25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Steven S. Berizzi
- Published on Amazon.com
In the introduction to this scholarly and impassive, but very interesting, study of China's relations with Vietnam during the height of the Cold War, Author Qiang Zhai, professor of history at Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama, explains his rationale for writing this book: "The rise and fall of the Sino-Vietnamese alliance is one of the most crucial developments in the history of the Cold War in Asia in general and Chinese foreign relations in particular." According to Zhai, he drew on "fresh Chinese documents to present a full-length treatment of the evolution of the Sino-DRV relationship between the two Indochina wars, focusing on its strategic, political, and military aspects." During the course of his research, Zhai found "a complex blend of motives behind Beijing's Indochina policy," and one of his main premises is that the "Beijing-Hanoi relationship was composed of both agreements and contradictions, cooperation and confrontation."
China and Vietnam had a complicated relationship long before the Indochina wars of the mid-20th century. According to Zhai, the Vietnamese "had a tradition of looking to China for models and inspirations," but there also were "historical animosities between the two countries as a result of China's interventions in Vietnam." Zhai writes that Mao Zedong was "eager to aid Ho Chi Minh in 1950" because Mao believed "Indochina constituted one of the three fronts (the others being Korea and Taiwan) that Mao perceived as vulnerable to an invasion by imperialist countries headed by the United States." When the Viet Minh army headed toward the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they were accompanied by a Chinese "general military adviser," and China furnished the PAVN with antiaircraft guns, as well as engineering experts and large quantities of ammunition. The Viet Minh won the battle but were bitterly disappointed by the peace which followed. According to Zhai, China's approach to the Geneva conference was motivated by fear of the United States' designs in Indochina: "To prevent American intervention, [Zhou Enlai] was ready to compromise of the Laotian and Cambodian issue," and he formally proposed "withdrawal of the Viet Minh troops from Laos and Cambodia." Zhai writes: "For the Vietnamese Communists, the Geneva Conference served as a lesson about the nature and limits of Communist internationalism," and both Beijing and Moscow pressured the Viet Minh "to abandon its efforts to unify the whole of Vietnam."
Zhai makes the controversial assertion that, in 1961, President Kennedy "set out to increase U.S. commitment to the Saigon regime." In response, according to Zhai, Mao Zedong "expressed a general support for the armed struggle of the South Vietnamese people," but China's leaders "were uneasy about their Vietnamese comrades' tendency to conduct large-unit operations in the south." Zhai writes: "The period between 1961 and 1964 was a crucial one in the evolution of Sino-DRV relations....Its urgent need to resist American pressure increased its reliance on China's material assistance." According to Zhai: "The newly available Chinese documents clearly indicate that Beijing provided extensive support (short of volunteer pilots) to Hanoi during the Vietnam War and in doing so risked war with the United States." In Zhai's view, although Chinese leaders were "determined to avoid war with the United States," Beijing warned that "if the United States bombs China[,] that would mean war and there would be no limits to the war." According to Zhai: "Between 1965 and 1968, Beijing strongly opposed peace talks between Hanoi and Washington and rejected a number of international initiatives designed to promote a peaceful solution to the Vietnam conflict." "Above all, Mao and his associates wanted the North Vietnamese to wage a protracted war to tie down the United States in Vietnam." When the Paris negotiations began in May 1968, Beijing was "unenthusiastic." In less than three years, the international situation changed. Zhai's lengthy discussion of the complicated internal and international events leading up to the crisis in Cambodia in 1970 is a case study in Machiavellian politics and diplomacy. By 1971, according to Zhai, Chinese leaders were "keen to see an early conclusion of the Vietnam War in order to preserve American power and contain Soviet influence." After President Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972, according to Zhai, the North Vietnamese "drew a bitter lesson from Nixon's handshake with Mao that China's foreign policy was concerned less with Communist unity than with the pursuit of China's national interest." In Zhai';s view: "Nixon's decision to normalize relations with Beijing nullified the hitherto basic rationale of the Vietnam War, namely to contain and isolate Communist China." According to Zhai: "Mao and Zhou Enlai viewed with satisfaction the conclusion of the Paris Peace Agreement." In September 1975, just a few months after Saigon fell and Vietnam was unified, Zhai writes that Mao told a Vietnamese visitor, in effect, "Hanoi should stop looking to China for assistance." "The long historical conflict between China and Vietnam...had returned to life."
