was the principal target of the Soviet Union was proposing joint action as a conceptual obligation, not a bargain between 8 nations, much less as a request. At a moment of great national danger— which its own analysis demonstrated— China nevertheless acted as an instructor on strategy, not as a passive consumer of American prescriptions, as America’s European allies frequently did
The staples of much of the American debate— international law, multilateral solutions, popular consensus— were absent from the Chinese analysis except as practical tools to an agreed objective. And that objective, as Deng pointed out to Brzezinski, was “coping with the polar bear and that’s that.” But for Americans there is a limit to the so-called realist approach in the fundamental values of American society. And the murderous Khmer Rouge governing Cambodia represented such a limit. No American President could treat the Khmer Rouge as another stone in the wei qi strategy. Its genocidal conduct— driving the population of Phnom Penh into the jungle, mass killings of designated categories of civilians— could not simply be ignored (though as we shall see necessity did on occasion abort principle)
Hua Guofeng, still Premier, was even more emphatic in a meeting the next day: [W]e have also told a lot of our friends that the main danger of war comes from the Soviet Union. Then how should we deal with it? The first thing is one should make preparations. . .
If one is prepared and once a war breaks out, one will not find himself in a disadvantageous position. The second thing is that it is imperative to try to upset the strategic deployment of Soviet aggression. Because in order to obtain hegemony in the world the Soviet Union has first to obtain air and naval bases throughout the world, so it has to make [a] strategic deployment. And we must try to upset its plans for global deployment
No member of the Atlantic Alliance had put forward a comparably sweeping call to joint— essentially preemptive— action or had indicated that it was prepared to act alone on its assessment
Operationally the Chinese leaders were proposing a kind of cooperation in many ways more intimate and surely more risk taking than the Atlantic Alliance. They sought to implement the strategy of offensive deterrence described in earlier chapters. Its special feature was that Deng proposed no formal structure or long-term obligation. A common assessment would supply the impetus for common action, but the de facto alliance would not survive if the assessments began to diverge— China insisted on being self-reliant even when in extreme danger. That China was so insistent on joint action despite the scathing criticism of specific American policies demonstrated that cooperation with the United States for security was perceived as imperative
Normalization emerged as a first step toward a common global policy. From the time of the secret visit in July 1971, the Chinese conditions for normalization had been explicit and unchanging: withdrawal of all American forces from Taiwan; ending the defense treaty with Taiwan; and establishing diplomatic relations with China exclusively with the government in Beijing. It had been part of the Chinese position in the Shanghai Communiqué. Two Presidents— Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford— had agreed to these conditions. Nixon had indicated he would realize them in his second term. Both Nixon and Ford had emphasized America’s concern for a peaceful solution to the issue, including continuation of some security assistance for Taiwan. They had not been able to fulfill these promises because of the impact of Watergate
In an unusual act of nonpartisan foreign policy, President Carter early in his term reaffirmed all the undertakings regarding Taiwan that Nixon had made to Zhou in February 1972. In 1978, 9 he put forward a specific formula for normalization to enable both sides to maintain their established principles: reaffirmation of the principles accepted by Nixon and Ford; an American statement stressing the country’s commitment to peaceful change; Chinese would be obliged to resort to developing nuclear weapons— as if the United States had no influence over Taiwan’s plans or actions
In the end, normalization came about when Carter supplied a deadline by inviting Deng to visit Washington. Deng agreed with unspecified arms sales to Taiwan and did not contradict an American declaration that Washington expected the ultimate solution of the Taiwan issue to be peaceful— even though China had established an extended record that it would undertake no formal obligation to that effect. Beijing’s position remained, as Deng had stressed to Brzezinski, that “the liberation of Taiwan is an internal affair of China in which no foreign country has the right to interfere.” Normalization meant that the American Embassy would move from Taipei to Beijing; a diplomat from Beijing would replace Taipei’s representative in Washington. In response the U.S
Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act in April 1979, which expressed the American concerns regarding the future as a binding law for Americans. It could not, of course, bind China
This balance between American and Chinese imperatives illustrates why ambiguity is sometimes the lifeblood of diplomacy. Much of normalization has been sustained for forty years by a series of ambiguities. But it cannot do so indefinitely. Wise statesmanship on both sides is needed to move the process forward
