231. Report Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1

No. 1148



The Chinese attack on Vietnam was a milestone in the development of the Sino-Soviet struggle. China, for the first time, challenged a Soviet treaty ally with force. Considering the high stakes, China, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam all acted with prudence. But the Chinese action aggravated the basic Sino-Soviet quarrel, and Beijing appears intent on maintaining its pressure on Vietnam.

The Chinese invasion has taxed an already heavily strained Vietnam and evidenced its vulnerability. Hanoi has now agreed to negotiations with Beijing, which should provide a breathing spell. But the course ahead will depend fundamentally on Hanoi’s:

—capability to suppress the Pol Pot forces; Hanoi may yet have to explore a negotiated compromise in Kampuchea;

—willingness to accept closer relations with the USSR, possibly including a permanent Soviet military presence.

In response to China’s pressure, the Vietnamese leaders must face again the probably divisive issue of moving still closer to, or away from, the USSR. Too little is known of the Hanoi leadership to judge how it will choose. Continuing tension between Vietnam and China and renewed border incursions are probable if Vietnam allies itself more firmly with the USSR.

Beijing feels that its military action weakened Hanoi, warned the USSR, and educated the West. Moscow probably believes that it has gained some advantage and will gain much more if Hanoi can stand up to the Chinese pressure and moves still closer to the USSR. The major losers continue to be the people of Indochina.

[Omitted here is the body of the report.]

  1. Source: Department of State, American Embassy Beijing, 1979 Central Subject Files: Lot 82 F 82, Pol 2 PRC/Vietnam Border War. Secret; Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals. Prepared by Sylvester, Barnett, Martin, Colm, and others in INR and approved by Stoddard (INR).