Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia

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“This volume marks the first time that top Chinese scholars have joined with leading U.S. and European scholars on this topic. Because of this important work, a number of issues surrounding the U.S. war in Vietnam will need to be reconsidered.”—Odd Arne Westad, Professor of International History and Director of the Cold War Studies Centre, London School of Economics
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A model anthology, these cross-referenced essays find unity in substantiation of the editor's conclusion that during the Vietnam Was, ideology 'could not trump differences in political culture and style' or divergent national interests between Communist allies, as disagreement and discord raged behind the Bamboo Curtain."—Pacific Affairs

"This book is certainly long-awaited and should refine, deepen, and change our understanding of the Vietnam War... All the chapters are well-written, cutting-edge and worth reading."—The China Review

"This addition to the growing literature of the Vietnam War is long overdue."—CHOICE

"This volume marks the first time that top Chinese scholars have joined with leading U.S. and European scholars on this topic. Because of this important work, a number of issues surrounding the U.S. war in Vietnam will need to be reconsidered."—Odd Arne

"Behind the Bamboo Curtain is an important collection of essays on Sino-Vietnamese relations during the Cold War An excellent contribution from a Vietnamese historian and well-documented chapters on Soviet and French policy further augment the impo

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Meet the Author

Priscilla Roberts has been a Lecturer in History at the University of Hong Kong since 1984 and the Director of the University's Centre of American Studies since 1995. She is the author of The Cold War(2001), the editor ofSino-American Realtions since 1900(1991) and the associate editor of the Encyclopedia of the Korean War: A Political, Social, and Military History.

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Behind the Bamboo Curtain

China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia

Stanford University Press
Copyright © 2006

Priscilla Roberts
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-5502-3

Chapter One Mao Zedong and the Indochina Wars Yang Kuisong

For most of the period from 1949 until his death in 1976, Mao Zedong dominated the direction of China's foreign relations. Most of those scholars who have investigated China's role in the Vietnam War have focused on the first half of the 1950s and the later 1960s. Due to the limitations of sources, these writings have been unable to present a clear picture of how and why Mao's attitude toward the Indochina wars altered over time.

Like China's overall foreign policies, the People's Republic of China's (PRC's) attitude toward the Indochina wars was heavily influenced both by Mao's increasingly radical revolutionary ideology and by the Sino-Soviet dispute and the dilemmas it generated in China's international position. Seeking to prevent communist expansion there, during the Cold War the United States became involved in a series of wars in Indochina, first assisting France and then, from the mid-1950s to the 1970s, intervening directly in internal conflicts in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. These states were very close geographically to China, whereas Beijing viewed Washington as its number one enemy, causing Chinese leaders to view American intervention and expansion in Indochina as a serious threat to their country's security. They chose to counter the American threat by providing active support to the various Indochinese communist parties and by courting nationalist governments in other Southeast Asian countries.

In practice, Mao occupied a central and unique position in the formation of China's foreign policy in this period. Without a clear understanding of exactly how Mao's attitude toward the Indochina war shifted over time and the reasons underlying his changing perspectives, it remains very difficult to comprehend the evolution of China's policy toward the Vietnam War. National security and ideology were two major determinants of China's approach to the Indochina conflict. Because Mao placed varying emphases on these at different times, oscillating between them, China's policy toward Indochina was apparently inconsistent and sometimes even self-contradictory. Drawing on recently released documents from China, Vietnam, and Russia, this chapter depicts the development and modification of Mao's attitude toward the Vietnam War, thereby facilitating a deeper comprehension of why China's policy toward the Indochina conflict changed dramatically over time.

From Supporting Wars of Liberation in Indochina to Advocating Peace in Southeast Asia

During the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), guided by Mao's revolutionary theory, sought to seize power through armed struggle and revolutionary warfare. From the Yanan period to the creation of the PRC, Mao had always adhered to the view that "the central task and the highest form of revolution is to seize power through armed struggle and to solve problems through war. This is a revolutionary principle of Marxism-Leninism, and it is universally applicable both in China and in the rest of the world." Simultaneously, as revolutionary Communists, CCP leaders believed in class struggle. Working from country bases, CCP forces surrounded cities and in 1949 established the PRC. Class interest and class struggle constituted the Chinese Communists' basic worldview. They had always believed that a "world revolution" was in progress and that only when the bourgeois class was eliminated everywhere could the victory of socialism be consolidated. Therefore, they argued that "when you are making revolution, you need foreign aid; after you have achieved victory, you ought to support foreign revolution." This, they believed should be the CCP's unshakable principle of internationalism.