Deng’s Journeys As Deng moved from exhortation to implementation, he saw to it that China would not wait passively for American decisions. Wherever possible— especially in Southeast Asia— he would create the political framework he was advocating
Where Mao had summoned foreign leaders to his residence like an emperor, Deng adopted the opposite approach— touring Southeast Asia, the United States, and Japan and practicing his own brand of highly visible, blunt, and occasionally hectoring diplomacy. In 1978 and 1979, Deng undertook a series of journeys to change China’s image abroad from revolutionary challenger to fellow victim of Soviet and Vietnamese geopolitical designs. China had been on the other side during the Vietnam War. In Thailand and Malaysia, China had previously encouraged revolution among the overseas Chinese and minority populations.24 All this was now subordinated to dealing with the immediate threat
In an interview with Time magazine in February 1979, Deng advertised the Chinese strategic design to a large public: “If we really want to be able to place curbs on the polar bear, the only realistic thing for us is to unite. If we only depend on the strength of the U.S., it is not enough. If we only depend on the strength of Europe, it is not enough. We are an insignificant, poor country, but if we unite, well, it will then carry weight.” Throughout his trips, Deng stressed China’s relative backwardness and its desire to acquire technology and expertise from advanced industrial nations. But he maintained that China’s lack of development did not alter its determination to resist Soviet and Vietnamese expansion, if necessary by force and alone
Deng’s overseas travel— and his repeated invocations of China’s poverty— were striking departures from the tradition of Chinese statecraft. Few Chinese rulers had ever gone abroad. (Of course, since in the traditional conception they ruled all under heaven, there technically was no “abroad”to go to.) Deng’s willingness openly to emphasize China’s backwardness and need to 10 learn from others stood in sharp contrast to the aloofness of China’s Emperors and officialdom in dealing with foreigners. Never had a Chinese ruler proclaimed to foreigners a need for foreign goods. The Qing court had accepted foreign innovations in limited doses (for example, in its welcoming attitude to Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians) but had always insisted that foreign trade was an expression of Chinese goodwill, not a necessity for China. Mao, too, had stressed self-reliance, even at the price of impoverishment and isolation
Deng began his travels in Japan. The occasion was the ratification of the treaty by which normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China had been negotiated. Deng’s strategic design required reconciliation, not simply normalization, so that Japan could help isolate the Soviet Union and Vietnam
For this objective Deng was prepared to bring to a close half a century of suffering inflicted on China by Japan. Deng conducted himself exuberantly, declaring “My heart is full of joy,”and hugging his Japanese counterpart, a gesture for which his host could have found few precedents in his own society or, for that matter, in China’s. Deng made no attempt to hide China’s economic lag: “If you have an ugly face, it is no use pretending that you are handsome.”When asked to sign a visitors’book, he wrote an unprecedented appreciation of Japanese accomplishments: “We learn from and pay respect to the Japanese people, who are great, diligent, brave and intelligent.” In November 1978, Deng visited Southeast Asia, traveling to Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. He branded Vietnam the “Cuba of the East”and spoke of the newly signed Soviet- Vietnamese treaty as a threat to world peace
In Thailand on November 8, 1978, Deng stressed that the “security and peace of Asia, the Pacific and the whole world are threatened”by the Soviet-Vietnamese treaty: “This treaty is not directed against China alone. . . . It is a very important worldwide Soviet scheme. You may believe that the meaning of the treaty is to encircle China. I have told friendly countries that China is not afraid of being encircled. It has a most important meaning for Asia and the Pacific
The security and peace of Asia, the Pacific and the whole world are threatened.” On his visit to Singapore, Deng met a kindred spirit in the extraordinary Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and glimpsed a vision of China’s possible future— a majority-Chinese society prospering under what Deng would later describe admiringly as “strict administration”and “good public order.”At the time, China was still desperately poor, and its own “public order”had barely survived the Cultural Revolution. Lee Kuan Yew recounted a memorable exchange: He invited me to visit China again. I said I would when China had recovered from the Cultural Revolution. That, he said, would take a long time. I countered that they should have no problem getting ahead and doing much better than Singapore because we were the descendants of illiterate, landless peasants from Fujian and Guangdong while they had the progeny of the scholars, mandarins and literati who had stayed at home. He was silent
