Work in Progress: "The Vietnam-Soviet Union-China Triangle Relations during the Vietnam War (1964-1973) from Vietnamese Sources" with Pham Quang Minh
On February 20, 2009 Dr. Pham Quang Minh, the dean of the Department of International Studies at Vietnam National University in Hanoi, discussed the evolution of the triangular relationships between Vietnam, the USSR, and China from the Geneva Accords in 1954 through the end of the Vietnam War in 1973. Following his presentation, Bernd Schaefer, senior scholar at the Cold War International History Project and former research fellow at the German Historical Institute, commented on the triangular relationship and its meaning for Vietnam.
Making use of secondary literature as well as access to Vietnamese archival sources, Minh discussed how the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China used the Vietnam War as a strategic tool to maintain and expand their power and influence. The Soviets believed involvement in Vietnam would assert their position of leadership in the communist movement, project their power as mightier than that of China, and help Vietnam in its communist experiment. Yet the Soviets did not want actions towards Vietnam to come at the expense of the process of détente. Chinese relations with Vietnam were motivated by a desire to weaken the USSR and the United States, prevent the expansion of Soviet-American rapprochement, and avoid a larger war.
From 1954-1956, Minh argued, the Soviets and the Chinese shared objectives in Vietnam. They played an important role in reaching a settlement in the First Indochina War and they aided in the construction of Vietnamese socialism. After Khrushchev denounced Stalin in 1956, Chinese priorities diverged from those of the Soviets. Vietnam continued to receive aid from both countries, but felt increasingly pressured to choose a side. In 1963, under pressure from the Chinese leadership, Vietnam criticized the Soviet Union and Soviet "modern revisionism." In response, the USSR threatened to change the Vietnamese leadership and to cut off assistance, Minh suggested citing Vietnamese sources. When Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev in 1964, relations between North Vietnam and the USSR became friendly again and assistance continued—this time with less involvement in the internal affairs of Vietnam.
Yet even as Soviet-DRV relations improved, China-Soviet relations continued to influence the level of aid in Vietnam. Minh suggested that animosity between the two communist superpowers affected their cooperation on Vietnamese matters throughout the 1960s. Beijing strongly disproved of the Soviet suggestion that Hanoi reach a negotiated settlement with the US on the war. For its part, Moscow distrusted the close relationship between the DRV and the PRC leaderships. Ultimately, however, both countries knew it was in their interest for the DRV to come out victorious, and continued to provide assistance to Hanoi.
Nixon's 1972 visits to Beijing and Moscow were viewed in Hanoi as a betrayal, Minh argued. The Vietnamese leadership had pushed hard to make sure that both its allies would snub the Americans until a settlement was reached, Vietnamese archival sources show, but to no avail.
Bernd Schaefer commented on the frequency of Vietnamese challenges to Moscow and Beijing. He argued that post-Khrushchev, Vietnam was able to take advantage of the disharmony between the USSR and China to obtain more assistance as each superpower wanted to increase its influence with the other communist countries. The Sino-Soviet split Schaefer argued, allowed Vietnam to not only receive higher levels of assistance, but have more freedom in determining how it was used.
Drafted by Melissa Smith and Mircea Munteanu
Christian Ostermann, Director, HAPP/WES