Ask the Americans (or the French) how difficult it is to win a war in the jungles of Vietnam. The Chinese share that view.
In fact, centuries before the Tet Offensive, Emperor Zhu Di was beaten by Vietnam’s guerrilla tactics. After invading in 1418, the Chinese were forced to retreat in 1421. Formal independence was granted to the Vietnamese in 1428.
In February 1979, the two nations came into conflict again – this time over Cambodia. China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping told Jimmy Carter: “It’s time to smack the bottom of unruly little children,” and sent 200,000 troops across the border.
However, it wasn’t quite the walkover that Deng expected and the “unruly little children” of Vietnam fiercely resisted – even though their forces were outnumbered by an estimated three to one. The Chinese forces pressed 40km into Vietnam, but after taking an estimated 60,000 casualties, China announced the war was over in mid-March, and pulled its troops back.
Why is this relevant? Because the two nations have finally resolved a long-running dispute over their mutual frontier. Around 800 government officials from both countries recently attended a ceremony to celebrate the successful demarcation of the border – via 1,400km of markers. Perhaps more importantly, 6,800 landmines were cleared ahead of the event.
Vietnam’s exports to China hit $19.46 billion last year. According to the China Daily, Vietnamese salesmen cross into China each day carrying goods on “shoulder poles, gunnysacks and bamboo baskets”.
At 8am each morning the traders “race” across the border into Yunnan province’s Hekou county, reports the newspaper. “Here I can earn money easily,” says 23 year-old Vietnamese trader, Bui Van Son in fluent Chinese. “I can make almost the same amount of money as a white collar worker in Vietnam can earn in a month.”
Vietnamese coffee, woodwork and spices sell well in China. Fruits, garments, home appliances and industrial products are popular in the Vietnamese market.
As for the soldiers, they are now apparently on good terms. “Now and then we smoke or have a chat together,” says Bai Jianming, a Chinese border soldier in Yunnan.
Fixing the border promises to open a new chapter in Sino-Vietnamese relations. Bui Hong Phuc, vice-chairman of the Vietnam-China Friendship Association hails the demarcation warmly: “It will promote exchanges of all kinds across the border, especially trade and tourism.”
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