Lee paid tribute to Deng’s pragmatism and willingness to learn from experience. Lee also used the opportunity to express some of Southeast Asia’s concerns that might not filter through the Chinese bureaucratic and diplomatic screen: China wanted Southeast Asian countries to unite with it to isolate the “Russian bear”; the fact was that our neighbors wanted us to unite and isolate the “Chinese dragon.”There were no “overseas Russians”in Southeast Asia leading communist insurgencies supported by the 11 Soviet Union, as there were “overseas Chinese”encouraged and supported by the Chinese Communist Party and government, posing threats to Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia. Also, China was openly asserting a special relationship with the overseas Chinese because of blood ties, and was making direct appeals to their patriotism over the heads of the governments of these countries of which they were citizens. . . . [I] suggested that we discuss how to resolve this problem
In the event, Lee proved correct. The Southeast Asian countries, with the exception of Singapore, behaved with great caution in confronting either the Soviet Union or Vietnam
Nevertheless, Deng achieved his fundamental objectives: his many public statements constituted a warning of a possible Chinese effort to remedy the situation. And they were bound to be noted by the United States, which was a key building block for Deng’s design. That strategic design needed a more firmly defined relationship with America
Deng’s Visit to America and the New Definition of Alliance Deng’s visit to the United States was announced to celebrate the normalization of relations between the two countries and to inaugurate a common strategy that, elaborating on the Shanghai Communiqué, applied primarily to the Soviet Union
It also demonstrated a special skill of Chinese diplomacy: to create the impression of support by countries that have not in fact agreed to that role or even been asked to play it. The pattern began in the crisis over the offshore islands twenty years earlier. Mao had begun the 1958 shelling of Quemoy and Matsu three weeks after Khrushchev’s tense visit to Beijing, creating the impression that Moscow had agreed to Beijing’s actions in advance, which was not the case
Eisenhower had gone so far as to accuse Khrushchev of helping to instigate the crisis
Following the same tactic, Deng preceded the war with Vietnam with a high-profile visit to the United States. In neither case did China ask for assistance for its impending military endeavor. Khrushchev was apparently not informed of the 1958 operation and resented being faced with the risk of nuclear war; Washington was informed of the 1979 invasion after Deng’s arrival in America but gave no explicit support and limited the U.S. role to intelligence sharing and diplomatic coordination. In both cases, Beijing succeeded in creating the impression that its actions enjoyed the blessing of one superpower, thus discouraging the other superpower from intervening. In that subtle and daring strategy, the Soviet Union in 1958 had been powerless to prevent the Chinese attack on the offshore islands; with respect to Vietnam, it was left guessing as to what had been agreed during Deng’s visit and was likely to assume the worst from its point of view
In that sense, Deng’s visit to the United States was a kind of shadow play, one of whose purposes was to intimidate the Soviet Union. Deng’s week-long tour of the United States was part diplomatic summit, part business trip, part barnstorming political campaign, and part psychological warfare for the Third Vietnam War. The trip included stops in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Houston, and Seattle, and produced scenes unimaginable under Mao. At a state dinner at the White House on January 29, the leader of “Red China”dined with the heads of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and General Motors. At a gala event at the Kennedy Center, the diminutive Vice Premier shook hands with members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.32 Deng played to the crowd at a rodeo and barbecue in Simonton, Texas, donning a ten-gallon hat and riding in a stagecoach
12 Throughout the visit, Deng stressed China’s need to acquire foreign technology and develop its economy. At his request, he toured manufacturing and technology facilities, including a Ford assembly plant in Hapeville, Georgia; the Hughes Tool Company in Houston (where Deng inspected drill bits for use in offshore oil exploration); and the Boeing plant outside Seattle. On his arrival in Houston, Deng avowed his desire to “learn about your advanced experience in the petroleum industry and other fields.”Deng offered a hopeful assessment of Sino-U. S. relations, proclaiming his desire to “get to know all about American life”and “absorb everything of benefit to us.”At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Deng lingered in the space shuttle flight simulator. One news report captured the scene: Deng Xiaoping, who is using his trip to the United States to dramatize China’s eagerness for advanced technology, climbed into the cockpit of a flight simulator here today to discover what it would be like to land this newest American spacecraft from an altitude of 100,000 feet. China’s senior Deputy Prime Minister [Deng] seemed to be so fascinated by the experience that he went through a second landing and even then seemed reluctant to leave the simulator
