On February 17, 1979, Chinese People’s Liberation Army went cross the border into Vietnam to launch an offensive war. It was in response to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia the year earlier. Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader, regarded the action as Soviet Union’s evil intention to expanse in Southeast Asia. On March 5, China retreated and soon declared the victory. Victory? By then, so many young lives have lost. There are no reliable figures to indicate how many people were injured and killed as both Communist countries have never disclosed them. One thing is for sure: the casualties were heavy on both sides, China in particular – some suggest a quarter of a million deaths.
On February 17 this year, some intellectuals and activists in Hanoi tried to mark the occasion and to remember those who lost their lives during the war but they were discouraged by their authorities. There was no noise or action of this nature in China. The war – called ‘self-defense’ by the Chinese government – seems to have been forgotten.
That’s not the case in Vietnam. It just happened that we left Vietnam on February 17 to return to Beijing after a highly enjoyable little holiday there during the Chinese New Year – well, it was Vietnam’s New Year too. After all, Vietnamese culture has been heavily influenced by China and was ruled by China for a thousand years.
During our tour, the word ‘China’ kept popping up and not always in positive light. During an excursion to a cave in Ha Long Bay, our young, well-informed guide Diep talked about how the locals used the cave as a shelter during the bombings by the Americans. He went on talking about the stories of sufferings by the Vietnamese people during the war. I asked him how the locals now view the Americans – we were with our friends from America, Diep said people no longer hold grudges against America. The war was over and they are now trading partners. Many do hold grudging against China – the biggest threat to the country. China and Vietnam have disputed borders and many worry that one day that China may invade again, just like 1979. I guess China’s aggressive attitude over the disputed Diaoyu Island with Japan doesn’t really put Vietnamese at ease.
I hope my Chinese compatriots holding hawkish nationalist views over Diaoyu Island would look back and learn exactly what happened in 1979 – not just from the official source. And think about these shattered lives, broken dreams, grieved parents and lost lives. No island, uninhabited or otherwise, is worth any spilling of blood and the negative impact that would surely to follow. To rise peacefully means to build harmonious relationships with our neighbours and respect them. Only in this way, there’ll be long term stability in the region.