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Vietnam-war-era friends poster
In the mid 1960s, the Chinese government supported the Communist insurgents in Vietnam, Cambodia Burma and Laos. Since the 1990s it has signed peaceful cooperation accords with several Southeast Asian countries and has held regular meetings with representatives of these countries. Chinese leaders regularly visit countries in Southeast Asia, welcome their leaders and attend regional meetings such as those hosted by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Southeast Asians have become increasingly aware that their future is closely tied with China. Schools and language institutes in Southeast Asia gave began offering more Mandarin classes. Airlines offer flights to places like Chengdu and Chonqing as well as Beijing and Shanghai. Research institutes and scholarships have been established with China.

China, Japan and South Korea participate in ASEAN meetings although they are not members. ASEAN Plus Three refers to meetings involving the ASEAN countries plus South Korea, China and Japan. It is the closest thing there is to an Asia-wide organization.

Ties between the ASEAN nations and China have improved dramatically since China has been seeking better, more stable relations with the world as a whole. China is not a member of ASEAN but its sends representatives to their meetings. In 2002, China signed an agreement with ASEAN to exercise self-restraint in the Spratly Islands.

China has come to dominate ASEAN meetings even thought it is not a member. Many worry that China will gain too much influence and begin calling the shots for ASEAN. The United States is suspicious of the ASEAN Plus Three format because it seems aimed at uniting Asia at the expense of the United States.

In June 2003, China agreed to sign a friendship pact with the nations of Southeast Asia in part to address fears that China is a military and economic threat to Southeast Asia. China has also worked to settle disputed between Cambodia and Thailand and coaxed Burma to be open up.

Southeast Asia and Economics and China

A number of Japanese and American companies have cut their production facilities in Southeast Asia and shifted jobs to China. To remain competitive Southeast Asian country either have offer labor costs lower than those in China as Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia have done or make more value-added products as Malaysia and Thailand are trying to do.

China has proposed establishing a huge free trade zone with Southeast Asia by 2010. Many of the Southeast Asian nation are suspicious of this proposal because they feel it will ultimately serve China’s interests better than their own.

Some economist predict that Southeast Asia will become known primarily as a supplier of food and raw materials to China with their manufacturing sector ultimately being undermined by Chinese factories and cheap labor.

See China and the Asian Economy, Under Asia and China

Vietnam and China

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Vietnam-War-Era Friends stamp
Even though Vietnamese culture has been greatly influenced by China and China helped Vietnam in their fight against the United States in the 1960s, China and Vietnam have traditionally been enemies. See Vietnamese History.

The Chinese were always been afraid that the Soviet Union would use Vietnam and Laos to harass China from the south. These fears were eased when Vietnam left Cambodia in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It is ironic that the Vietnam War was fought in part to contain China because today the Vietnamese want the Americans to contain China.

Vietnam and China fought a fierce one month war in 1979 after 250,000 ethnic Chinese in Vietnam fled persecution and Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ousted the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge. China invaded to "teach the Vietnamese a lesson." The war was an embarrassment for China's People's Liberation Army who were thoroughly trounced and suffered as many as 20,000 casualties in two weeks of fierce fighting.

Before, during and after the 1979 Vietnamese-Chinese border war, there was an anti-Chinese pogrom in Vietnam, forcing many of the country's most talented entrepreneurs” who were ethnic Chinese---to flee Vietnam. country. In 1979 some 300,000 boat people fled Vietnam. Many of them were persecuted ethnic Chinese who sailed to Hong Kong. Many ethnic Chinese that fled Vietnam now reside in Kunming in southern China.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ties between China and Vietnam have improved. Vietnam and China normalized diplomatic ties in 1991. Trade between the two countries is booming and Vietnamese leaders of China have visited China and Chinese leaders have visited Vietnam. Trade between Vietnam and China reached $2 billion in 2000. China has helped renovate the rail line between Vietnam and China.

China and Vietnam Relations in the 1970s and 80s

China's relations with Vietnam began to deteriorate seriously in the mid-1970s. After Vietnam joined the Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Cooperation (Comecon) and signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1978, China branded Vietnam the "Cuba of the East" and called the treaty a military alliance. Incidents along the Sino-Vietnamese border increased in frequency and violence. In December 1978 Vietnam invaded Cambodia, quickly ousted the pro-Beijing Pol Pot regime, and overran the country. In February 1979 China attacked along virtually the entire Sino-Vietnamese border in a brief, limited campaign that involved ground forces only. In March Beijing declared its "lesson" finished and withdrew all its troops. [Source: Library of Congress]

“After the war, both China and Vietnam reorganized their border defenses. The border war strengthened Soviet-Vietnamese relations. The Soviet military role in Vietnam increased during the 1980s as the Soviets provided arms to Vietnam; moreover, Soviet ships enjoyed access to the harbors at Danang and Cam Ranh Bay, and Soviet reconnaissance aircraft operated out of Vietnamese airfields. Low-level conflict continued along the Sino-Vietnamese border as each side conducted artillery shelling and probed to gain high spots in the mountainous border terrain. Border incidents increased in intensity during the rainy season, when Beijing attempted to ease Vietnamese pressure against Cambodian resistance fighters. In 1986 China deployed twenty-five to twenty-eight divisions and Vietnam thirty-two divisions along their common border. Nevertheless, most observers doubted that China would risk another war with Vietnam in the near future. [Ibid]

