Actually, China came up with all kinds of reasons for the invasion after its failure, propaganda to make it look like the invasion was a success, but in fact China was utterly humiliated in this attack.
One of these common claims is that the war was just a proxy war with the Soviet Union to show how weak an ally the Soviets were for the Vietnamese. This was not one of the original intentions, but was actually a consequence of the war. And it didn’t really do that, because the Chinese were repelled from Vietnam, and they fled only before their forces could be obliterated through slow and agonizing attrition. The Chinese generals knew they were in deep water by the end of a week, and understood that they were going to waste huge numbers of lives and uncountable resources for what would, in the end, be a humiliating defeat in any case.
China launched the invasion as a punishment for Vietnam invading Cambodia and unseating the genocidal, murderous regime of Pol Pot, supported by China
(Interesting side note: China has never apologized for supporting Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, which massacred 1/3 of the Cambodian people, with China’s knowledge and support. The Vietnamese, unlike many in the west in that they believed the refugee stories they were hearing, decided to take down the Chinese-backed murderers in Cambodia; it was partly out of terror at these Chinese-backed and trained psychopaths taking power permanently in Southeast Asia that they intervened. Also, watching Pol Pot’s Chinese-backed psychopaths murder millions of people was hard.)
Vietnam’s battle-hardened population had successfully fought off the Chinese (historically, its main enemy), the French, the Japanese, the Americans (!!) and many international American allies, and the Chinese politicians somehow thought they could just walk in and intimidate Vietnamese. This was the height of hubris. You need to be either entirely delusional, believing your own propaganda, or steeped in an air of nationalistic/racialist superiority to believe any of that. Both of these were true of the CCP, which had a kind of “Big brother - little dumb brother” contempt for the Vietnamese.
Chinese troops were totally unprepared, fought poorly, couldn’t find the enemy, were fighting in unfamiliar terrain, just like the French, Japanese and Americans, the Chinese suffered deaths from non-combat, and they ran just before they finally got their asses handed to them on a plate.
More, the humiliation for China was deeper than it was even for the Americans, because the Chinese had the lesson of the Americans staring them in the face, and they utterly failed to learn anything from it. When it dawned on them that they were making an even graver mistake than the Americans, they might have taken that lesson to heart and called an early end to the war.
The Americans could be excused of their stupidity, for slowly getting drawn into a war they didn’t really support, for murky reasons that made little sense, because their intervention in 1950 in Korea had made sense and had ultimately turned out to have been a very good idea. But transposed to the 1960’s, the situation in Vietnam was nothing like the Korean war. The US had no plan, no strategy, and no really clear goals. It had no good ally in the leadership of the putative South Vietnam, which was, especially by US standards, a wholly awful regime, and the US government, no matter how committed to fighting communism, had no faith in or trust in the South Vietnamese government’s competency or legitimacy. The South Vietnamese government was led by manipulative, deceitful autocrats and a few rich families, adept at putting the US in no-win situations. The Us was unable to withdraw support from South Vietnam, but unable to really endorse the South Vietnamese government, either. The US was in a bind.
The US misinterpreted a nationalist conflict against French colonization as a fight against communism, or inserted this into it, and it thought it could just adopt the goals it had had in 1950 in Korea. The Vietnamese proved themselves tougher, more committed and far smarter fighters than the Americans, who led the most impressive military force in the world …. and these same Vietnamese were about to do the same to the Chinese. This is an unavoidable fact, something modern Chinese keyboard warriors have trouble admitting. What were the Chinese generals thinking? That they could just walk in? Were they crazy?
China failed in all of its objectives. Ultimately, Vietnam stayed in Cambodia for 10 years; the current regime there is a Vietnamese-allied government put in place by Vietnam. China completely failed to rescue Pol Pot’s regime (thankfully, for the Cambodian people, because these Chinese-backed guerillas would have butchered more millions).
In China’s traditional mindset, Vietnam is a place filled with uncultured southern barbarians who should bend the knee to the superior Chinese. To have the plucky Vietnamese humiliate China was too much for them, so they can’t admit to having been so completely beaten. To this day, many “patriotic” Chinese find it necessary to pretend China won that war, or at least didn’t lose it.
