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» » » China-Vietnam Border War, 30 Years Later

MEMORY - Vietnamese artillery pounds away at advancing Chinese troops on Feb. 23, 1979, six days after Beijing launched a massive and costly invasion of Vietnam's northern provinces. The brief but bloody episode, today known as the Third Indochina War, claimed tens of thousands of lives in the space of less than a month.


The Decider

Communist China aided Vietnam in its wars against both French and American occupiers, but Hanoi later established solid ties with the Soviet Union, Beijing's rival. After Vietnam launched incursions into China-friendly Cambodia and occupied it, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping declared he wanted to teach the Vietnamese "a lesson."


Resistance, Inc.

Cadres of Vietnam's ruling Communist party mass in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, on Feb. 19, 1979, in a sign of defiance against Chinese aggression.


Walking Dead

Chinese militiamen mustered from Jiangxi county in China's Guangxi province line up in teams of stretcher bearers bound to support the ground campaign across the 1,400 km border between China and Vietnam. It's estimated that as many as 4,000 Chinese soldiers died in the first two days of combat alone.


Caught Red-handed

Vietnamese troops watch over detained Chinese soldiers on Feb. 26, 1979. Seasoned by decades of guerrilla war and equipped with the latest Soviet technology, the Vietnamese proved too strong for China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), whose strategy still revolved around deploying "human waves" of ragtag soldiers, a tactic used nearly three decades before during the Korean War.


On the Road

Vietnamese refugees flee approaching Chinese forces in the strategic border province of Lang Son. On March 5, a day after the PLA occupied the province's capital, Beijing announced a full withdrawal.


Bridge to Nowhere

Following the Chinese retreat, Vietnamese in Lang Son province ford the Ky Cuong River on makeshift pontoon rafts, as the existing bridge sits collapsed. Though Hanoi and Beijing both claimed victory, the war was a chastening experience for all involved.


Tomb of the Unmourned Soldier

A "martyr's cemetery" in China's southern Yunnan province. Though casualty figures remain unclear, estimates suggest at least 20,000 Chinese soldiers died, while Vietnamese dead number under ten thousand. State media on both sides have remained quiet on the 30th anniversary of the war. While tensions flared over border disputes in the subsequent years, the Communist neighbors, linked by centuries of history, have buried the hatchet and now enjoy significant economic ties.


Source: Time Magazine.
Photo courtesy: ZENTRALBILD / AFP / GETTY IMAGES/ BETTMANN / CORBIS.

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