Deng and the War Between China and Vietnam in 1979

Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books: China’s war on Vietnam in 1979 is seen by Harvard historian Ezra Vogel and Henry Kissinger as Deng’s resolute action to thwart Vietnamese plans to encircle China in alliance with the USSR, invade Thailand, and establish Hanoi’s domination over South-East Asia. The effort was not popular with many of of Deng’s colleagues and was previewed by Deng’s tour of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore to ensure diplomatic cover for the attack he was planning, from the war itself, and Deng’s far more important tour of the United States two months later. Deng launched the war just five days after getting back from Washington with the US placet in his pocket. [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]

Lee Kuan Yew, an ardent supporter of the war, has told the world: “I believe it changed the history of East Asia.” Kissinger has suggested that China’s war on Vietnam was a vital blow against the Soviet Union and a stepping-stone to victory in the Cold War. Kissinger said Deng’s masterstroke required US “moral support”. “We could not collude formally with the Chinese in sponsoring what was tantamount to overt military aggression,” Brzezinski explained. Kissinger’s said: “Informal collusion was another matter.”

Militarily, the war was a fiasco. Deng threw 11 Chinese armies or 450,000 troops, the size of the force that routed the US on the Yalu in 1950, against Vietnam, a country with a population a twentieth that of China. As the chief military historian of the campaign, Edward O’Dowd, has noted, “in the Korean War a similar-sized PLA force had moved further in 24 hours against a larger defending force than it moved in two weeks against fewer Vietnamese.” So disastrous was the Chinese performance that all Deng’s wartime pep talks were expunged from his collected works, the commander of the air force excised any reference to the campaign from his memoirs, and it became effectively a taboo topic thereafter. [Ibid]

“Politically, as an attempt to force Vietnam out of Cambodia and restore Pol Pot to power, it was a complete failure. Deng, who regretted not having persisted with his onslaught on Vietnam, despite the thrashing his troops had endured, tried to save face by funnelling arms to Pol Pot through successive Thai military dictators. Deng continually berated his American interlocutors for insufficient hostility to Moscow, warning them that Vietnam wasn’t just “another Cuba”: it was planning to conquer Thailand, and open the gates of South-East Asia to the Red Army. [Ibid]

“The stridency of his fulminations against the Soviet menace rang like an Oriental version of the paranoia of the John Birch Society. Whether he actually believed what he was saying is less clear than its intended effect. He wanted to convince Washington that there could be no stauncher ally in the Cold War than the PRC under his command. Mao had seen his entente with Nixon as another Stalin-Hitler Pact --- in the formulation of one of his generals --- with Kissinger featuring as Ribbentrop: a tactical deal with one enemy to ward off dangers from another. Deng, however, sought more than this. His aim was strategic acceptance within the American imperial system, to gain access to the technology and capital needed for his drive to modernise the Chinese economy. This was the true, unspoken rationale for his assault on Vietnam. The US was still smarting from its defeat in Indochina. What better way of gaining its trust than offering it vengeance by proxy? The war misfired, but it bought something more valuable to Deng than the 60,000 lives it cost --- China’s entry ticket to the world capitalist order, in which it would go on to flourish. [Ibid]

Myanmar and China

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Vietnam-War-Era Friends stamp
Some view Myanmar and North Korea as satellites of China and parts of its outer empire. Myanmar serves as a buffer between China and India. China covets Myanmar’s natural gas and its access to the India Ocean.In the past couple decades China had emerged as Myanmar "closets friend, protector and trading partner." The top general in Myanmar has visited China to sign a $250 million soft loan package. Newly-acquired Chinese weapons have helped the Myanmar regime crush Karen rebels.

In January 2007, China blocked a resolution by the United States to seeking improved human rights in Myanmar. China has not been critical of the Myanmar’s regime and its human rights policies as other countries have been. In December 2001, Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Myanmar and said it “must be allowed to choose its own development path suited for its own conditions.

China would like to gain access through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean. It is helping the Myanmar regime build a new naval installation with access to the Indian Ocean and is financing the construction of roads in Mynammr that will connect China with these facilities. Some people are worried that Beijing has plans to take over Burma and turn into a satellite province like Tibet.

