Question: Why did the Vietnamese traditionally view China as a threat? Do they still?
Answer: Yes, I should admit that the Vietnamese still views China as its traditional threat for some reasons as follows:
Firstly , Some said that The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there and I agree with this view. However, the past will impact or shape our current view in one way or another way just as our experiences. So, It is not weird that Vietnam traditionally views China as a threat because China has invaded Vietnam over ten times with a thousand of years of being occupied by China since the ancient period of Vietnam.
According to the myth story of the Heavenly King of Phù Đổng, the First Chinese invasion war of Vietnam happened in the 6th Hung Kings of the Hong Bang Dynasty against the Chinese Shang Dynasty.
In the 6th generation of King Hùng, there was a rich man in Phù Đổng village, Vũ Ninh division, who gave birth to a son. The child was three years old but couldn’t talk or laugh. At the time, there was an emergency in the country, the king ordered to find someone who can defeat the enemy. That day, the child suddenly spoke, told his mother to invite the emissary in, and said: “ I want a sword and a horse, the king doesn’t need to worry ” The little child rode his horse in the front, the soldiers followed behind. They defeated the enemy at Vũ Ninh mountain. The enemy called the child general from heaven and came to surrender. The child rode his horse into the sky and went away. The king ordered to renovate his house into a temple and worshiped him
According to the classic history of Vietnam, the resistance war of Vietnam against the Chinese Qin invasion forces under the Thuc Dynasty 258–180 BC could be seen as the first clash between two nations.
During the entire history of Vietnam to today, the Vietnamese have failed to defend their country four times before the Chinese Empire which led to the four periods of being under Chinese brutal rule.
In 180 BC , The Chinese Nanyue state invaded the second Vietnamese ancient state - Au Lac and marked the first Chinese domination of Vietnam 180BC-40AD
In 43AD , The Chinese Han Dynasty invaded Vietnam again and defeated the Trung sister’s rulers of Vietnam, also marked the second era of the Chinese domination 43–544AD
In 602 AD , The Chinese Sui Dynasty invaded the Vietnamese third state - Van Xuan, and started the third era of the Chinese domination 602–938AD
In 1407 , the Chinese Ming dynasty invaded Vietnam and opened the last and fourth era of the Chinese domination of Vietnam 1407–1428.
Countless Chinese invasion wars and conflicts , together with the brutal Chinese rule against Vietnam has shaped the Vietnamese view about their Nothern Neighbors - China for centuries which explains partly why Vietnam today still view China as its threat or has an unfavorable view of China.
Secondly , As all you know that the third Indochina wars between Vietnam and the coalition of China - the Cambodian Khmer Rouge have caused damage much to Vietnam because it happened from 1975–1991 just after the end of another long war - the Vietnam war. China together with the Khmer Rouge intended to invade Vietnam and both caused countless atrocities against the Vietnamese civilians such as:
Ba Chuc massacre against the Vietnamese civilians committed by the China-backed Khmer Rouge in 1978.
Tong Chup massacre against the Vietnamese civilians committed by China in 1979
For most of the Vietnamese at that time, China was not different much from the Khmer Rouge, all of the places where the Chinese PLA and the Khmer Rouge have gone through and left killings, destructions and pain. So, for many people, the horrible crime of the Chinese PLA and Communist China could not be erased or faded away which also remind Vietnam of other painful historical page relating to the Chinese crime during the fourth Chinese domination of Vietnam 1407–1428 and also the Chinese Qing Short occupation of Northern Vietnam in 1789.
Thirdly , The Chinese claim on the South China Sea is threatening the national integrity of the Vietnamese nation and also the future of Vietnam which prevents any possible chance for Vietnam to stop thinking of China as its threat.
Also, every year, China has often caused tensions on the South China Sea with Vietnam through systematic strategies such as attacking Vietnamese fisher boats, sinking the Vietnamese vessels, preventing normal maritime activities of Vietnam, even other countries in South China which cause the risk of geo-politics and confrontation if a party make mistakes
In conclusion: For What I have said above, I think that Vietnam still views China as its threat. However, Vietnam will try to pursue peace and restrain its actions to avoid escalating the tension in the region, especially with China, also co-operation with China in the concerned fields, and hope that China should restrain its greed ad respect the international laws.