When China Spanked Vietnam

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

February 17, 2016, marks the 37th anniversary of the Communist Chinese invasion of Vietnam – the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. In Communist China, as in the rest of the world, it will be ignored.


1979 Chinese Invasion of Vietnam Map by Ceresnet, wikimedia commons.

1979 Chinese Invasion of Vietnam
Map by Ceresnet, wikimedia commons.


In Vietnam, the communist government will not focus much attention on the anniversary, but many of the Vietnamese people that reside in the northernmost provinces will commemorate the day with visits to the graves of family members that died during the 1979 Chinese invasion.

In the West, the Sino-Vietnamese War is largely misunderstood or simply forgotten. The most obvious question is, “Why did it happen?” How is it that fraternal communist states managed to go to war with each other in the midst of the Cold War between communist and capitalist nations?

The first part of the answer is that many fraternal communist states were not as “fraternal” as they wanted the world to believe.

Vietnam and Communist China had never had warm relations. Vietnam saw its powerful neighbor to the north as a constant threat to its security and was leery of Chinese military assistance during the French-Indochinese War. The USSR and Communist China had also failed to realize anything like “fraternal warmth” and were occasionally involved in military skirmishes along their shared border.

As the French-Indochinese War played out, the USSR and communist North Vietnam developed close relations. The USSR was the main provider of military and economic aid to North Vietnam. That close relationship continued during the American-Indochinese War.

When the US abandoned Vietnam, the communist Vietnamese government wanted to consolidate communist revolutions in Laos and Cambodia under Vietnamese hegemony with support from, and allegiance to, the USSR. The Vietnamese viewed this as the most obvious strategy for keeping China out of Southeast Asia.

Unfortunately for Vietnam, China had its own plans for Southeast Asia.

Modern Communist Chinese are fond of portraying themselves as being something like a neutral and peace-loving country. They are quick to claim that they have never “exported revolution.” The inference is that, while the Soviets pursued imperialist aims, China was busy experiencing a joyous cultural revolution and building a better workers’ paradise. The reality was that, unlike the USSR, Communist China was simply unable to realize its own imperialist aspirations. That didn’t keep them from trying.

While the communists in Vietnam were dealing with the US in South Vietnam, the Chinese were building a Chinese-aligned communist regime in Cambodia.

In 1975, with the help of China, genocidal maniac leader of the Khmer Rouge communist movement, Pol Pot, came to power in Cambodia. He renamed Cambodia “Kampuchea.” Pol Pot consolidated his position, and, assured of full support from China, he cut off relations with the communist regime in Hanoi.


Skull Map of Cambodia Made with 300 skulls of Pol Pot's victims to memorialize over 1 mil murdered. Image by Donovan Gavan, wikimedia commons.

Skull Map of Cambodia
Made with 300 skulls of Pol Pot’s victims to memorialize over 1 mil murdered.
Image by Donovan Gavan, wikimedia commons.


In 1976, the ruthless Communist Chinese dictator, Mao Zedong, finally succeeded in doing something positive for China. He died.

When the dust settled, a new and vastly more effective oligarchy led by Deng Xiaoping rose to power in Communist China. Deng had a better grip on reality than Mao ever had. He and his supporters grasped the concept of China as a big country in a bigger world. Deng was more concerned by Soviet aggression.

On the surface, his regime had to maintain a veneer of good old-fashioned communist hatred for capitalist demons, but in practice, they quickly began to emulate those “capitalist demons.” Deng was not in love with capitalist philosophy. He simply admired capitalist results and wanted to improve China’s pathetic economy.

Deng and his supporters were either unwilling or unable to substantially improve relations with the USSR and they quietly made overtures to the US.

Communist China’s continued support for the Pol Pot regime would seem inconsistent with the modernizations and limited liberalizations that were being implemented at home. However, Deng chose to ignore the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal conduct because they were the one non-Soviet-controlled option in Cambodia.

In 1978, with the “filthy American imperialist dogs” gone and the South Vietnamese government vanquished, the Vietnamese decided to try their own hand at a bit of fun-filled filthy imperialism. They invaded Cambodia.

