Feb. 17 – Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Sino-Vietnamese War that erupted on February 17, 1979 when Chinese military forces launched a brief invasion of Northern Vietnam.
China, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, sent 200,000 troops along with 200 tanks across the border. Two days earlier, China had publicly said that they intended to attack Vietnam for their invasion of Cambodia. It would be the first time that China struck against a Soviet ally after the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance expired that same year.
China also accused Vietnam of mistreating its ethnic Chinese minority and occupying the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Sino-Vietnam War would last until March when the Chinese occupied the city of Lang Son only to withdraw briefly after. Chinese forces were only able to advance an estimated forty kilometers into Vietnam with most of the fighting happening in the provinces of Cao Bang, Lao Cai and Lang Son.
China did not achieve its goal to change Cambodia’s status then although until now, which side was the victor remains disputed.
Thirty years after the war, Beijing and Hanoi have gone on to maintain good bilateral relations despite the presence of unresolved issues. Notably, who will yield control of the South China Sea’s Spratley and Paracel islands.
“The toning down of public statements about the Sino-Vietnam conflict reflects growing interdependence and pragmatism in today’s bilateral relations,” Chin-Hao Huang, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told AFP.
“Both sides are willing to cast aside historical grievances and work together on building trade, business and economic relations, monitoring and combating disease outbreaks like the avian flu and cracking down on narcotics trade, among many other issues of mutual interest.”
The Chinese parliament has voted to declare Chinese sovereignty over 80 percent of the South China Sea, but has proposed joint exploitation of resources, Jean-Claude Pomonti, a Bangkok-based journalist and author of a book on Southeast Asia, told AFP.
“The Vietnamese suspicion of the Chinese remains intact, but they have no choice (but to agree to Chinese proposals),” added Pomonti.
Due to business and diplomatic reasons, a military recourse for both countries is no longer an option. is out of the question.”The fact that China has agreed and signed on to the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea with Vietnam and other ASEAN member states is an important step in the right direction to resolving the conflict through non-military means,” said SIPRI’s Huang.
In 2008, bilateral trade amounted to US$20.1 billion with Vietnam importing US$15.6 billion worth of Chinese goods on its end.