“While Western nations slammed Myanmar's election in 2010 as a sham, China has shown no such concerns. Hu offered his "warm congratulations" to Thein Sein for his appointment as president after the elections, which Myanmar lauded as the culmination of efforts to return the country to civilian rule. [Source: Reuters, May 27, 2011]

“Diplomatically, China provides Myanmar with crucial cover at the United Nations, fending off calls for tougher action demanded by the West on Myanmar's poor human rights record. For its part, Myanmar gives China access to the Indian Ocean, not only for imports of oil and gas and exports from landlocked southwestern Chinese provinces, but also potentially for military bases or listening posts. In October, China's state energy group CNPC started building a crude oil port in Myanmar, part of a pipeline project aimed at cutting out the long detour oil cargoes take through the congested and strategically vulnerable Malacca Strait.” [Ibid]

But relations have not all been smooth. China has frequently expressed its concern at instability along their often mountainous and remote border, where rebel groups deeply involved in the narcotics trade have been fighting Myanmar's central government for decades. In August 2009, 30,000 refugees from Myanmar crossed the border to China to flee fighting in Myanmar’s northern Kokang region between rebels and government troops, promoting an unusually public show of anger from Beijing towards its poor southern neighbour, Many of the refugees had ties with the Kokang militia, an ethnic Chinese rebel group in the Shan state. In April 2010, four Chinese workers died during bomb blasts at a dam construction site in northern Burma’s Kachin state.

After the crackdown on protestors in Myanmar in 2007 China called for the government to democratize and supported a United Nations Security Council statement that criticized the Myanmar regime and called for them to meet with a United Nations envoy but opposed tough action against Mynamer.

See Immigrants.

There are many Chinese in Mandalay and many Burmese there don’t like them. Many people from Myanmar live in Ruili. Merchants form both China and Myanmar have made a fortune from the trade between the two countries.

see Trade with China, Burma Road , Military

Trade, Foreign Aid, China and China and Myanmar

In May 2011, Reuters reported, Myanmar and China sealed their friendship with loan and credit line agreements worth more than $765 million."China is a friendly neighbour of Myanmar's worthy of trust and has provided vigorous support and selfless help for Myanmar's economic development," Myanmar's new civilian president, Thein Sein, told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, state television reported.Wen said China was willing to provide what help it can to help Myanmar's development and ensure the "smooth progress" of oil and gas pipelines being built across Myanmar into southwestern China, seen as crucial to China's energy security.” [Source: Reuters, May 27, 2011]

Thein Sein and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed nine agreements, including a cooperation framework agreement for a 540 million euro line of credit from China Development Bank to Myanmar's Ministry of Taxation and Finance. Other loan deals were agreed between various Chinese and Myanmar ministries, while another covered a hydroelectric project.”

“Bilateral trade between China and Myanmar rose more than half last year to $4.4 billion, and China's investment in Myanmar reached $12.3 billion in 2010, according to Chinese figures, with a strong focus on natural resources and energy projects. Xinhua said China's largest privately owned automaker, Chery Automobile, was planning a car plant in Myanmar with annual capacity of up to 5,000 of its compact QQ model. The news agency did not say when the factory may begin production.” [Ibid]

The lucrative trade between China and Burma is centered in the Chinese border towns of Ruili and Wanding, where consumer goods from China and jade and heroin from Burma are sold and hundreds of thousands of Chinese gamblers have sought therr fortune. The border towns are filled with karaokes, casinos and bars patronized by Chinese. Burmese and minorities such as the Wa are getting rich through the trade.

China is counting on a crude oil pipeline across Myanmar that will carry oil from the Indian Ocean to China’s landlocked, impoverished southwest. China outbid India to gain access to oil and gas fields off Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal and is now beginning to work on a $5.6 billion venture to exploit offshore gas fields and build a 1,000-kilometers pipeline from the fields to Yunnan Province. There are plans for e second pipeline from the Myanmar coast that would carry oil from Middle East and African tankers to China, allowing the tankers to skip the treacherous journey through the Straits of Malacca.

Myanmar Immigrants in China

Myanmar has become a supplier of day laborers in southwest China as well a source of women and children for marriage, adoption and forced labor. Ground zero for this activity is Ruili, a border town in Yunnan Province that is separated from Myanmar by a flimsy six-foot-high fence that is routinely scaled by Burmese while Chinese border guards look on and taxis wait to take them to their destinations. In the middle of all this are some Burmese babies that are taken to China to be sold and Chinese women headed to the Southeast Asia the sex trade.

Kathleen Speake, a chief technical advisor for the United Nations International Labor Office, told the Washington Post. “Some of the Yunnan women and girls think they’ll get a better job in Thailand.” As for the Burmese, she said, “We’re looking at children being trafficked for adoption, and women being trafficked for marriage.”

Kirsten di Martini, a Beijing-based project officer with UNICEF, told the Washington Post, “China is very big and has a lot of border. In the villages bordering Myanmar, there are some people working as matchmakers. And some of them are human traffickers. It’s hard to tell who are the matchmakers and who are the traffickers.”

One Chinese matchmaker in Ruili told the Washington Post that economics was behind the trade. She said that the cost for a Chinese bride was around $7,000 while the price for a Burmese one was just under $3,000, including the matchmaker’s $440 fee.

A pharmacist who comes in contact with many Burmese women who seek car sickness medicine for long car ride with their new Chinese husbands has difficulty telling which ones come voluntarily to marry Chinese men and which ones come against their will but said, “For a woman 25 to 30 years, they come voluntarily. For those 25 and younger. It’s hard t tell if the come voluntarily or were forced...They are forced by their economic situation at home. They have no other choice.” The pharmacist said her personally knew of one trafficker who was trying to sell an eight-year-old girl after already selling her mother.

Image Sources: Landsberger Posters; Asia Obscura

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2012

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