Sino-Vietnamese conflicts 1979–90

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Sino-Vietnamese border conflicts
Part of Sino-Vietnam Wars
Date 1979–90
Location Sino-Vietnamese border
Result The conflict subsided without the outbreak of war. Normalization of relations between China and Vietnam.
China captures six reefs in the South China Sea
 China  Vietnam
Commanders and leaders

China Ye Jianying (1979–83)
China Li Xiannian (1983–88)
China Yang Shangkun (1988–90)
China Yang Dezhi

China Xu Shiyou

Vietnam Tôn Đức Thắng (1979–80)
Vietnam Nguyễn Hữu Thọ (1980–81)
Vietnam Trường Chinh (1981–87)
Vietnam Võ Chí Công (1987–90)

Vietnam Văn Tiến Dũng
Several interchanged corps Several interchanged divisions
Casualties and losses
Not clear Not clear

The Sino-Vietnamese conflicts of 1979–90 were a series of border clashes between the People's Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam following the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. These border clashes lasted from the end of the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 until 1990.

When the Chinese People's Liberation Army withdrew from Vietnam in March 1979 after the war, China announced that they were not ambitious for "any square inch of the territory of Vietnam".[1] In fact, Chinese troops occupied an area of 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi),[2] which was disputed land controlled by Vietnam before hostilities broke out. In some places such as the area around Friendship Gate in Lạng Sơn Province, Chinese troops occupied territories which have no military value but important symbolic value. Elsewhere, Chinese troops occupied the strategic positions of military importance as a springboard to attack Vietnam. These areas, arguably, have always been considered as part of China despite their actual control by Vietnam.[3]

The Chinese occupation of border territory angered Vietnam, and this ushered in a series of fights between the two sides to gain control of the area. Border conflicts between Vietnam and China continued until 1988, peaking in the years 1984–1985.[4] By the early 1990s, along with the withdrawal of Vietnam from Cambodia and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the relationship between the two countries gradually returned to normality.


Since 1979, there were at least six clashes on the Sino-Vietnamese border, in June 1980, May 1981, April 1983, April 1984, June 1985 and December 1986-January 1987. According to Western observers, all were initiated or provoked by the Chinese to serve their political objectives.[5]

1980: Shelling of Cao Bằng[edit]

Since early 1980, Vietnam conducted military operations in the dry season to sweep small Khmer Rouge forces over the Cambodian-Thai border so that they would not be in Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia. To put pressure on Vietnam to withdraw military forces from Cambodia, China created pressure on the Sino-Vietnamese border by deploying troops there. China conducted military training for some 5,000 anti-Laotian Hmong troops in Yunnan Province and used these force to attack Muong Sing in northwest Laos near the Sino-Laotian border.[6] Vietnam responded by increasing forces stationed at the Sino-Vietnamese border, and China no longer had the advantage of forces as it did in its campaign in February 1979.

In June 1980, the Vietnam People's Army crossed the Thai–Cambodian border into Thai territory during the pursuit of the defeated Khmer Rouge.[5] Despite rapid Vietnamese withdrawal from Thai territory, the Vietnamese incursion made China feel that it had to act to support its allies, Thailand and the Khmer Rouge. From June 28 to July 6, in addition to outspoken criticism of Vietnam in diplomatic announcements, the Chinese troops continuously shelled Cao Bằng Province northern Vietnam. The Chinese shellings did not aim at any strategic military target at all or create any substantial damage in Vietnam but were symbolic. Vietnam felt that the conduct of military operations on a larger scale was beyond Chinese capabilities, so Vietnam had a free hand to conduct military operations in Cambodia. However, Chinese shellings would shape the type of conflict on the Sino-Vietnamese border in the next 10 years.

1981: Battle of Mau Son[edit]

1984: Battle of Vi Xuyen[edit]

1988:Johnson South Reef Skirmish[edit]

On March 14, 1988, a naval battle was fought between Vietnam People's Navy and People's Liberation Army Navy at the Spratly Islands. The battle resulted in the death of 64 Vietnamese soldiers and since then China has controlled the Johnson South Reef of the Spratly Islands.


  1. ^ Nayan Chanda, "End of the Battle but Not of the War", Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 March 1979, p10. Chanda quoted Chinese officials on announcement of retreat on 5 March 1979
  2. ^ Edward C. O’Dowd, p 91
  3. ^ François Joyaux, p 242
  4. ^ François Joyaux, p242
  5. ^ a b Carlyle A. Thayer, Security Issues in Southeast Asia: The Third Indochina War
  6. ^ John McBeth, "Squeezing the Vietnamese", Far Eastern Economic Review, 19 Dec 1980, p9