This was worlds away from the Qing Emperor’s studied indifference to Macartney’s gifts and promises of trade or Mao’s rigid insistence on economic autarky. At his meeting with President Carter on January 29, Deng explained China’s Four Modernizations policy, put forward by Zhou in his last public appearance, which promised to modernize the fields of agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defense. All this was subordinate to the overriding purpose of Deng’s trip: to develop a de facto alliance between the United States and China. He summed up: Mr. President, you asked for a sketch of our strategy. To realize our Four Modernizations, we need a prolonged period of a peaceful environment. But even now we believe the Soviet Union will launch a war. But if we act well and properly, it is possible to postpone it. China hopes to postpone a war for twenty-two years.36 Under such a premise, we are not recommending the establishment of a formal alliance, but each should act on the basis of our standpoint and coordinate our activities and adopt necessary measures. This aim could be attained. If our efforts are to no avail, then the situation will become more and more empty.37 To act as allies without forming an alliance was pushing realism to extremes. If all leaders were competent strategists and thought deeply and systematically about strategy, they would all come to the same conclusions. Alliances would be unnecessary; the logic of their analysis would impel parallel directions
But differences of history and geography apart, even similarly situated leaders do not necessarily come to identical conclusions— especially under stress. Analysis depends on interpretation; judgments differ as to what constitutes a fact, even more about its significance
Countries have therefore made alliances— formal instruments that insulate the common interest, to the extent possible, from extraneous circumstances or domestic pressures. They create an additional obligation to calculations of national interest. They also provide a legal obligation to justify common defense, which can be appealed to in a crisis. Finally, alliances reduce— to the extent that they are seriously pursued— the danger of miscalculation by the potential adversary and thereby inject an element of calculability into the conduct of foreign policy
Deng— and most Chinese leaders— considered a formal alliance unnecessary in the U.S.- Chinese relationship and, on the whole, redundant in the conduct of their foreign policy. They were prepared to rely on tacit understandings. But there was also an implied warning in Deng’s 13 last sentence. If it was not possible to define or implement parallel interests, the relationship would turn “empty,”that is to say, would wither, and China would presumably return to Mao’s Three Worlds concept— which was still official policy— to enable China to navigate between the superpowers
The parallel interests, in Deng’s view, would express themselves in an informal global arrangement to contain the Soviet Union in Asia by political/military cooperation with parallel objectives to NATO in Europe. It was to be less structured and depended largely on the bilateral Sino-U.S. political relationship. It was also based on a different geopolitical doctrine. NATO sought to unite its partners, above all, in resistance against actual Soviet aggression. It demonstratively avoided any concept of military preemption. Concerned with avoiding diplomatic confrontation, the strategic doctrine of NATO has been exclusively defensive
What Deng was proposing was an essentially preemptive policy; it was an aspect of China’s offensive deterrence doctrine. The Soviet Union was to be pressured along its entire periphery and especially in regions to which it had extended its presence only recently, notably in Southeast Asia and even in Africa. If necessary, China would be prepared to initiate military action to thwart Soviet designs— especially in Southeast Asia
The Soviet Union would never be bound by agreements, Deng warned; it understood only the language of countervailing force. The Roman statesman Cato the Elder is reputed to have ended all his speeches with the clarion call “Carthago delenda est”(“Carthage must be destroyed”). Deng had his own trademark exhortation: that the Soviet Union must be resisted. He included in all his presentations some variation on the admonition that Moscow’s unchanging nature was to “squeeze in wherever there is an opening,”and that, as Deng told President Carter, “[w]herever the Soviet Union sticks its fingers, there we must chop them off.” Deng’s analysis of the strategic situation included a notification to the White House that China intended to go to war with Vietnam because it had concluded that Vietnam would not stop at Cambodia. “[T]he so-called Indochinese Federation is to include more than three states,”Deng warned. “Ho Chi Minh cherished this idea. The three states is only the first step. Then Thailand is to be included.”China had an obligation to act, Deng declared. It could not await developments; once they had occurred, it would be too late
Deng told Carter that he had considered the “worst possibility”— massive Soviet intervention, as the new Moscow-Hanoi defense treaty seemingly required. Indeed, reports indicated that Beijing had evacuated up to 300,000 civilians from its northern border territories and put its forces along the Sino-Soviet border on maximum alert. But, Deng told Carter, Beijing judged that a brief, limited war would not give Moscow time for “a large reaction”and that winter conditions would make a full-scale Soviet attack on northern China difficult. China was “not afraid,”Deng stated, but it needed Washington’s “moral support,”by which he meant sufficient ambiguity about American designs to give the Soviets pause
