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Chinese Aid to North Vietnam

Chinese aid to North Vietnam was motivated by desires to expand their influence, but they also hade a greater and more direct stake then the Soviets in a Communist victory in Vietnam. Secondly, Sino-Soviet political enmity and military rivalry worked to limit to some extent what aid the North Vietnamese received and how they received it. Because of China's insistance on a right to inspect Soviet shipments in transit to North Vietnam, the Soviets appear to have held back or delayed shipment of some sophisticated military equipment. For their part, the Chinese have refused certain Soviet requests for facilities to transmit aid to Vietnam, being unwilling to give either political or propaganda advantage to the USSR. Third, both Moscow and Peking were been constrained in their aid to North Vietnam by a desire to avoid a direct conflict with the US. Vietnam's and China's shared modern experiences, namely their common exploitation by colonial powers and adaptations to communist ideology, did little to alter Vietnam's historical view of China, which was colored by lengthy periods of Chinese conquest and domination. During the Second Indochina War, China acted as North Vietnam's closest ally, but, according to later Vietnamese statements, the Chinese tried to dominate the relationship from the beginning. Vietnam's desperate need for Chinese assistance forced it to maintain good relations with Beijing for the duration of the war, despite Vietnamese suspicions that China's ultimate purpose was to weaken Vietnam.

Communist China was the first state with which Ho Chi Minh established diplomatic relations, the first to extend military aid during the Indochina War and the first to sign an economic agreement with North Vietnam after the Geneva Conference. It has continued to supply North Vietnam with arms and technical military personnel.

The two countries were in active accord at the 1955 Bandung Conference of Afro-Asian Nations, which marked the debut of North Vietnam on the international scene. Communist China has supported North Vietnam's denunciations of United States aid to South Vietnam, and North Vietnam has upheld Communist China's claims to Taiwan and to a seat in the United Nations. In December 1961, after United States; increasing aid and support of the Saigon government had become manifest, Communist China dispatched a military mission to Hanoi headed by Marshal Yeh Chein-ying, then vice chairman of the National Defense Council. Marshal Yeh pledged Peiping's support for the Vietnamese struggle against United States "intervention and aggression," in South Vietnam, asserting that the Chinese could not ignore this adventurous conduct.

Premier Pham Van Dong, in his report to the National Assembly in April 1963, characterized his government's relationship with Communist China as "the lips and teeth fraternity," a metaphor used also by the Peiping government. After the United States air action against North Vietnam in August 1964, the Chinese People's Daily asserted that aggression against North Vietnam meant aggression against China and that "the Chinese people will absolutely not sit idly by without lending a helping hand." It also hinted at the possibility of sending "volunteers" if they were needed. A similar threat was repeated on February 8, 1965, after United States planes began air attacks on military targets in the North.

In March 1965, Communist China's Foreign Minister Chen Yi, in an interview with an Italian journalist, was quoted as having said that Communist China would militarily intervene in North Vietnam if United States forces crossed the .seventeenth parallel. The five-point peace formula issued in March 1965 by the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam was fully endorsed by Peiping with an assurance that arms and men would ibe sent to South Vietnam if requested by the National Front. Hanoi's four-point peace proposal enunciated in April 1965 was also supported by Peiping leaders, who called upon the Chinese people to "make full preparations to send our own people to fight" in Vietnam, if necessary.v In July 1965 a Hanoi delegation, headed by Le Thanh Nghi (deputy premier and a Politburo member), visited Peiping and signed an aid agreement whereby Communist China promised to provide "equipment, whole sets of installations and supplies in the national defense and economic fields." In another Peiping-Hanoi aid pact, signed in December 1965, Communist China pledged to grant a series of loans of undetermined amounts to North Vietnam. By the end of 1965, press dispatches reported that Communist China had stepped up its shipments of military and industrial equipment to Hanoi, including trucks and steel for repair of communication lines. In September 1966 Peiping assured Hanoi that it had made "every preparation" to deal "joint blows at the United States aggressors." It also reaffirmed its earlier pronouncements that "the vast expanse of China's territory is the reliable rear of the Vietnamese people."

Despite its rhetorical ferocity and repeated promises of "powerful backing" for Hanoi, Peiping's actual involvement in the Vietnamese war by late 1966 had been one of measured restraint. Implicit in Peiping's numerous pronouncements on Vietnam had been the apparent assumption that the North Vietnamese, by their own efforts, could successfully wage their anti-American struggles. In September 1965, Peiping's Minister of National Defense Lin Piao suggested that North Vietnam should conduct its "people's war" with minimal outside help as did the Chinese Communists against the Japanese aggressors in the 1930's and 1940's - a suggestion later repeated many times.

During the first half of 1966 the DRV had to cope both with transport problems resulting from US bombingof DRV rail, lines and with continued and increasingly public Sino-Soviet friction over transit arrangements. In early 1966 shipment of some Soviet economic goods was shifted from rail to sea because of temporary DRV rail disruption and in February the Chinese told the East European representatives in Peking that no more non-military rail shipments could be accepted.

Chinese Central Committee official Wu Hsiu-chuan told a foreign Communist in mid-December 1966 that the Chinese would oppose negotiations as "deviationist. In early January 1967 the DRV Foreign Minister issued a public statement which removed some of the previous ambiguity in the DRV position and indicated more strongly than before that a permanent bombing halt alone could sufficeto bring talks. Le Duan was sent on a secret visit to China to notify Mao of a recent North Vietnamesepolitburo decision to accept negotiations when conditions were judged propitious. The Chinese were annoyed, and, they are reported to have told Le Duan as much.