The USSR provided financial and military support for the operation. The Chinese were infuriated. They responded by reinforcing their military along their border with the USSR.

In 1979, much of the Vietnamese Army was in Cambodia chasing down Khmer Rouge forces and trying to install a Vietnamese-controlled government. Deng’s military leaders decided that the time was ripe to invade Vietnam.

The Communist Chinese military leadership correctly predicted that the USSR would not attempt to invade or attack China, because the USSR needed to maintain its military focus against well-equipped NATO forces in Europe. The Communist Chinese military incorrectly predicted that Vietnam would quickly recall all of its troops from Cambodia to defend the motherland from the Chinese invasion, and that this would save the Khmer Rouge.

While visiting the US in January of 1979, Deng Xiaoping told American President Jimmy Carter that, “The little child is getting naughty; it’s time he be spanked.” It was not a bluff.


Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter January 29, 1979 Image Nat'l Archives & Records, public domain.

Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter
January 29, 1979
Image Nat’l Archives & Records, public domain.


On February 17, 1979, Communist China invaded Vietnam. The details of that war, as with all wars, depend on whom you ask.

The Vietnamese version of the story is that 600,000 of China’s best troops invaded Vietnam and raped, pillaged, and murdered women and children. Due to the superiority of the courageous Vietnamese local militia forces, the cowardly Chinese suffered massive casualties and were forced to retreat.

The Chinese version of the story differs a bit. They invaded politely with about 200,000 troops, quickly vanquished the Vietnamese, and, although the path to Hanoi was open, chose to be magnanimous in victory and withdrew from Vietnam.

The truth is that Communist China did mobilize 600,000 troops in Southern China, but only 200,000 crossed the border. Thanks to Soviet satellite imagery, the Vietnamese calculated that the Chinese lacked the required strength and logistical support to actually attack Hanoi. The Vietnamese did not withdraw all of their forces from Cambodia, and the Khmer Rouge did not regain control of Cambodia.

The Communist Chinese suffered about 6,500 fatalities and perhaps 15,000 wounded. China claimed to have counted 57,000 dead Vietnamese soldiers and 100,000 dead Vietnamese militia members. The Chinese claims are likely wildly exaggerated, but they may have counted the many unarmed Vietnamese civilian casualties as militia.

China did not withdraw due to a manpower shortage. It withdrew because it lacked the logistical capability to continue the invasion.

On their way home, the Chinese did their best to destroy anything useful in northern Vietnam. China could easily tolerate the casualties in Vietnam, but it could not tolerate the economic costs. By March 16, 1979, China had withdrawn from Vietnam.

The Western media coverage of the war was mostly amateurish, somewhat creative, and often inaccurate. They lacked enough sources in the war zone, but that didn’t stop them from making wild assumptions.

Many in the media focused on the theory that the US Intelligence Community had “failed completely” in predicting the Chinese invasion. The Intelligence Community hadn’t failed at all. When Deng chatted with President Carter in January 1979, Carter told him that the US was aware of the Chinese mobilizations in progress along the Vietnam border. Deng didn’t deny it. He was frank with President Carter about his intentions.

As they usually do, the Western media assumed that, since the CIA had not reported anything to them about the Chinese buildup, it meant the agency was once again blindsided by world events. The media then, as now, was unable to fathom that the Director of the CIA reports to the US President (and now to the Director of National Intelligence) rather than to the Press Corps. What the President decides to tell the media is up to the President.

In the aftermath of the war, Vietnam conducted reprisals against non-ethnic Vietnamese that were assumed to have supported the Chinese invasion. Thousands were killed, and tens of thousands were resettled to work camps in southern Vietnam. The economic damage that the Chinese had inflicted had a long-lasting negative impact on the economy of northern Vietnam.

For their part, the Chinese instituted a modernization campaign of the military, but that modernization had to wait for the Chinese economy to recuperate from Mao’s highly destructive “cultural revolution.” Only after decades of very profitable trade with capitalist Western nations has that long awaited military modernization finally come to fruition in China.

