Bordering a hostile, ambitious neighbor, the trouble seems to be endless.
China is the world’s most populous country, with a population of over 1.38 billion. It covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (the world’s second-largest country by land area). Compared to China, Vietnam with a population of 94.5 million and an area of 331,210 sq. km, is a tiny David beside the giant Goliath 30 times larger in the area and 15 times more populous.
At the length of its 4000 years of history, the Vietnamese have continuously struggled to survive the harsh nature and Chinese aggression from the North as well.
A brief history of Vietnam and China Conflicts:
The Yellow River was the cradle of Chinese civilization, although cultures originated at various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys millennia ago.
In the early civilization, the Southern region of China – consisting of today’s provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi – was the cradle of 100 tribes that shared the same ethnic Viet (Bach Viet). In about 21st century BC, Hoang Ti, the leader of a tribe from the West of Yangtze River invaded and defeated the Viets, beginning the era of “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors”. Chinese early dynasties ruled the plain of the Yellow River and had not expanded to the South region until the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD)
Two of the surviving tribes, Au Viet and Lac Viet were united by King Hung who became the founding father of Vietnam. The Hung Dynasty reigned the kingdom “Au Lac” from 2879 to 258 BC.
Vietnam, during Hung Dynasty, expanded to the South (Tonkin Delta); the Viets then mixed with the aborigines who are believed to have migrated from the islands of Indonesia.
2.- Total Chinese domination: nearly 1000 years.
The first failed attempt to conquer Vietnam was made by the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)
The first Chinese domination began in 111 BC and lasted 150 years consecutively by the Chinese kingdoms Han, Eastern Wu, and Liang
Later Han Dynasty occupied and dominated Vietnam (43-544 AD)
The 3rd domination (602-938) during the Sui and Tang dynasties.
3.- China’s Invasions after Vietnam gained independence in 937.
In 937, King Ngo Quyen defeated Southern Han’s fleet on Bach Dang River and declared the independence of Vietnam which lasted until the French occupation in 1884.
During this period, China continuously invaded Vietnam many times but was defeated.
In 979, taking advantage of the weakness of Vietnamese child king Dinh Toan, Sung Dynasty (China) sent troops to invade but was defeated by General Le Hoan who self-proclaimed Dai Hanh Emperor.
Upon learning that China had plotted an invasion, General Ly Thuong Kiet attacked and destroyed Chinese Sung military installations in three China south provinces. Later, he defeated the Chinese incursion on Nhu Nguyet River (1076)
China attempted to invade Vietnam 3 times in 1258, 1285, and 1287 but was defeated by the great General Tran Hung Dao. The last battle was on Bach Dang River.
In 1407: the Chinese Ming Dynasty occupied Vietnam and was defeated 10 years later by King Le Loi.
In 1789: Emperor Quang Trung defeated the Chinese army of 300,000 men at Dong Da. It was the last encounter between China and Vietnam until 1974 when Chinese and South Vietnamese Naval warships battled over the Spratlys dispute.
4.- China’s Involvement in Vietnam Wars
During the First Indochina War (1946-1954) and the Vietnam War (1960-1975), the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) relied heavily on support from communist China. Nguyen Ai Quoc aka Ho Chi Minh himself was a soldier in the Chinese People’s Army. According to the information circulated on the internet, some Taiwanese scholars disclosed that after the secret death of Nguyen Ai Quoc, the Chinese substituted him with a Chinese man as an imposter and renamed him Ho Chi Minh. Ho founded the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930 in the Chinese Province of Guangdong. (Ho Tuan Hung, HoChiMinh Sinh Binh Khao, nxb Bach Tuong Van Hoa, Taiwan 2008)
Ho’s Army could not win the Dien Bien Phu battle without Chinese massive military assistance and advice, even manpower. Later, China championed the Geneva Accord that divided Vietnam in 1954. A Chinese advisor ordered Ho Chi Minh every detail on how to execute important campaigns such as the Land Reform that killed tens of thousands of peasants from 1953 to 1956. Vietnam under communist rule became subordinate to China. In 1959, Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong (then Prime Minister) signed an official letter to recognize China’s claims on the Paracels and Spratlys as they were being supported by China.
In 1974, China sent its fleet to attack the South Vietnamese Navy and occupied most of the Paracel Islands.
5.- Bitter Comradeship
Being angry at the tendency of Vietnamese communists to lean toward the Soviet Union and the invasion of Kampuchea, China attacked six Vietnamese border provinces in 1979 that costing tens of thousands of lives on both sides. In 1988, the Chinese Navy suddenly attacked and occupied several islands of Spratlys. Receiving orders not to fight back, the miserable Vietnamese coastguard ships and seamen became easy targets of the Chinese gunmen.
6.- The Beginning of a New Domination
In his 82 page Memoirs, Mr. Tran Quang Co, former Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister, and a member of the Vietnamese Communist Central Committee disclosed that the leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) had been summoned to secretly meet with leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to discuss the normalization of Sino-Vietnam relationship. China asked Vietnam to fire Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach before the meeting occurred.
The conference took place in Chengdu (capital city of Sichuan, China) in September 1990 with attendees from Vietnam: Nguyen Van Linh (General Secretary of VCP from 1986-1991), Pham Van Dong (Vietnam Prime Minister), Do Muoi (Member of VCP Polibureau, General Secretary of VCP from 1991-1997), Hoang Bich Son (VCP Chair of Foreign Affairs), Dinh Nho Liem (Deputy Foreign Minister), Hong Ha (VCP Central Committee). From China: Jiang Zemin (General Secretary of CCP), Li Peng (Chinese Prime Minister). Although the Chinese leaders’ intended to force Vietnam to agree with their solution to resolve the Kampuchea conflict, another target was to tighten Vietnam into the grips of China in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. For the last 25 years, despite the request from many high-ranking officials, the VCP has not publicized the details of the Chengdu Conference. Rumor had it that Vietnam’s sovereignty was now submitted to China. The silence of the VCP leaders reinforced that rumor. A Political Commentator Le P.T. wrote “I feel worried about the destiny of our country … as the VCP kept secret the outcomes of Chengdu Conference.”
