Historian wants China's '79 invasion of northern Vietnam included in school

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A Vietnamese soldier stands on a Chinese army tank destroyed during China's 1979 invasion of northern Vietnam.

A prominent Vietnamese academic has urged the government to include Vietnam’s defensive war against China's 1979 invasion of the north in school books. 


 “I think our basic education program should include this historical stage, just like history of defensive fights against the French and Americans,” Associate Professor Le Mau Han told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in an interview.

“Vietnamese younger generations need to understand the nature of the war, the purpose of the fighting our soldiers and other citizens engaged in and the pride that helped the Vietnamese people defend our national sovereignty, independence and freedom,” he said.

In 1998, Han and other co-authors included a section about the war in their book Dai cuong lich su Viet Nam (Overview of Vietnamese History), which is one of few documents describing the war for local students.

The book has been reprinted many times since.

Han said he could add more important data about the war in a new edition of Dai cuong lich su Viet Nam.

“It was a fierce fight,” he said.

“Many documents show that China had carefully prepared to attack Vietnam while Vietnam was facing multiple difficulties after ending 30 years of another war [the Vietnam War],” he said.

On February 17, 1979, more than 600,000 Chinese troops crossed Vietnam’s northern border to invade the country, launching a 17-day attack along the 600-kilometer border that the two nations share.

The invasion was interpreted in the West as China's response to Vietnam's conflicts with the Khmer Rouge, the leaders of Beijing's client state in Cambodia at the time. 

Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge regime to pursue an extreme policy designed to establish a rural utopia that forced people to leave cities, abolished money and outlawed religion.

Its wanton executions, overworking of the population and forced starvation are estimated to have wiped out some two million people between 1975 and 1979 before Vietnam, whose border provinces suffered bloody attacks from the Khmer Rouge, drove them out of power.

“That Vietnam drove out the Khmer Rouge just as their atrocities were peaking is not seriously in doubt,” Noam Chomsky, the American linguist and public intellectual, said.

“Nor is there any doubt that there were Khmer Rouge attacks in Vietnam, or that the Khmer Rouge were supported by China," he said.

“Vietnam… was responding to ample provocation.”

Although the China-led war in the northern provinces ended in March 1979, it was followed by border tensions between the two countries throughout the following decade.

The two countries normalized diplomatic relations in 1991. In 1999, the leaders of both nations agreed on a “16-golden-word motto” to  guide relations between the two countries: “long-term stability and future orientation, friendly neighborhood, comprehensive cooperation."

In 2000, China's then Party Chief Jiang Jemin explained: “‘Long term stability’ means that Viet-Sino friendship fits both countries' fundamental interests, so in any circumstance at any time it's a must to maintain the stable and healthy development of the relationship; ‘Looking forward’ means taking the standpoint of NOW to look to the long term and open a better future for Viet-Sino relationship.”

Major-General Le Van Cuong, former director of the Strategy Institute at the Ministry of Public Security, said it was necessary to review the situation regarding commemoration of the war.

He said there should be more activities to create awareness of the war and help people all over the world understand what really happened.

It is necessary to make “more than 1.3 billion Chinese understand the truth that on that day, more than 600,000 Chinese troops crossed the border to invade Vietnam,” he said.

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