Sino-Vietnamese War

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Sino-Vietnamese War
date February 17 to March 16, 1979
place Sino-Vietnamese border area
output Both sides claim victory over the
Chinese retreat
consequences The occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam continues
Parties to the conflict

China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China

VietnamVietnam Vietnam


Deng Xiaoping
Yang Dezhi
Xu Shiyou

Le Duan
Pham Van Dong
Văn Tiến Dũng

Troop strength
approx. 200,000 infantrymen of the VBA 70,000 soldiers
150,000 militiamen

An estimated 26,000 dead and
37,000 wounded

An estimated 30,000 dead and
32,000 wounded

As a Sino-Vietnamese War , in China Zhōng-Yuè biānjìng zìwèi huánjí zuòzhàn中 越 边境 自卫 还击 作战 "Self-defense and counterattack fight on the Sino-Vietnamese border", Vietnamese Cuộc chiến chống bè lũ bànnh the Chinese expansion war , is the name given to the entry of the Chinese People's Liberation Army into Vietnam on February 17, 1979.

The trigger for the military conflict was the Vietnamese crackdown on the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, allied with China . China occupied some border towns in Vietnam and withdrew after fierce fighting without being able to end the Vietnamese interference in Cambodia.

Causes and Reason

This was preceded by years of border disputes and the rivalry in ideological-political disputes between China and the Soviet Union , which signed a friendship treaty with Vietnam in November 1978.

Until 1979, China and Vietnam viewed their common border, which extends through confusing and rugged terrain, as a "border of friendship and peace". Historically, it went back to the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858 with additions in 1896, in which the then Chinese Empire had to renounce the Tonkin protectorate and recognize it as a French protectorate . The controversial border line was discussed several times in negotiations between China and Vietnam, including in 1957. From the early 1970s, however, there were frequent border incidents for which both states blamed each other. The People's Republic of China announced on February 16, 1979 that the Vietnamese had caused around 3535 incidents at the border, while Vietnam announced 2158 border provocations by China for this period. Tensions increased and both states asked for action by the United Nations Security Council , as they saw “world peace in danger” through the provocations.

Indochina 1979: Chinese offensives and Chinese-occupied territories in North Vietnam

In early 1979, following an invasion and occupation of Cambodia , Vietnamese forces overthrew the Pol Pot regime of the Khmer Rouge , which was allied with China, and set up a Vietnamese puppet government under Heng Samrin . China saw its regional power interests at risk because it feared an Indochina federation tied to the Soviet Union under the rule of Vietnam, and intervened militarily to force Vietnam to withdraw its forces from Cambodia. China was determined not to let a “Vietnamese Cuba ” emerge on its southern flank and to push back the influence of the Soviet Union. One day after the Chinese invasion, the governments of Vietnam and Vietnam-occupied Cambodia signed a treaty of cooperation and friendship on February 18, 1979.


After the mobilization in January 1979, China let 200,000 men and a fifth of its air force approach the Vietnamese border. The Vietnamese armed forces had a strength of 70,000 soldiers, divided into 38 infantry divisions and four independent tank brigades . Of these, six infantry divisions were stationed in Laos and five infantry divisions and one tank brigade in Cambodia.

On February 17, 1979 at 3:30 a.m. local time, the Chinese People's Liberation Army attacked the neighboring state from Yunnan and Guangxi at 26 points along the 1,347- kilometer border. China justified this as a counterattack and in response to Vietnamese provocations; the troops would be withdrawn to defend the frontier after the counter-attack. The Vietnamese people could despite total mobilization in the country first by a Streitkräfteumgruppierung only two divisions mobilize for defense. However, the Chinese infantry often got stuck because the Vietnamese soldiers had holed up in a widely ramified bunker and tunnel system. Only after mass tank attacks did the Chinese achieve up to 40 kilometers of terrain after ten days, especially in the Red River delta and in the exit gates from the Yunnan Mountains . By March 5, the Chinese captured several border towns in fierce fighting in Đồng Đăng , Lạng Sơn , Cao Bằng , That Khe , Lào Cai and Cam Duong and advanced to Lai Châu . The Soviet Union sent notes of protest to the Chinese leadership and supported Vietnam with arms deliveries, but did not intervene in the fighting itself.

