This skillful study shows that, in several ways, China’s brief, ill-fated invasion of Vietnam in 1979 was more significant than scholars have generally understood. It was the prelude to over a decade of low-level military conflict that lasted until 1991, sapping Vietnam’s ability to dominate Cambodia and Thailand. It positioned China firmly in the U.S. camp in the Cold War, cutting off Moscow’s opportunity to make itself a Southeast Asian power. Especially valuable is the book’s detailed account of the Chinese military’s logistical weaknesses, tactical errors, and command incompetence during the invasion. This poor performance enabled Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to unite the Chinese Communist Party around his strategy of economic development first and military modernization second, with the latter to include streamlining and a shift away from traditional close-combat ground warfare tactics and toward higher-tech combined-arms operations. The month-long initial incursion also did great damage to Vietnam, which the Vietnamese have not forgotten. Chinese-Vietnamese relations may warm and cool, but this book reminds readers of the reasons why fundamental distrust persists on both sides.
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