In conclusion, Zhai asserts that "[t]here were two strands in China's policy toward Vietnam during the two Indochina wars: cooperation and containment;" "From the 1950s to 1968, the cooperation side of China's policy was predominant; and "From the late 1960s, particularly between 1972 and 1975, the containment side of China's policy became more prominent." In my opinion, the most important aspects of this book is its demonstration that international Communism was not monolithic in the 1960s and 1970s. Zhai makes clear that the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China encouraged and aided Vietnam's struggle for independence from France and its war for national unification against the United States, but the Communist powers were motivated more by national interests than by revolutionary solidarity. The history of Chinese-Vietnamese relations between 1950 and 1975 must be viewed within the broader contexts of growing Sino-Soviet competition for primacy in the international Communist movement and of China's eventual, if only limited, rapprochement with the United States. Zhai's book is, therefore, an important contribution to the literature about the most controversial foreign war in American history.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Everybody already is familiar about the Berlin Wall and the Euro Cold War with the USSR. The Cold War with PR China in SE Asia, especially concurrent with the Korean Conflict in the early 50s, is not so well known.
Using "declassified" Mao Ze-dong, Zhou En-lai and Deng Xiao-ping documents in PRC archives and CCP biographies and memoirs recently published in Chinese, China History Professor at Auburn U, Alabama, weaves a compelling, readable and understandable history of the early Vietnam War, especially before the January 1968 Tet Offensive.
Not shy in sharing his sources, Zhai shows that both PRC and USSR were heavily involved in supplying arms, supplies and training with the North Vietnamese Liberation Army under Ho Chi Minh during the 50s and 60s. And Ho was clever in playing off PRC and USSR to get the best deals.
After the NVA strategic 1968 Tet Offensive, Nixon attempted an end run with the PRC; starting with "Ping Pong" diplomacy p194 and the historic first US Presidential visit onto mainland China soil during Feb 21-28, 1972. Ho's relationship with Mao quickly soured, he turned to the USSR for assistance, and eventually declaring the Sino-Vietnamese conflict of 1979. Vietnam was united and free from foreign influence at last.
Professor Zhai was a PRC native and began becoming a China history scholar at Nanjing U (near Shanghai) in the 80s. Then he earned his PhD in history from Ohio U, Athens in 1991. After more research, this is his second book covering PRC history since end of WWII. In the Acknowledgments section on p.xi-xii, he lists his mentors and collegues that he has collaborated with since the 1996 and 1998 Asian Cold War / Diplomacy History Conferences at U of Hong Kong.
This Reviewer recommends that using another book published at the same time to get fresh, fair and balanced POV of US-Vietnam war in the historical record. For example, Kenneth Conboy & Dale Andrade book titled "Spies and Commandos: how America lost the secret war in North Vietnam," was published by UKansas in 2000. Conboy and Andrade uses recently declassified CIA and DoD archives, where Ft Leavenworth, Kansas is the center for Army Command, Intelligence, and War College.
Additionally to understand the Vietnam Conflict at the highest political level, watch former Secretary of Defense McNamara's autobiographical memoir video "The Fog of War (2004)," where Director, Errol Morris, won an Oscar for best documentary film. McNamara, 85 yrs old at the interview, was a bombing analyst during the WWII Japanese war theatre for Army Air Corp General LeMay and SECDEF for Pres Kennedy and Johnson. He had forecasted that the VN War was unwinnable, was fired by Johnson for his belief, and proved that it was indeed a Viet civil war at a Council on Foreign Relations Conference in Hanoi, Nov 7, 1995 that included China and North VN delegates and war generals, especially Vo Nguyen Giap. All books and DVD should be in large university library collections.
This scholarly book has 9 chapters and covers only from 1950 through the "Fall of Saigon" on April 30th, 1975. It includes the French loss at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (53) and Geneva Accords dividing the country in 1954. CIA and Army support of the SVN Diem gov't and resulting PRC entanglements supporting NVN Ho Chi Minh. US-PRC Peace talks regarding VN 1965-68.
Prof Zhai's book is illustrated with a map of the entire IndoChina peninsula and detail map of North VN, however, does *not* include the transport and supply routes from southern Chinese provinces, cities, and military supply depots and ports to support details mentioned in his book. His book does not include infographics that military campaigns and timelines that are in most US war books, such as from Time-Life World War II series.
His book includes 16 pixs, usually diplomatic pixs of meetings. And there is one Table p136 which summarizes CN military aid to NVN by year. Aid items include guns, artillery, bullets, shells, radios, telephones, tanks, ships, aircraft, vehicles, and uniforms.
It also includes 320K troops PRC sent to NVN between 1965 thru 1968, for defense, building infrastructure, and training. A total of 1.1K casualties and 4.2K wounded was incurred by the PRC Army. A secret depot was built in PRC's Hainan Island and Yen Bai in NVN p137 and connecting network of roads, river, and rail lines from the Yunnan Province border into NVN, Laos and down the border into Cambodia.
The last quarter of the book covers an extensive 42-pgs of Notes and 27-pg Bibliography of sources, including many PRC articles from diplomatic memoirs and military documents, divided between English and those written in CN. There is a 9-pg Index.
Conclusively Prof Zhai book is a book based upon great scholarship, yet gives a quite readable narrative for understanding VN-PRC history, and gives a new and comprehensive view of PRChina's substantial role in supporting Ho Chi Minh during his War with America.