It is clear that difficulties between Moscow and Peking applied primarily to the receipt of sophisticated hardware for the defense of North Vietnam and to only a limited degree to the delivery of weapons and support items needed by the DRV to pursue the campaign in the south. Consequently, it does not appear that the dispute had any significant effect on Hanoi's ability to maintain the war south of the 18th parallel.

The Chinese persistently demanded that North Vietnam cut off Scsviet aid and had sometimes become threatening in trying to enforce the demand.

There is no doubt that the DRV leadership was often greatly disturbed by, and resented, Chinese obstruction of Soviet aid and Soviet caution in rendering aid. On several occasions North Vietnam had reason to be seriously worried that difficulties and delays in aid shipments might be prolonged. But the bottlenecks for items of prime importance such as missiles were temporary, and those problems which became more or less permanent (such as the Soviet withholding of the KOMARs, or the Chinese curtailing of the Soviet air transport flights) did not seem to be of critical importance.

Late in January 1967, the Chinese initiated their most serious threat to date to Sino-Soviet diplomatic relations -- and to the Soviet overland supply route to Hanoi. Following a series of deliberately planned and provoked diplomatic incidents in Moscow and other capitals around the world, the Chinese organized a siege of the Soviet embassy in Peking. The siege lasted from 26 January to 11 February and appeared designed to force the Soviets to break state relations. That would have made it impossible for the Soviets to conduct negotiations with the Chinese necessary to continue rail shipments to Vietnam. These Chinese actions in January and February were intended to inhibit the DRV from proceeding further toward negotiations with the United States by raising a direct threat of a permanent cut-off of Soviet aid to the war effort.

Chinese pressures were relaxed in the second week of February 1967 at precisely the moment when the North Vietnamese received a new offer on negotiations from President Johnson and informed the Chinese that they would reject it. Ten days of North Vietnamese-Chinese negotiations in Peking immediately there after appeared to unblock Soviet shipments.

Since April 1967, the major problem for Soviet rail shipments to Vietnam was disruptions on Chinese railroads resulting from Red Guard activity, particularly in the summer of 1967 and again in May-July 1968. There is considerable evidence that Red Guard factions seeking weapons to use against their factional opponents seized weapons bound for Vietnam in July and August 1967. In a speech of 20 September reported in the Red Guard press, Chou En-lai revealed that "trains with military aid for Vietnam" had been "ambushed," and military stores destined for Vietnam looted.

The Sino-Soviet struggle over rail transit to Vietnam was mirrored in a secondary running battle over Soviet efforts to use military air transports across China. Despite Soviet protests, the Chinese remained adamant, and, consequently the Soviet airlift has been small-scale, intermittent, and marginal in importance. The Soviets at one time -- in February 1965 -- sought an "air corridor" across China for mass flights of transports to the DRV like the airlifts the Soviets had staged in other parts of the world. The Chinese on 28 February 1965 flatly refused, in part because the Chinese feared that such large-scale flights would be unduly provocative to the United States, and in part because they feared the Soviets would use these flights for espionage purposes.

On no occasion did the Chinese permit more than two transports at a time to cross China. Each flight actually flown required separate permission from China. The number of flights permitted varied from about one a month in 1965, to more than three a month in 1966, to virtually nothing since the summer of 1967.

During May and June 1968 the another leftward shift in Chinese domestic policy came with the beginning of North Vietnamese talks with the United States in Paris, To show the DRV his feelings about the talks, Mao authorized simultaneous unpublicized demonstrations in early June 1968 outside the DRV consulates in Nanning, Kun-ming, and Canton protesting the negotiations. There were delays to Soviet shipments through China caused by Mao's reluctance to crack down on Red Guard disorders in the summer of 1967 and again in May-July 1968. Trainloads of SAM missiles were held up by the Chinese at the Sino-Soviet border for a month in September 1967, and again in June 1968, apparently because of these disorders.

The factional struggles in Kwangsi that were the immediate cause of most of the rail troubles in 1968 were part of a larger pattern of factional strife which arose simultaneously in many parts of China in the spring.

The Chinese contributed greatly in unarmed personnel as workers and technical specialists. China also provided uniformed service personnel who operated the railroad system, built airstrips, and manned anti-aircraft positions onthe rails. China contributed small arms and ammunition. The Chinese also provided transportation means including supply trucks and railroad boxcars.

Deliveries from China fell only moderately as a result of the mining of North Vietnam's ports - as Hanoi shifted to a massive overland transportation effort in the latter part of 1972 to maintain the flow of essential supplies such as foodstuffs and petroleum. China's relative importance as a source of economic aid exceeded that of the USSR in 1973 for the first time since before the war.

The deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations was gradual, commencing perhaps most dramatically with Richard M. Nixon's 1972 visit to China (which Hanoi later called the beginning of China's betrayal of Vietnam), but in the mid-1970s the signs of an impending breakdown were barely discernible.

Economic Aid120906010590225690
Military Aid115140100115230115815
US Intelligence estimate, 1974 dollars

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Page last modified: 19-10-2015 19:39:32 ZULU