Because of the CCP's advocacy of the use of armed struggle to seize power and its belief in internationalism and revolution, immediately after achieving victory in China it began to demonstrate sympathy and give concrete support to those Asian communist parties that were engaged in their own revolutionary struggles. To some extent, the decision to provide such aid reflected the CCP's geopolitical interests, but ideological considerations predominated, and in the PRC's early years the desire to promote revolution throughout Asia was very apparent. CCP leaders told other Asian communist parties that the methods of organizing a united front under communist party leadership, creating revolutionary base areas, and seizing power through armed struggle that had succeeded in the Chinese revolution should become "the basic approach for national liberation struggle in all other colonial and semi-colonial countries" with conditions comparable to China's. In accordance with this tendency to support Asian revolution, the CCP offered assistance to the anti-French war led by the Vietnamese Communists.

In August 1945, the Vietnamese Communist Party (Viet Minh) under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh took advantage of Japan's sudden defeat to establish the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), a temporary government based on united front principles. Once World War II ended, however, France sought to restore its own colonial rule in Indochina, and Chinese Nationalist forces entered northern Vietnam to supervise Japan's surrender, developments hazardous to the DRV. Although Ho, seeking to preserve the DRV's position and his forces, downplayed the role of the Vietnamese Communist Party and declared that the DRV was a neutral country, he failed to dispel French hostility, and in December 1946 the Franco-Vietminh war began.

Ho's conciliatory approach before December 1946 clearly differed from that adopted by Mao in China after World War II, and some CCP leaders criticized his behavior. With the opening of the Franco-Vietminh War, however, Mao and other CCP leaders changed their views. In December 1949, Ho sent envoys to Beijing, requesting military advisers, weapons to equip three divisions, and financial aid of $10 million from the CCP. Because it was still engaged in the war to unify China and its financial resources were limited, at this time the CCP could not meet all Ho's demands, but CCP leaders did instruct their military units in southern China to give the Vietminh as much assistance as possible.

Mao, who was then visiting Moscow, devoted considerable attention to Ho's struggle and his request for Chinese aid. After learning that his colleagues in Beijing had not met Ho's demands in their entirety, Mao sent a cable to the CCP Central Committee, instructing the leadership to inform Ho's envoys that China would provide certain quantities of weapons, munitions, and medical supplies immediately, so that the Vietminh could familiarize themselves with Chinese matériel, and the PRC would increase its aid in the future. Mao also told Liu Shaoqi to adopt a friendly and cooperative attitude toward the Vietnamese Communists, encourage their struggle, and refrain from criticizing them. Mao insisted that "we might raise the issue of the Vietnamese Communist Party's weaknesses when high-level cadres sent by Ho Chi Minh arrive in Beijing." Referring to Ho's conciliatory approach during the period 1945-46, Mao said: "Ho Chi Minh once disguised his party and declared that the DRV remained neutral. It is too early to say that these two policies were mistakes in principle because the Vietnamese struggle did not suffer as a result of their implementation."

In mid-January 1950, the PRC and the DRV established diplomatic relations. Ho paid a secret visit to Beijing and then went on to Moscow to meet with Joseph Stalin and Mao. In Moscow, Ho discussed with Stalin and Mao such issues as the development of the Vietnamese Communist Party, the national united front, military affairs, and foreign relations. Both Mao and Stalin expressed themselves willing to support the DRV's struggle against the French. In accordance with the Sino-Soviet agreement concluded in 1949 when Liu Shaoqi visited the Soviet Union, the CCP would be primarily responsible for providing support for the Vietminh. Shortly after the Moscow meeting, China began to send military advisers, weapons, munitions, and equipment to Ho's forces in Vietnam. Within China, the CCP also equipped and trained the People's Army of Vietnam's (PAVN's) 308th Division, 209th Regiment, and 174th Regiment.

During the next three years, China not only continued to supply weapons and munitions to the Vietminh but also helped them to organize a series of important military campaigns. Mao often directly reviewed battle plans and gave specific directions. To better fight the French and win victory throughout Indochina, the Chinese leadership even proposed expanding the war to Laos and Cambodia to liberate those two countries. Seeking to attain that objective, Chinese advisers entered Laos to help direct military operations.