In 1979, the Vietnamese loathed and feared the Chinese. In 2016, they fear the more powerful, modernized Communist China even more. The 1979 Chinese invasion of Vietnam was not the first. It might well not be the last.



Taiwan’s Election is a Communist Rejection

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On January 16, 2016, Taiwan held national elections. The results were clear. Dr. Tsai Ing-wen, the Democratic Progressive Party (“DPP”) chairperson and presidential candidate, won a landslide victory with 56.1% of the votes. Eric Chu of the Kuomintang Party (“KMT”) garnered 30.1% percent of the votes.


President-Elect Dr. Tsai Ing-Wen Image by MiNe(sfmine79), wikimedia commons.

President-Elect Dr. Tsai Ing-Wen
Image by MiNe(sfmine79), wikimedia commons.


In the same elections, the DPP achieved a clear majority in the legislature, winning 68 of 110 seats. That is enough for the DPP to legally overcome any opposition in the legislature. Whenever a national election results in a landslide, usually at least one of two things is true – either the elections are the single candidate, North Korean style farce, or the voters are unhappy with the status quo. In the case of Taiwan, it is the latter, but there is more to it than that.

Prior to the elections, the Taiwanese public had made it clear that they were tired of the corruption and economic mismanagement that their government had inflicted on them. On January 16, they were largely voting for change.

At the same time, a significant portion of previously steadfast KMT loyalists had lost faith in their party because the KMT had shifted toward overt cooperation with the communist regime in Beijing. The KMT had bet heavily on the benefits of economic cooperation with Communist China. That bet did not pay off.

It is a mystery why the Kuomintang Party ignored the pathetic examples many Western nations have set by trusting Communist China in business and diplomatic dealings. A glance at the last thirty years of US history would have let them know what to expect. They either never took that glance, or they were serving interests other than those of the people of Taiwan.

Communist China’s reactionary response to the DPP’s victory was swift and predictable. The regime in Beijing publicly warned Taiwan that any attempt at declaring independence will result in an immediate, crushing military defeat by the Red Army.

To Westerners, this response might sound a bit severe and childishly undiplomatic, but nobody in Taiwan was surprised. The communists have been demanding the “return” of Taiwan to Communist China since the Chinese Nationalist Army retreated to that island in 1949. Since then, “obey our rule or die” has been Beijing’s standard mantra toward Taiwan.


Taiwan, Chinese coast, and that pesky 110 miles of water. Image by CIA, public domain.

Taiwan, Chinese coast, and that
pesky 110 miles of water.
Image by CIA, public domain.


One might wonder why, since the Maoist regime in Beijing was so easily able to invade and occupy Tibet, wouldn’t they do the same with Taiwan?

The answer is water – about 110 miles of it. That’s the distance from the mainland shores to the beaches in Taiwan. The Red Army did not require a navy to invade and occupy Tibet. Invading Taiwan, on the other hand, would require a strong enough navy, and China does not quite have that yet. They are working on it. For decades, Communist China has consistently declared its intent to “reunite” Taiwan “by force, if necessary.” So far, the threats have not caused the Taiwanese to surrender their freedom to Beijing. When the KMT decided to move closer to the communist regime the Taiwanese voters threw them out.

So what do the election results mean for Taiwan’s Western Pacific neighbors?

For South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Viet Nam and Brunei, it’s good news. All of them have grown weary of Communist China’s increasingly aggressive policy. Taiwan’s increasing acquiescence to Beijing had been a worrying development for them.

What does it mean for the United States of America?

For the moment, the reaction in the US has been quiet relief. In diplomatic terms, here is the official US response:

“We share with the Taiwan people a profound interest in the continuation of cross-Strait peace and stability. We look forward to working with Dr. Tsai and Taiwan’s leaders of all parties to advance our many common interests and further strengthen the unofficial relationship between the United States and the people of Taiwan.”

Leave it to the folks at Foggy Bottom to simultaneously use the terms “profound” and “unofficial” when taking a “stand.” Or would that be a “non-stand?”

