Changing China

Giant on the move

The war that changed China

February 17, 2009

Thirty years ago today, China invaded its one-time Communist ally Vietnam to “teach it a lesson”, to the delight of Beijing’s newfound friend, Uncle Sam, which was still smarting from having lost its own Vietnam War.
The attack came on the heels of Washington switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing and a closed-door meeting between China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Washington.
Three decades on, it remains unclear just how much Deng told Carter about the incursion and whether Washington offered any assistance such as satellite imagery of Vietnamese troops and military bases.
Until the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department declassify minutes of the meeting, the world will not know for sure whether the United States offered to back China in the event the Soviet Union rushed to Vietnam’s rescue.
Now the great wheel of history has turned again, and 30 years on, the United States is seeking China’s help in applying pressure on another Communist neighbour, North Korea.
China’s foray into Vietnam was brief yet in some ways disastrous. Its troops suffered terribly against the battle-hardened Vietnamese who were fighting on their home soil.
But there is no arguing that the invasion was a watershed event that smoothed the way for China to mend fences with the West.  American investors, tourists and students flocked to China.  Western and Japanese aid and loans flowed in, while trade and investment mushroomed, helping to transform the world’s most populous nation from an economic backwater into an export powerhouse and the world’s third-biggest economy.
In an apparent quid pro quo, China abandoned its longstanding policy of “liberating” Taiwan and offered “peaceful reunification” in an overture to the self-ruled island it has claimed as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war.
Also in 1979, Deng invited Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to visit, prompting the latter to renounce advocacy of Tibetan independence, beseech CIA-armed and -trained Tibetan guerrillas to end their struggle and send his older brother to China on fact-finding trips.
The United States softened its criticism of human rights abuse in China, including the imprisonment of dissident Wei Jingsheng for challenging Deng at the height of the Democracy Wall movement.
American Sinologist David Shambaugh described as a “marriage of convenience” the teaming up of the United States and China to curb Soviet expansionism.
On a lighter note, American culture invaded China. Many Chinese traded their Mao suits for jeans or business suits and dined at McDonald’s and KFC outlets. Hollywood movies and rock ‘n’ roll — once considered decadent by China’s ideologues — swept many Chinese off their feet.
The honeymoon abruptly ended on June 4, 1989, when Chinese troops crushed student-led demonstrations for democracy centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. China slipped into diplomatic isolation in the face of U.S. sanctions.
China broke out of isolation and forced the United States to deal with it after menacing Taiwan with war games in the run-up to the island’s first direct presidential elections in 1996. Bilateral relations see-sawed in the ensuing years, hitting low points when NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter over Chinese airspace.
Fast forward to February 2009. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits on Friday, she will be dealing with a richer, more confident and assertive China.  Again, but now in peacetime, it will be a China that needs the United States as much as the United States needs China.
The United States needs China to help rein in a nuclear North Korea and help nurse the global economy back to health. But China’s abrupt slowdown in growth and exports shows that it remains yoked to U.S. fortunes.

Photo Credit: A Vietnamese border guard stands next to a border marker between China’s Guangxi and Vietnam’s Lang Son provinces on Jan. 13, 2009. REUTERS/Kham


“China abandoned its longstanding policy of “liberating” Taiwan and offered “peaceful reunification” ”

Garbage! China has never abandoned its policy that Taiwan is a renegade province which will be brought back – by force if necessary.

Posted by Eric Havaby | Report as abusive

Both sides of the Taiwan Straits and the international community recognise that there is only one China, and the “Taiwan Region” is within the internationally recognised borders of China. The China Map in the CIA Factbook records this fact (  /the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html ).

Recently, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated the one china reality as provided in Taiwanese (ROC) Constitution ( archives/2008/10/08/2003425320 ):

“President Ma Ying-jeou (???) has said mainland China is the territory of the Republic of China (ROC) in an interview with a Japanese magazine, the first time Ma has made the official claim since he took office in May.

Ma said under the ROC Constitution, the ROC “definitely is an independent sovereign state, and mainland [sic] China is also part of the territory of the ROC.” “

President Ma is right. ROC an independent sovereign state as ROC is a name of China. The other name of China is PRC (People’s Republic of China). China is still in the state of civil war (although military hostilities have ceased as the Beijing fraction has currently opted for peaceful reunification modelled on the Hong Kong precedent of one-country-two-systems). If there is a serious risk of the “Taiwan Region” becoming politically independent of China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be constitutionally bound to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of China.

The issue before the international community as presented by both fractions is to recognise which civil war fraction as the sole legitimate government of the all China: the Taipei fraction which governs the “Taiwan Region” or Beijing fraction which governs the “Mainland Region”.

Do note that the “Taiwan region” did not split from China in 1949 and that the Chinese civil war is still not concluded.

Posted by Eric Lim | Report as abusive

two chinas is akin to two irelands; the people of northern ireland consider themselves to be british and want no rule from dublin. political intrigue and chamberlainesque pieces of paper aside, the people of taiwan want no rule from beijing; have these people no say in their future? do those leaders who call for freedom in tibet and uyghurstan have no sympathy left for the taiwanese?

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

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