The anti-French war in Vietnam (1946-54) coincided with the Korean War (1950-53), a conflict that revealed the huge discrepancy between China and the United States in equipment, firepower, and naval and air forces. China had to rely on Soviet weapons to fight the Americans. This alerted many CCP leaders to the urgent need to accelerate China's industrialization and modernize its national defense. But the Korean War seriously undermined their efforts to concentrate the country's primary resources on economic reconstruction. After the Korean War ended in an inconclusive armistice in July 1953, the United States began to direct more attention to the Indochina conflict even as the Soviet government sought a general reduction of international tensions. In 1953, China began to implement its First Five-Year Plan and carry out its program of socialist transformation of the economy. Given these domestic needs, Zhou Enlai and many other CCP leaders favored the promotion of a peaceful international environment. These international and domestic constraints moderated the impulse of international mission in Mao's thinking, leading Mao to begin to accord the advancement of national interests a higher priority than the propagation of revolution.

Shortly after the Korean War ended, the Chinese government began to cooperate with the Soviet Union in advocating the reduction of international tensions. The attainment of peace in Indochina became a shared propaganda slogan for the Soviet Union, China, and the DRV. In February 1954, a foreign ministers' conference was held in Berlin, attended by representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and the United Kingdom. At Soviet instigation, on February 19 the conference declared that in two months a conference of major powers, including China, would be held in Geneva to discuss the Korean and Indochinese conflicts. China and the DRV voiced support for this declaration.

What was Mao's attitude? Although he endorsed negotiations, he doubted that the Geneva Conference alone could bring peace to Indochina, and he still felt that military victory was crucial. French forces in Indochina were still quite strong, and France had just deployed more than ten thousand troops at the strategic location of Dien Bien Phu, posing a serious threat to the Vietnamese Communist headquarters in Viet Bac and the transit route to Laos. As the conference date approached, Mao therefore began to urge the Vietnamese Communists to fight harder. At this time "using war to promote peace" became a basic principle in the CCP's approach to any Indochina settlement. Zhou, a strong advocate of peace, also shared Mao's desire to approach the peace negotiations from a strong military position, and he hoped the Vietminh would win several military victories before the Geneva Conference embarked on discussions on Indochina. Accordingly, in a cable to the Chinese military advisory team shortly after the CCP firmed up its plan to attend the Geneva Conference, Zhou suggested that "in order to win the diplomatic initiative, can we organize several successful campaigns in Vietnam as we did in Korea before the conclusion of the Korean armistice?"

The Dien Bien Phu campaign thus became urgent. At this time, Mao was still pessimistic about the Geneva Conference and, although he had endorsed negotiations, he clearly had not abandoned military measures. While Zhou, together with Ho and other Vietnamese leaders, went to Moscow in early April for discussions with the Russians on how to achieve success at the Geneva Conference, on April 3 Mao urged the Chinese military advisory team to wrap up the Dien Bien Phu campaign. He urged the PAVN to occupy Dien Bien Phu quickly and then attack Luang Prabang in Laos so as to prepare the way to take Hanoi, attack Saigon, and unify all Vietnam. He specifically ordered the Chinese military to help the PAVN organize four additional artillery regiments and two engineering regiments, specifying that all instructors and advisers for these regiments should be recruited from those Chinese artillery units that had fought in the Korean War; that artillery pieces could be drawn from Chinese artillery units; and that training could be conducted either in northern Vietnam or in Guangxi Province, China.

A few days later, however, Mao modified his policy of expanding the war in Indochina. He did so for two reasons. The first was the American threat to intervene in Indochina. On March 29 and April 5, U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles twice declared that, as it had done in Korea, the United States would organize united international action to intervene in Indochina, to prevent "Communist Russia and its ally, the Chinese Communist Party, from imposing their political system on Southeast Asia."

The second reason had to do with the decisions reached at the meeting of Soviet, Chinese, and Vietnamese representatives in Moscow in early April, where all three interested parties agreed to make every effort to ensure that the negotiations at Geneva were successful. Bearing in mind both the danger of another direct confrontation with the United States and the consensus on Indochinese peace achieved at the Moscow meeting, Mao was forced to abandon his ideas to expand the war in Indochina. On April 17, he told his generals that, given the possibility of a cease-fire in Vietnam, the previous policy of expanding the war in Indochina should be suspended and that it was no longer appropriate to train Vietnamese artillery regiments in China. Later, when the Vietminh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, thus opening the way to attack Laos and Hanoi, Mao still urged the Vietnamese to restrain and refrain from expanding the scale of their frontline war, to ensure the success of the Geneva negotiations. Clearly Mao now favored seeking a cease-fire and peace in Indochina through negotiation and compromise.