Diplomatic ambiguity aside, US leaders, albeit at the pace of a disabled snail, have come to realize that China has, in fact, been telling the truth for the last sixty-six years concerning its aggressive intentions, and that even the government in Beijing occasionally speaks the truth.

Hard core Beijing-lovers in Washington have fallen on hard times. Their cash is still welcome, but they are as out-of-fashion as integrity inside the Washington Beltway. In practical terms, the US government will continue to pretend to believe that fair and friendly cooperation with Communist China is possible. In the meantime, the US will allow a dribble of military aid to flow to Taiwan and the Philippines. Relations with Viet Nam will improve, and the US will send that country token military aid. The cost of the PR photo shoots in Viet Nam heralding in the new cooperation will be greater than the value of the equipment we send them.

In my view, the election results in Taiwan are good news. Let us hope that for the sake of the people of Taiwan, and for the sake of everyone in the Western Pacific, the DPP will use its power to truly represent the democratic will of the people of Taiwan.


The Gangster and the Poet – Kim Jong Il and Vaclav Havel


This week, we have been treated to odd bits of news from the North Korean state media machine. According them, Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on Saturday, December 17, 2011. The “news” that has been broadcast from North Korea has been rather interesting.

One of my young coworkers took the time to read and analyze some of the very odd claims that were made for North Korean consumption and for those imaginary North Korean admirers that the NK government likes to pretend exist in large numbers across the world. Here are a few of the recent outlandish claims from a nation that is so crippled it can produce little more than outlandish claims.

Kim Jong Il lived for five thousand years. Kim Jong Il did not urinate or defecate because he was a higher being that didn’t need to do those lowly human functions. It’s not often that Westerners or anyone living outside of North Korea agrees with the NK media, but based on that particular claim, Westerners were apparently being fair and accurate when saying that Kim was “full of shit.”

We are now being told that a mountain peak in North Korea that was named after Kim Jong Il glowed for an hour after he died. As absurd as it seems, that claim might be accurate. It could be that the insects hiding beneath the frozen surface were so overjoyed at the death of the despised dictator that they glowed like glow worms and fire flies in celebration of his departure from their ecosystem.

The nonsensical and amateurish propaganda that flows from North Korea would all be nothing more than cheap comedy if not for the fact that it tells us something about the current state of their tortured society. Even in authoritarian police states like China, Cuba, Syria, and Iran, there are limits to how outlandish the propaganda can be. Neither North Koreans nor Cubans would believe that their respective crime syndicate leaders were five thousand years old, but the difference is that the Cubans would loudly refuse such asinine statements. It’s a sad comment about the lives of the victims of the North Korean crime state that they feel compelled to pretend to believe such absurdity.

Kim Jong Il had announced that his third son, Kim Jong Un, would inherit the family crime syndicate, but not all is going as planned. Today, North Korea announced that Kim Jong Un’s aunt and her husband would share power with him, and that the military would have more power than they did under Km Jong Il.

My impression is that the North Korean military hates Kim’s sister and her husband and will wrestle for control of the country. At least in the short term, it seems unlikely that the people of North Korea can expect much improvement in their lives. Chronic malnutrition and a complete lack of freedom will continue. Kim Jong Un has a long way to go to gain complete control of North Korea, but the undeserving victims of the ongoing Kim family crime spree have even further to go to reach freedom and human rights.

Kim Jong Un – To show their loyalty, all North Koreans are required to get bad haircuts before Friday. (That’s actually a joke. So far.)

While the news is filled with the farcical proceedings in North Korea, another important world leader left us on December 18, 2011. A brilliant poet who I admired.

On October 5, 1936, a boy, Vaclav Havel, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. That boy would one day prove instrumental in leading the nation of Czechoslovakia out of the dark ages of forty-nine years of brutal Nazi and Soviet occupation.

image by Ondrej Slama

image by Ondrej Slama

Vaclav Havel was the son of a theater owner father and a wealthy mother. During the Soviet occupation, he was not allowed to attend secondary education because of his “bourgeois” parents, and he was shunted to industrial training. He worked full time and attended night school. Then, he dropped out of economics school and found work as a laborer in theater productions. From that humble beginning, he went on to become one of Europe’s most respected writers, admired poets, and esteemed world leaders.

