Mao's China and the Sino–Vietnamese war
Date of Issue2018
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
This dissertation presents a new interpretation of the breakdown of the Sino–Vietnamese alliance and China’s war against Vietnam. It contextualizes China’s Vietnam policies within the interplay of China’s domestic politics and its relations with the Soviet Union and Cambodia. The dissertation argues that the Sino–Vietnamese War was the product of the failures of Mao’s ideologically–driven diplomacy in the long term. The war was triggered by the Vietnamese–Soviet alliance and conditioned by the Vietnamese invasion into Cambodia and the Soviet threat in the north. This dissertation argues that the Soviet factor facilitated the existence of the flimsy Sino–Vietnamese alliance from 1975 to late 1977. China’s massive assistance to Vietnam from 1971 to 1974 barely kept the VWP leaders neutral between China and the Soviet Union. The VWP leaders, feeling betrayed by China, became more assertive on the bilateral issues. After 1975 China drastically reduced its assistance to Vietnam. The Chinese leaders adopted a defensive strategy in order to pull the Vietnamese leaders from fully entering the Soviet orbit. As long as Vietnam was not perceived as the Soviet proxy, China would continue to provide assistance and maintain this flimsy alliance with Vietnam. With the intensifications of the Vietnamese–Cambodian conflicts and the Chinese exodus issue, China identified Vietnam as “Cuba in the East” and the Soviet proxy. China was consistently opposed to the Soviet Union through the 1970s. Mao’s “One line” and “Three Worlds” theories were designed to build a global united front to oppose the Soviet Union. However, motivated by the failures and the Chinese “domino theory,” the post–Mao leaders had a strong incentive to wage war against Vietnam, which had become the “Cuba in the East” and the Soviet proxy. Mao’s ideologically driven polices decidedly influenced China’s policies toward the Khmer Rouge and produced a strategic burden for the post–Mao leaders. The victory and revolutions of the Khmer Rouge served as a boost to Mao’s Cultural Revolution. However, Mao’s diplomacy staked China’s strategic interests with the radical Pol Pot regime who was unable to sustain the Vietnamese attacks. With the overall breakdown of the Sino–Vietnamese relationship in mid–1978 the CCP leaders finally viewed their relationship with the Khmer Rouge through the strategic prism instead of the ideological prism. In the end, the Vietnamese–Soviet alliance moved the post–Mao leadership to contemplate the waging of war against Vietnam.