The United States, far from enthusiastic about reaching a peace settlement in Indochina at the Geneva Conference, even tried to prevent the conclusion of any peace agreement. For China to succeed in bringing peace to Indochina, therefore, its most important need was to isolate the United States. To achieve that goal, Zhou worked enormously hard to win the sympathy and understanding of the British, French, Laotian, and Cambodian delegates. Another obstacle to an agreement during the Geneva negotiations was the attitude of the Vietnamese. Especially after their May 7 victory at Dien Bien Phu, when they wiped out 16,000 French troops and captured General Christian de Castries, the French commander, the Vietnamese delegates at Geneva supported Mao's previous military plan even more belligerently, insisting that either the French must withdraw completely from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, or the DRV would forcibly implement unification within about three years. They contended that Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia represented one single entity in Indochina and that the problems of all three countries should all be resolved simultaneously. Insisting that the PAVN units in Laos and Cambodia were not foreign troops, the Vietnamese representatives resisted the demand of the royal governments of Laos and Cambodia that both France and the DRV withdraw all military forces from their countries.

At the time of the Moscow meeting in early April, China had little knowledge of Laos and Cambodia. Influenced by the Vietnamese Communists, the Chinese leaders believed that, because all three Indochinese countries were included within the French colonies, Laotians and Cambodians were actually minorities of Vietnam, and that all issues relating to the three should therefore be settled together as a whole. After arriving in Geneva and exchanging views with other delegates, the Chinese negotiators realized that the DRV's policy of including the three Indochinese countries in one settlement would not bring any agreement. Zhou therefore quickly adjusted his position, arguing that the various problems of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia should be settled separately. Where Vietnam was concerned, he believed that even if the United States did not intervene, fighting there would continue for several years. Given that Communist forces in Laos and Cambodia were still very weak, Zhou asserted that to continue the war in those two countries would only lead their royal governments to turn to the United States and would give Washington and London further impetus to organize the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). (Continues...)

Excerpted from Behind the Bamboo Curtain Copyright © 2006 by Priscilla Roberts. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents Preface by James G. Hershberg....................xi
List of Abbreviations....................xviii
Introduction: The Vietnam War in Its International Setting Priscilla Roberts....................1
Part I The Beginning: From Colonial Rule to Escalation 1 Mao Zedong and the Indochina Wars Yang Kuisong....................55
2 Forging a New Relationship: The Soviet Union and Vietnam, 1955 Mari Olsen....................97
3 Opportunities Lost? Kennedy, China, and Vietnam Noam Kochavi....................127
4 The French Recognition of China and Its Implications for the Vietnam War Fredrik Logevall....................153
5 The Economic and Political Impact of the Vietnam War on China in 1964 Li Xiangqian....................173
Part II The Widening War 6 Informing the Enemy: Sino-American "Signaling" and the Vietnam War, 1965 James G. Hershberg and Chen Jian....................193
7 Beijing's Aid to Hanoi and the United States-China Confrontations, 1964-1968 Shu Guang Zhang....................259
8 The Sino-Soviet Dispute over Assistance for Vietnam's Anti-American War, 1965-1972 Li Danhui....................289
9 The Background to the Shift in Chinese Policy toward the United States in the Late 1960s Niu Jun....................319
10 Sino-U.S. Reconciliation and China's Vietnam Policy Shen Zhihua....................349
11 China and the Cambodian Conflict, 1970-1975 Zhai Qiang....................369
12 The Soviet-Chinese-Vietnamese Triangle in the 1970s: The View from Moscow Stephen J. Morris....................405
13 Commentary: A Vietnamese Scholar'sPerspective on the Communist Big Powers and Vietnam Luu Doan Huynh....................433
Part III Documents 14 Le Duan and the Break with China Stein Tønnesson and Christopher E. Goscha....................453
15 Selected Conversations of Asian Communist Leaders on Indochina....................487
About the Contributors....................535
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