While living under constant police surveillance and suffering through multiple prison internments, including a five-year stint, Havel managed to write popular plays and was able to see them produced in spite of sabotage by the Czech secret police. What did he have to say after years of abuse? “Truth and love will prevail over lies and hate.”

In 1989, as the Soviet lead Warsaw Pact began to unravel, Havel became the de facto leader of the Velvet Revolution. The Czech secret police and the Soviet KGB had long seen Havel as a dissenter. It is my belief that the Czech police state and the Kremlin decided Havel was just a poet and playwright and would never be able to successfully lead a revolution. They denied permission to their field operatives to assassinate him. They likely feared that killing Havel would have left less known and less visible leaders in charge of the resistance.

Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989 and served in that office until July, 1992. He later served as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic from 1993 until 2003.

The Soviets underestimated the poet and the people of Prague. Now, that poet is gone, but his memory and the freedom that he helped create lives on. The world was a better place with Vaclav Havel in it. It remains a better place for his having passed here.

To his family and to the courageous people of the Czech Republic who defeated brutal tyranny with little more than reason and moral conviction, I offer my sincere condolences and my deep admiration. May reason and moral conviction reign forever in the Czech Republic. May truth and love always prevail over lies and hate.

Tonight, in North Korea, the notions of freedom and human rights appear to be beyond all hope. Only 25 years ago, we would have said the same about Czechoslovakia.

Sandwich Day:The Day Between Berlin Wall Day and Veterans Day

By Piper Bayard

I call today Sandwich Day because it’s the day that is sandwiched between November 9, the day the Berlin Wall came down, and Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I.

Fall of the Berlin Wall wikimedia commons, public domain

Fall of the Berlin Wall
wikimedia commons, public domain

One slice of bread is Veterans Day. On November 11th, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “unknown soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I. Thereafter, November 11th became known internationally as Armistice Day. America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetary. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

The other slice of bread is the day the Berlin Wall came down, signifying the beginning of the end of the Cold War. English author and journalist George Orwell first coined the term Cold War in his essay, “You and the Atomic Bomb,” to describe a world that is at “peace that is no peace.” It was an ideological confrontation between mostly the Soviet Union and its satellite states against Western powers. It shaped our times and our nation more surely than Islamic terrorists are doing now.

Though the USSR and the USA never officially met on the field, we clashed unofficially through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. We also battled through military coalitions, extensive aid to states fighting Soviet-backed terrorists,    espionage, propaganda, the Arms Race, sports rivalry, and the Space Race.

As a kid during that time, I can tell you that the Cold War colored everything in life. Our conversations, our breakfast drinks, our cartoons, our college classes, you name it. Communism was a threat we took too seriously to be concerned about offending communists by calling them the enemy, and we lived 24/7 with the widespread belief that Earth would, inevitably, end in a mushroom cloud. A fated apocalypse. A post-apocalyptic movie with no hope of a “post.”

The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate communist East Berlin from Western Ally-administered West Berlin, was the symbol of the Cold War and the Cold War state of mind. When it came down, it didn’t just represent our Western victory over communism, it represented the limitless possibilities of the human race to control its destiny. Nothing seemed inevitable any more.

I know I’m unusually serious today — apocalypse can be that way at times — so I’ll lighten up with a bit of info about that most beautiful apocalyptic flower, the red poppy, which has come to symbolize World War I. Long before the Great War, the red poppy was a symbol of death, renewal, and life. That’s because its seeds can lie dormant in the earth for years, and then grow and blossom when the soil is turned over.

With the widespread digging of graves in the fields of Northern France and Flanders, beginning in 1914, poppies began to grow, inspiring Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae to write the following poem, the most famous of World War I. Click here for a beautiful song inspired by this poem, performed by the boys’ choir, Libera.

My profound thanks to our veterans on this Sandwich Day.  

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.