A month after the war, Hua Guofeng explained to me the careful strategic analysis that had preceded it: We also considered this possibility of a Soviet reaction. The first possibility was a major attack on us. That we considered a low possibility. A million troops are along the border, but for a major attack on China, that is not enough. If they took back some of the troops from Europe, it would take time and they would worry about Europe. They know a battle with China would be a major matter and could not be concluded in a short period of time
14 Deng confronted Carter with a challenge to both principle and public attitude. In principle, Carter did not approve preemptive strategies, especially since they involved military movements across sovereign borders. At the same time, he took seriously, even when he did not fully share, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s view of the strategic implications of the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, which was parallel to Deng’s. Carter resolved his dilemma by invoking principle but leaving scope for adjustment to circumstance. Mild disapproval shaded into vague, tacit endorsement. He called attention to the favorable moral position that Beijing would forfeit by attacking Vietnam. China, now widely considered a peaceful country, would run the risk of being accused of aggression: This is a serious issue. Not only do you face a military threat from the North, but also a change in international attitude. China is now seen as a peaceful country that is against aggression. The ASEAN countries, as well as the UN, have condemned the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Cuba. I do not need to know the punitive action being contemplated, but it could result in escalation of violence and a change in the world posture from being against Vietnam to partial support for Vietnam
It would be difficult for us to encourage violence. We can give you intelligence briefings
We know of no recent movements of Soviet troops towards your borders
I have no other answer for you. We have joined in the condemnation of Vietnam, but invasion of Vietnam would be [a] very serious destabilizing action
To refuse to endorse violence but to offer intelligence about Soviet troop movements was to give a new dimension to ambivalence. It might mean that Carter did not share Deng’s view of an underlying Soviet threat. Or, by reducing Chinese fears of a possible Soviet reaction, it might be construed as an encouragement to invasion
The next day, Carter and Deng met alone, and Carter handed Deng a note (as yet unpublished) summarizing the American position. According to Brzezinski: “The President himself drafted by hand a letter to Deng, moderate in tone and sober in content, stressing the importance of restraint and summarizing the likely adverse international consequences. I felt that this was the right approach, for we could not collude formally with the Chinese in sponsoring what was tantamount to overt military aggression.”Informal collusion was another matter
According to a memorandum recounting the private conversation (at which only an interpreter was present), Deng insisted that strategic analysis overrode Carter’s invocation of world opinion. Above all, China must not be thought of as pliable: “China must still teach Vietnam a lesson. The Soviet Union can use Cuba, Vietnam, and then Afghanistan will evolve into a proxy [for the Soviet Union]. The PRC is approaching this issue from a position of strength. The action will be very limited. If Vietnam thought the PRC soft, the situation will get worse.” Deng left the United States on February 4, 1979. On his return trip from the United States, he completed placing the last wei qi piece on the board. He stopped off in Tokyo for the second time in six months, to assure himself of Japanese support for the imminent military action and to isolate the Soviet Union further. To Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira, Deng reiterated China’s position that Vietnam had to be “punished”for its invasion of Cambodia, and he pledged: “To uphold the long-term prospects of international peace and stability . . . [the Chinese people] will firmly fulfill our internationalist duties, and will not hesitate to even bear the necessary sacrifices.” 15 After having visited Burma, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan twice, and the United States, Deng had accomplished his objective of drawing China into the world and isolating Hanoi. He never left China again, adopting in his last years the remoteness and inaccessibility of traditional Chinese rulers
The Third VietnamWar On February 17, China mounted a multipronged invasion of northern Vietnam from southern China’s Guangxi and Yunnan provinces. The size of the Chinese force reflected the importance China attached to the operation; it has been estimated to have numbered more than 200,000 and perhaps as many as 400,000 PLA soldiers. One historian has concluded that the invasion force, which included “regular ground forces, militia, and naval and air force units . . . was similar in scale to the assault with which China made such an impact on its entry into the Korean War in November 1950.”The official Chinese press accounts called it the “Self-Defensive Counterattack Against Vietnam”or the “Counterattack in Self-Defense on the Sino-Vietnamese Border.”It represented the Chinese version of deterrence, an invasion advertised in advance to forestall the next Vietnamese move