From then on, Vietnam became more and more submissive to China.
In the following years after the Chengdu event, Vietnam ceded thousands of square kilometers of land along the border to China.
- Vietnamese authorities and mass media ceased to discuss the 1979 Border War. The War Monuments and plaques that honored the war casualties were removed or destroyed. Instead, monuments were erected to honor Chinese soldiers on the soil where the battle occurred. Vietnam bans all activities to commemorate the war heroes.
- Vietnam revised its 1980 Constitution and erased the first paragraph accusing “the Chauvinist Chinese Aggression”. In the 1992 Constitution, there are no more anti-China phrases.
- Vietnam closed its eyes when China continuously built military bases on the disputed islands; the Chinese Navy patrolled East Vietnam waters, sinking Vietnamese fishing boats and killing fishermen while Vietnam did nothing to protect its citizens.
- China moved the Hai Yang oil rig HD-981 into Vietnam waters close to the Paracel Islands. This raised a storm of protest in Vietnam, but the Vietnamese government kept its mouth shut.
- Vietnam leaves the border open to Chinese products and people to massively pour in.
- Vietnam admitted tens of thousands of Chinese young folks to work in numerous Chinese-owned industries throughout Vietnam territory.
- Vietnam allowed the Chinese to build large China towns in big cities.
- The most dangerous thing is letting China mine bauxite ore in the highland of Central Vietnam, which military experts considered a very crucial strategic region. It is like the Trojan horse in the heart of Vietnam. The bauxite mine also causes near future destruction of the environment that may seriously affect millions of people.
- In recent years, the Vietnamese Education Department published textbooks for children featuring the images of Chinese life, landscapes, and culture… The Chinese language became mandatory at certain levels. Billboards, and slogans in Chinese characters can be seen almost everywhere in Vietnam.
- Vietnam harasses and imprisons activists who have protested against Chinese heavy influence on all aspects of life in Vietnam and who have warned of an imminent danger of Chinese domination.
- China has been Vietnam’s largest trade partner. According to statistics from the Vietnam Customs, in 2013, total turnover reached $50.21 billion, up 22 percent year-on-year.
- In 2013, Vietnam spent $36.95 billion on imports from China (28% of total import value), while it transported some $13.26 billion worth of goods to China (10% of total export value).
- Vietnam’s trade deficit with China in 2013 was $23.7 billion (an increase of 44.5% compared to 2012). The trade is expected to reach $60 billion in 2015.
- Business along the border has been flourishing. Officials in Lang Son Province say close to $3 billion in agricultural and electronic goods are traded every year with China.
- Chinese products accounted for about 80% of goods in Vietnam markets. The great majority of them are of bad quality or counterfeit.
- Food poisoning has become more and more widespread. Chinese made counterfeit rice, noodle, seafood, and fruits or used chemical substances to make them look good to cheat customers.
- Three months before the term of the Vietnam National Assembly ends, the VCP 12th National Congress hastily appointed the top leaders of the nation whose positions – according to the Constitution – must be elected by the upcoming National Assembly. It’s obviously understood that General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trọng and his pro-China entourage wanted to get rid of the pro-Western gang led by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung prior to the visit of President Obama. By this malicious act, Trong would have free hands to move forward into Chinese domination.
For the length of history, China has claimed the territories of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Vietnam. On its national flag, the big 5-point star represents the Hans (the major ethnic in China); the other smaller four represent Manchurians, Mongolians, Uighurs (Xinjiang), and Tibetans. The Hans always look down on other ethnicities as barbarous. To them, those people must be dominated and civilized by the Han culture.
From anthropology and ethnology approaches, Vietnamese people are totally different from the Chinese. Like many other countries, Vietnam is willing to adopt the essential parts of other cultures to enrich its own – Chinese culture is no exemption. Since the Chinese colonization of Vietnam lasted for 1000 years, it’s explicable that some aspects of Chinese culture have blended into the Vietnamese lifestyle.
Despite the brutal policies in a thousand years of Chinese colonialism – in which China tried very hard to assimilate Vietnamese people into Chinese culture – Vietnam still maintains its distinct culture and language. The differences can be easily seen in many aspects of life between Vietnamese and Chinese societies.
Vietnam has multiple times won victories against the mighty Chinese army. Bordering a hostile, ambitious, giant China, Vietnamese kings always realized the threat of extinction. For a millennium, they learned how to exercise soft and flexible foreign policies to survive.
Binding with China in utopian Communism, the VCP leaders have given up the nation’s sovereignty for their absolute power and high privileges. Vietnam needs radical changes in the political system to gain support from the international community. The United States has extended its hands but the Vietnamese communists still hesitate fearing their Chinese masters. They may also fear for their future if a change occurs in a real democratic approach.
We are aware that the threat of Chinese colonization is very clear and imminent.
If a bad thing happens, the State of Vietnam will cease to exist, the Vietnamese people will be exterminated, and the Chinese expansion will not stop until the whole of Southeast Asia becomes a Chinese colony.
We have only one hope and believe in the steadfast will of ninety million people who inherited the traditional patriotism from our forefathers.