Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

PWOC Political Committee

China and Vietnam and the Question of War

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 5, No. 3 [erroneously labelled No. 2], March 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Events of the last two months have thrown a sharp light on the international aims and intentions of the present leadership of the People’s Republic of China. Having concluded an agreement to establish full diplomatic relations with the US, Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping visited here and preceded to upbraid the US imperialists for a lack of decisiveness in dealing with the “trouble” in Iran and for generally being too soft toward the USSR.

In an interview in Time magazine, Teng gave a novel twist to Chairman Mao’s theory of the three worlds, saying without qualification that he viewed the US as part of “the united front against hegemonism.” Later in Japan Teng criticized the Carter administration for its failure to “punish” Cuba. Shortly afterwards Teng gave Washington an object lesson in what he meant by launching his punishment of Vietnam, “the Cuba of Asia.”

People’s China, once a militant champion of the interests of the international working class and oppressed peoples in the struggle against imperialism, has now become part of a counterrevolutionary alliance with imperialism – an alliance aimed at the USSR and its allies. The price of this alliance necessarily is the abandonment of proletarian internationalism. China cannot block with the US, NATO and Japan and simultaneously support the struggles against imperialism now raging on every continent. It cannot and in fact it has not for some time.

The logic of the “united front against hegemonism” is collusion or at least neutrality in the face of the neo-colonial and counter-revolutionary maneuvers of the US imperialists and their European and Japanese cohorts. Not only has China become a partner in the grand anti-Soviet coalition but, as recent events illustrate, it is the most vocal and aggressive antagonist of the Soviets.

It is in this framework we must see the recent Chinese invasion of Vietnam. While publicly basing its invasion on alleged border provocations by Vietnam, the real reasons for China’s actions are clear enough. Most immediately China aims at compelling Vietnam to withdraw militarily from Kampuchea, enabling the creation of a new Kampuchean government more friendly to China. Minimally China can expect that its actions will forestall the consolidation of a pro-Vietnamese regime in Phnom Penh. This is part of a larger design aimed at stymieing tire growth of Soviet influence in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The Chinese leadership expects that the “lesson” it is teaching Vietnam will not be lost on the Soviets.


It is unlikely that China would even have contemplated such an action earlier. Its vulnerability to a militarily stronger Soviet Union ruled out such bold tactics. However with the new relationship with the US, China has a much greater latitude.

No one should doubt that the present invasion has the tacit support of the US. Washington’s obligatory criticism of the Chinese action masks an uneasy connivance with Peking. When Teng alluded to his punishment plans while visiting the US, the Carter administration was silent. Since the invasion, the US has refused to take any concrete actions to compel the Chinese to reconsider its course. Blumenthal is off in Peking getting the trade negotiations rolling; the US went ahead and opened its embassy; and everything is business as usual. Great Britain, acting the roll of US surrogate in arming China, is going ahead with arms sales. In the UN, Andrew Young is insisting that Chinese withdrawal be linked with a Vietnamese pullout from Kampuchea. This linkage effectively dovetails with China’s position.

The reason US imperialism supports China’s invasion is obvious. As Ross Terrill, a long-time China watcher at Harvard’s East Asian Center, said: “The strategic situation in Asia that is so favorable to the West and to the ASEAN countries will be solidified, in that Russia-China hostility, which is the foundation stone of the current balance of power, will no doubt get even fiercer.” But Terrill also notes the reason why the US is nevertheless queasy about the invasion – the danger of war between the USSR and China. Terrill points out: “President Carter could not avoid committing US military power to such a fray, because a Russia that succeeded in putting China on the sidelines would have eclipsed America as Number One Nation.” In short the risk in exploiting this situation which is so favorable to US imperialism, is world war.


Given all this what can be said in defense of China’s actions? Very little in our opinion. There is the tit for tat argument that since Vietnam committed an act of aggression against China’s ally Kampuchea, China was compelled to respond in kind. If Vietnam were the expansionist minded Soviet puppet and China the model of proletarian internationalism that Peking would have us believe, then this argument would have real force. But the truth is that China is not free from responsibility for Vietnam’s actions in relation to Kampuchea.

From 1974 on, China’s hostility to Vietnam has grown, because Vietnam refused to side with China’s militant anti-Sovietism. Vietnam moved from a path of non-alignment to a close identification with the Soviet Bloc in large measure because it faced continued hostility from US imperialism. Vietnam has also had to contend with a deepening hostility from Peking as well. China’s support for Kampuchea in its border disputes with Vietnam, and China’s attacks on Vietnam, for its treatment of ethnic Chinese were Chinese “punishments” doled out for Vietnam’s refusal to see the error of its ways in relation to Moscow.

Vietnam’s very real fear of encirclement is what prompted it to push Pol Pot aside. We continue to think this action was a serious error and that Vietnam should withdraw from Kampuchea. However the facts of the matter undercut the view that China had no alternative but to invade Vietnam. China’s behavior in relation to Vietnam, both past and present, is not dictated by any threat Vietnam poses to China’s sovereignty and thus cannot be passed off as a necessary defensive measure. China views Vietnam as a pawn in its contention with the Soviet Union and treats it accordingly.

The fundamental rationale for Chinese actions is the view that the Soviet Union is a social imperialist power on the rise and as such poses the main danger to the world’s peoples. Its hegemonism, that is, its drive to control other nations, is the greatest source of the danger of war. These arguments are the justification for virtually every move by China in the international arena, no matter what their implications for the causes of national liberation and proletarian revolution.

The real manifestations of Great Power chauvinism on the part of the Soviet revisionists and the deformations of Soviet society under their rule give a superficial credence to these views. They draw further on the prestige of Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Revolution. Nevertheless a sober and all-sided analysis shows this line to be false. As we have argued countless times, the adoption of this strategic framework by revolutionaries in the US leads to a profound political disorientation and ultimately to collaboration with one’s own ruling class against the interests of the world revolution.


China’s view that world war is inevitable is increasingly taking on the character of a self-fulfilling prophecy. To the degree that the “united front against hegemonism” makes headway, the Soviet Union is placed in an increasingly vulnerable and isolated position. By seeking to direct the aggressive drives of imperialism against the Soviets, China’s actions promote the danger of war.

Historically Marxist-Leninists have been united in the view that should war come between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, China must be supported. This view rested on the assumption that such a war would come as part of the attempt of the Soviets to hegemonize China. It would be a case of defending revolutionary socialism in China against the aggressive Great Power chauvinism of the Soviets.

This view is no longer tenable. Given the alignment of China with US imperialism, support for China in a war with the Soviets is objectively support for the aims of US imperialism. If China stands in danger of losing in a protracted war, the US imperialists will inevitable intervene. Short of such intervention, the imperialists will take advantage of the situation to recoup its losses and extend its dominion on every continent. Contemplate the fate of the struggle in South Africa, to name just one instance, under these circumstances. If the Soviet Union is tied down in a war with China, counter-revolution will have a field day all over the world.

However one chooses to view the class character of the USSR and its role in the world, it seems obvious that the contention between the US and the USSR and the balance of power between them has provided a favorable context for revolutionary movements on an international scale. A war between China and the Soviets would profoundly alter that balance in favor of US imperialism with disastrous consequences for the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples. For these reasons revolutionaries everywhere have an urgent interest in preventing such a development. And under the present circumstances the principle catalyst for such a war is the policy of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

In our view, this analysis is a logical extension of the principle that US imperialism is the main enemy of the world’s people. The grave implications of the present world situation underline the importance of the struggle for this principle among Marxist-Leninists and the insistence that it must be a line of demarcation between Marxism and opportunism.