The target of China’s military was a fellow Communist country, recent ally, and longtime beneficiary of Chinese economic and military support. The goal was to preserve the strategic equilibrium in Asia, as China saw it. Further, China undertook the campaign with the moral support, diplomatic backing, and intelligence cooperation of the United States— the same “imperialist power”that Beijing had helped eject from Indochina five years earlier
The stated Chinese war aim was to “put a restraint on the wild ambitions of the Vietnamese and to give them an appropriate limited lesson.”“Appropriate”meant to inflict sufficient damage to affect Vietnamese options and calculations for the future; “limited”implied that it would be ended before outside intervention or other factors drove it out of control. It was also a direct challenge to the Soviet Union
Deng’s prediction that the Soviet Union would not attack China was borne out. The day after China launched its invasion, the Soviet government released a lukewarm statement that, while condemning China’s “criminal”attack, emphasized that “the heroic Vietnamese people . . . is capable of standing up for itself this time again[.]”The Soviet military response was limited to sending a naval task force to the South China Sea, undertaking a limited arms airlift to Hanoi, and stepping up air patrols along the Sino-Soviet border. The airlift was constrained by geography but also by internal hesitations. In the end, the Soviet Union gave as much support in 1979 to its new ally, Vietnam, as it had extended twenty years earlier to its then ally, China, in the Taiwan Strait Crises. In neither case would the Soviet Union run any risks of a wider war
Shortly after the war, Hua Guofeng summed up the outcome in a pithy phrase contemptuous of Soviet leaders: “As for threatening us, they did that by maneuvers near the border, sending ships to the South China Sea. But they did not dare to move. So after all we could still touch the buttocks of the tiger.” Deng sarcastically rejected American advice to be careful. During a late February 1979 visit of Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal to Beijing, Blumenthal called for Chinese troops to withdraw from Vietnam “as quickly as possible”because Beijing “ran risks that were unwarranted.”Deng demurred. Speaking to American reporters just before his meeting with Blumenthal, Deng displayed his disdain for equivocation, mocking “some people”who were “afraid of offending”the “Cuba of the Orient.” 16 As in the Sino-Indian War, China executed a limited “punitive”strike followed immediately by a retreat. It was over in twenty-nine days. Shortly after the PLA captured (and reportedly laid waste to) the capitals of the three Vietnamese provinces along the border, Beijing announced that Chinese forces would withdraw from Vietnam, save for several disputed pieces of territory
Beijing made no attempt to overthrow the Hanoi government or to enter Cambodia in any overt capacity
A month after the Chinese troops had withdrawn, Deng explained the Chinese strategy to me on a visit to Beijing: DENG: After I came back [from the United States], we immediately fought a war. But we asked you for your opinion beforehand. I talked it over with President Carter and then he replied in a very formal and solemn way. He read a written text to me. I said to him: China will handle this question independently and if there is any risk, China will take on the risk alone. In retrospect, we think if we had driven deeper into Vietnam in our punitive action, it would have been even better
KISSINGER: It could be
DENG: Because our forces were sufficient to drive all the way to Hanoi. But it wouldn’t be advisable to go that far
KISSINGER: No, it would probably have gone beyond the limits of calculation
DENG: Yes, you’re right. But we could have driven 30 kilometers deeper into Vietnam. We occupied all the defensive areas of fortification. There wasn’t a defense line left all the way to Hanoi
The conventional wisdom among historians is that the war was a costly Chinese failure.53 The effects of the PLA’s politicization during the Cultural Revolution became apparent during the campaign: hampered by outdated equipment, logistical problems, personnel shortages, and inflexible tactics, Chinese forces advanced slowly and at great cost. By some analysts’estimates, the PLA suffered as many killed in action in one month of fighting the Third Vietnam War as the United States suffered in the most costly years of the second one
Conventional wisdom is based, however, on a misapprehension of the Chinese strategy
Whatever the shortcomings of its execution, the Chinese campaign reflected a serious long-term strategic analysis. In the Chinese leadership’s explanations to their American counterparts, they described the consolidation of Soviet-backed Vietnamese power in Indochina as a crucial step in the Soviet Union’s worldwide “strategic deployment.”The Soviet Union had already concentrated troops in Eastern Europe and along China’s northern border. Now, the Chinese leaders warned, Moscow was “beginning to get bases”in Indochina, Africa, and the Middle East
If it consolidated its position in these areas, it would control vital energy resources and be able to block key sea lanes— most notably the Malacca Strait connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. This would give Moscow the strategic initiative in any future conflict. In a broader sense, the war resulted from Beijing’s analysis of Sun Tzu’s concept of shi— the trend and “potential energy”of the strategic landscape. Deng aimed to arrest and, if possible, reverse what he saw as an unacceptable momentum of Soviet strategy