But it’s not really a surprise that China lost so badly, and Chinese, indeed, need not feel humiliated. Bragging about invented retroactive success is unnecessary. Vietnam bested far more powerful foes than the PRC, and brought major empires low. Sending the Chinese packing was child’s play after generations of warfare. Nobody should be humiliated by that. If anything, the PRC should be embarrassed just by having thought they could take on Vietnam in the first place.
North Vietnam had just utterly crushed an American-backed regime in a war that cost millions of lives over decades, and it was united by one overarching principle: nationalism, and the need to defend the nation at all costs, understood from the top to the bottom. Its people were used to suffering, had seen dramatic reversals, and as much as many disagreed with the government in Hanoi, or even hated it, they hated any invaders more. China succeeded in uniting Vietnamese against the outside by proving that China was the same imperial bad boy it has been centuries earlier. After the Americans bled profusely, China was insane to think it could achieve anything there. It’s like a wanna-be tough guy watching a wiry little kid beat the snot out of some bully, and then he puffs up his chest and marches over to show the little kid who’s boss. Taking on a wiry little kid who just knocked out a guy bigger than you means you’re crazy.
China failed to learn the lesson that every other power has learned:
Do. Not. Invade. Vietnam.
Cambodia and the Chinese-Backed Khmer Rouge
China has never acknowledged or paid for its war crimes in knowingly supporting the genocide of Cambodians. It actively supported Pol Pot’s regime to the tune of billions in aid and weaponry, and knew the entire time what was happening. It knew there was a horrific genocide going on, and doubled down on its support for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. It took the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to save the Cambodian people from Pol Pot’s murderers and their Chinese supporters.
While China talks a good talk about forcing Japan to be honest, it has a serious problem with honesty itself.
For a good discussion on deliberate Chinese forgetfulness and dishonesty re its own rather dark crimes, this is a good discussion:
China Is Urged to Confront Its Own History
“The tour guide outside the bloodstained classrooms of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the high school in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh transformed into a prison and torture center by the Khmer Rouge, paused to ask whether any tourists in the group were from China. Visibly relieved when no hands were raised, he went on to describe the enabling role that Beijing played in the Khmer Rouge’s murderous rampage that claimed the lives of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians beginning in 1975.
Later, he explained why he asked whether there were Chinese among his audience. “They get very angry when I say it was because of China that Pol Pot was able to kill so many people,” he said with evident frustration. “They claim it’s not true, and then say ‘We are friends now. Do not talk about the past.’”
As China prepares to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a military parade in Beijing in September, the state news media has been hammering away at a central theme underpinning the government’s narrative about the suffering China endured under Japanese occupation: Tokyo must “face history,” goes the storyline and reaffirm its admitted wrongdoings. But China’s insistence that Japan face history is raising uncomfortable questions about Beijing’s own practice of suppressing historical truths about trespasses domestic and abroad.
Last week, People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, published a series of articles that accused the Japanese government of “whitewashing its wartime past” and warning that right-wing nationalists were plotting to return the country to its militaristic ways, potentially jeopardizing regional stability.
Premier Li Keqiang of China raised the issue during a televised news conference this month. “For leaders of a country, while inheriting the historical achievements made by their predecessors, they also need to shoulder the historical responsibilities for crimes committed by past generations,” he said.
Pivoting off such statements, a number of independent Chinese historians have tried to highlight the Communist Party’s role in the deaths of tens of millions during man-made famines and the political terror that marked its first decades in power — episodes that are erased from the nation’s official history.
“The Chinese government propagandizes the parts which it finds useful while ignoring aspects that could draw criticism,” said Zhang Lifan, a prominent historian who has sought to illuminate the party’s selective approach to its history, which is enforced through media censorship and book-publishing bans.
In recent months, the Japanese, too, have been calling on China to acknowledge its role in some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century.
Writing for the Japanese website JBpress, Kuni Miyake, a retired Japanese diplomat, castigated the Chinese government for mocking “the global standard of intellectual fairness” by refusing to accept accountability for the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s failed industrialization effort during the 1950s that some historians say led to the death of 45 million people by famine and other causes, as well as the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution that killed thousands and traumatized a generation.
“If China asks others not to whitewash the history of 80 years ago, Beijing should be able to also face the modern history of China in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and, of course, in 1989,” Mr. Miyake wrote, the last date a reference to the year Chinese troops gunned down unarmed civilians during the protests at Tiananmen Square. “So far, there are no history museums in China that face such history.”
In recent months, Beijing has repeatedly expressed consternation wi