End of war

After three weeks of fighting, both sides claimed to have won the war. The fighting resulted in heavy losses on both sides. Both sides have not published any officially reliable loss statistics. Vietnamese sources speak of 60,000 wounded and 20,000 dead on the Chinese side. Chinese sources speak of 7,000 to 8,000 dead and 15,000 to more than 21,000 wounded on their own side and around 52,000 fatalities among the Vietnamese. An independent estimate assumes around 26,000 dead and 37,000 wounded on the Chinese side and 30,000 dead and 32,000 wounded on the Vietnamese side.

The Chinese Prime Minister Hua Guofeng declared the withdrawal of Chinese troops from Vietnam to be over on March 16, 1979, but Chinese soldiers were still standing on Vietnamese territory until March 27. Negotiations began on April 18, 1979 in Hanoi and in June in Beijing , but both were unsuccessful. The exchange of prisoners of war was agreed until June 22nd .

China's eight-point plan

As a basis for negotiations on the settlement of border disputes, the People's Republic of China presented an eight-point plan, which should serve as the basis for border agreements. This essentially included u. a .:

  • the resumption of the 240,000 Vietnamese citizens of Chinese origin who have been expelled from Vietnam to China since 1978,
  • the recognition of the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands as an integral part of China,
  • the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from neighboring countries (Cambodia, Laos ).

Vietnam's three-point plan

The Vietnamese three-point plan in response to Chinese demands included:

  • the question of border regulation and the establishment of normal relations between the two states,
  • the establishment of a demilitarized zone ,
  • the conclusion of a non-aggression pact .

Other incidents after 1980

There were repeated border violations on both sides even after the border war. The heaviest fighting occurred from January 5 to 7, 1987, when a Chinese division invaded Ha Tuyen province .

Only after the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev tried to improve relations with China at the end of 1986 and Vietnam announced the withdrawal of the troops stationed in Cambodia (which was completed in November 1989), did the Vietnamese-Chinese border area calm down.

Settlement of the conflict

After the joint territorial border had already been laid down in a treaty between the two conflicting parties at the end of 1999, a preparatory meeting of the prime ministers took place on September 25, 2000. The actual treaty on the demarcation of the sea border and fishing rights in the Gulf of Tonkin was signed by the then Vietnamese President Trần Đức Lương and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin on December 25, 2000. The conflict between China and Vietnam has been resolved since 2001. Thus, all bilateral disputes over regional power have been contractually settled. Only in the independently existing conflict over the Spratly and Paracel Islands are the two countries still facing conflict together with Brunei , Malaysia , Taiwan and the Philippines .


  • Xiaoming Zhang: China's 1979 War with Vietnam. A reassessment. In: The China Quarterly No. 184 (December 2005) pp. 851-874.
  • Pao-min Chang: The Sino-Vietnamese Territorial Dispute . Praeger, New York 1986, ISBN 0-03-007233-6 .
  • King C. Chen: China's War against Vietnam, 1979. A Military Analysis ( Occasional Papers / Reprints Series in Contemporary Asian Studies. Volume 5). School of Law, University of Maryland, Baltimore 1983, ISBN 0-942182-57-X .
  • Hemen Ray: China's Vietnam War. Radiant Publishers, New Delhi 1983, ISBN 0-391-02816-2 .
  • King C. Chen: China's War with Vietnam, 1979. Issues, Decisions, and Implications . Hoover Institution Press, Stanford 1987, ISBN 0-8179-8572-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. King C. Chen: China's War with Vietnam, 1979. Issues, Decisions, and Implications . Hoover Institution Press, Stanford 1987, ISBN 0-8179-8572-7 , p. 103.
  2. a b c Xiaorong Han: Sino-Vietnamese Border War , in: Xiaobing Li (Ed.): China at War - An Encyclopedia , Santa Barbara 2012, pp. 411-413.
  3. z. B. in 《中 越 边境 自卫 还击 作战 干部 工作 资料 汇编》. 广州 军区 前 指 政治部 干部 部, 1979; 邓书杰 、 李梅 、 吴晓莉 、 苏继红 (Ed.): 《转机 时刻》 (1970-1979). 青 苹果 数据 中心, 2013; Propagandistically allegedly also educational campaign or punitive expedition , cf. “Naughty Children in the Garden of China” , article from February 26, 1979 on Spiegel Online .
  4. University of Göttingen: The development of Vietnam since 1976 and today's political position in Southeast Asia ( Memento of April 10, 2005 in the Internet Archive )
  5. ^ Brantly Womack: China and Vietnam. The Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006, ISBN 0-521-85320-6 , pp. 26ff.