China achieved this objective in part by its military daring, in part by drawing the United States into unprecedentedly close cooperation. China’s leaders had navigated the Third Vietnam War by meticulous analysis of their strategic choices, daring execution, and skillful diplomacy
17 With all these qualities, they would not have been able to “touch the buttocks of the tiger”but for the cooperation of the United States
The Third Vietnam War ushered in the closest collaboration between China and the United States for the period of the Cold War. Two trips to China by American emissaries established an extraordinary degree of joint action. Vice President Walter “Fritz”Mondale visited China in August 1979 to devise a diplomacy for the aftermath of the Deng visit, especially with respect to Indochina. It was a complex problem in which strategic and moral considerations were in severe conflict. The United States and China agreed that it was in each country’s national interest to prevent the emergence of an Indochinese Federation under Hanoi’s control. But the only part of Indochina that was still contested was Cambodia, which had been governed by the execrable Pol Pot, who had murdered millions of his compatriots. The Khmer Rouge constituted the best organized element of Cambodia’s anti-Vietnam resistance
Carter and Mondale took a long and dedicated record of devotion to human rights into government; indeed they had, in their presidential campaign, attacked Ford on the ground of insufficient attention to the issue of human rights
Deng had first raised the issue of aid to the Cambodian guerrilla resistance against the Vietnamese invaders during the private conversation with Carter about the invasion of Vietnam
According to the official report: “The President asked if the Thais could accept and relay it to the Cambodians. Deng said yes and that he has in mind light weapons. The Thais are now sending a senior officer to the Thai-Cambodian border to keep communications more secure.”56 The de facto cooperation between Washington and Beijing on aid to Cambodia through Thailand had the practical effect of indirectly assisting the remnants of the Khmer Rouge. American officials were careful to stress to Beijing that the United States “cannot support Pol Pot”and welcomed China’s assurances that Pol Pot no longer exercised full control over the Khmer Rouge. This sop to conscience did not change the reality that Washington provided material and diplomatic support to the “Cambodian resistance”in a manner that the administration must have known would benefit the Khmer Rouge. Carter’s successors in Ronald Reagan’s administration followed the same strategy. America’s leaders undoubtedly expected that if the Cambodian resistance prevailed, they or their successors would oppose the Khmer Rouge element of it in the aftermath— which is what in effect happened after the Vietnamese withdrawal over a decade later. American ideals had encountered the imperatives of geopolitical reality. It was not cynicism, even less hypocrisy, that forged this attitude: the Carter administration had to choose between strategic necessities and moral conviction. They decided that for their moral convictions to be implemented ultimately they needed first to prevail in the geopolitical struggle. The American leaders faced the dilemma of statesmanship. Leaders cannot choose the options history affords them, even less that they be unambiguous
The visit of Secretary of Defense Harold Brown marked a further step toward Sino-American cooperation unimaginable only a few years earlier. Deng welcomed him: “Your coming here itself is of major significance,”he noted to Brown, “because you are the Secretary of Defense.” A few veterans of the Ford administration understood this hint about the invitation to Secretary Schlesinger, aborted when Ford dismissed him
The main agenda was to define the United States’military relationship with China. The Carter administration had come to the conclusion that an increase in China’s technological and military capacity was important for global equilibrium and American national security
Washington had “drawn a distinction between the Soviet Union and China,”Secretary Brown 18 explained, and was willing to transfer some military technology to China that it would not make available to the Soviets.58 Further, the United States was willing to sell “military equipment”to China (such as surveillance equipment and vehicles), though not “arms.”It would not, moreover, interfere in decisions by NATO allies to sell arms to China. As President Carter explained in his instructions to Brzezinski: [T]he United States does not object to the more forthcoming attitude which our allies are adopting in regard to trade with China in technology-sensitive areas. We have an interest in a strong and secure China— and we recognize and respect this interest
In the end, China was not able to rescue the Khmer Rouge or force Hanoi to withdraw its troops from Cambodia for another decade; perhaps recognizing this, Beijing framed its war aims in much more limited terms. However, Beijing did impose heavy costs on Vietnam. Chinese diplomacy in Southeast Asia before, during, and after the war worked with great determination and skill to isolate Hanoi. China maintained a heavy military presence along the border, retained several disputed pieces of territory, and continued to hold out the threat of a “second lesson”to Hanoi. For years afterward, Vietnam was forced to support considerable forces on its northern border to defend against another possible Chinese attack.60 As Deng had told Mondale in August 1979: For a country of that size to keep a standing force of more than one million, where will you find enough work force? A standing force of one million needs a lot of logistical support
Now they depend on the Soviet Union. Some estimates say they are getting $2 million a day from the Soviet Union, some estimates say $2½ million. . . . [I]t will increase difficulties, and this burden on the Soviet Union will grow heavier and heavier. Things will become more difficult. In time the Vietnamese will come to realize that not all their requests to the Soviet Union can be met. In those circumstances perhaps a new situation will emerge
That situation did, in fact, occur over a decade later when the collapse of the Soviet Union and of Soviet financial support brought about a retrenchment in Vietnamese deployment in Cambodia. Ultimately over a time period more difficult to sustain for democratic societies, China achieved a considerable part of its strategic objectives in Southeast Asia. Deng achieved sufficient maneuvering room to meet his objective of thwarting Soviet domination of Southeast Asia and the Malacca Strait
The Carter administration performed a tightrope act that maintained an option toward the Soviet Union via negotiations over the limitations of strategic arms while basing its Asian policy on the recognition that Moscow remained the principal strategic adversary
The ultimate loser in the conflict was the Soviet Union, whose global ambitions had caused alarm around the world. A Soviet ally had been attacked by the Soviet Union’s most vocal and strategically most explicit adversary, which was openly agitating for a containment alliance against Moscow— all this within a month of the conclusion of the Soviet-Vietnamese alliance. In retrospect, Moscow’s relative passivity in the Third Vietnam War can be seen as the first symptom of the decline of the Soviet Union. One wonders whether the Soviets’decision a year later to intervene in Afghanistan was prompted in part by an attempt to compensate for their ineffectuality in supporting Vietnam against the Chinese attack. In either case, the Soviets’ miscalculation in both situations was in not realizing the extent to which the correlation of global forces had shifted against them. The Third Vietnam War may thus be counted as another 19 example in which Chinese statesmen succeeded in achieving long-term, big-picture strategic objectives without the benefit of a military establishment comparable to that of their adversaries
Though providing breathing space for the remnants of the Khmer Rouge can hardly be counted as a moral victory, China achieved its larger geopolitical aims vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and Vietnam— both of whose militaries were better trained and equipped than China’s
Equanimity in the face of materially superior forces has been deeply ingrained in Chinese strategic thinking— as is apparent from the parallels with China’s decision to intervene in the Korean War. Both Chinese decisions were directed against what Beijing perceived to be a gathering danger— a hostile power’s consolidation of bases at multiple points along the Chinese periphery. In both cases, Beijing believed that if the hostile power were allowed to complete its design, China would be encircled and thus remain in a permanent state of vulnerability. The adversary would be in a position to launch a war at a time of its choosing, and knowledge of this advantage would allow it to act, as Hua Guofeng told President Carter when they met in Tokyo, “without scruples.”Therefore, a seemingly regional issue— in the first case the American rebuff of North Korea, in the second case Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia— was treated as “the focus of the struggles in the world”(as Zhou described Korea)
Both interventions set China against a stronger power that threatened its perception of its security; each, however, did so on terrain and at a time of Beijing’s choosing. As Vice Premier Geng Biao later told Brzezinski: “The Soviet Union’s support for Vietnam is a component of its global strategy. It is directed not just at Thailand, but at Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Straits of Malacca. If they succeeded, it would be a fatal blow to ASEAN and would also interdict the lines of communications for Japan and the United States. We are committed to do something about this. We may have no capability to cope with the Soviet Union, but we have the capability to cope with Vietnam.” These were not elegant affairs: China threw troops into immensely costly battles and sustained casualties on a scale that would have been unacceptable in the Western world. In the Sino-Vietnam War, the PLA seems to have pursued its task with many shortcomings, significantly increasing the scale of Chinese losses. But both interventions achieved noteworthy strategic goals. At two key moments in the Cold War, Beijing applied its doctrine of offensive deterrence successfully. In Vietnam, China succeeded in exposing the limits of the Soviet defense commitment to Hanoi and, more important, of its overall strategic reach. China was willing to risk war with the Soviet Union to prove that it refused to be intimidated by the Soviet presence on its southern flank
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has summed up the ultimate result of the war: “The Western press wrote off the Chinese punitive action as a failure. I believe it changed the history of East Asia.”