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H-Diplo Article Reviews http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/ Published on 29 September 2010 H-Diplo Article Review Editors: Diane Labrosse and Tom Maddux H-Diplo Web and Production Editor: John Vurpillat Commissioned for H-Diplo by Tom Maddux Nicholas Khoo."Breaking the Ring of Encirclement: The Sino-Soviet Rift and Chinese Policy toward Vietnam, 1964-1968." _Journal of Cold War Studies_ 12:1 (Winter 2009-2010): 3-42. URL: http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/PDF/AR274.pdf Reviewed for H-Diplo by Jeremy Friedman, Princeton University Nicholas Khoo's article on the role of the Sino-Soviet rift in the relations of each of the two Communist powers with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) during the early years of major American involvement has an unmistakably clear purpose: to prove that the People's Republic of China (PRC) put its clash with the Soviet Union above all else and that this, more than anything, was the root of the demise of the Sino-Vietnamese alliance. Khoo is admirably upfront about the purpose of the article and he gives the reader a clear picture of what lies ahead and how the success or failure of the argument should be judged. In doing so, he makes good use of a lot of the recently published literature in related areas, particularly Sino-Soviet relations, as well some published Chinese document collections. The article does not introduce new archival material, which is especially unfortunate given the availability of many documents on Sino-Soviet and Sino-Vietnamese relations through 1965 in the Chinese Foreign Ministry Archive. As such, the article is clearly oriented towards providing a more rigorous analytical framework for the material that has been introduced into the field by others in recent years. Unfortunately, while the attempt at analytical rigor and rhetorical clarity is certainly welcome, it does not appear that the article succeeds either in setting up a clear contrast with others in the field, or in convincingly demonstrating the primacy of the Soviet element in the Sino-Vietnamese relationship. Khoo states early on that the goal of the article is to demonstrate that "the Sino-Soviet rift in 1964-1968 was the fundamental cause of cracks in the Sino-Vietnamese alliance..." (5) This is supposed to be in contrast to the existing historiography which, he says, has made great empirical contributions but lacks theoretical rigor. However, he seems to present two different diagnoses of the theoretical problem he is attempting to resolve. First he asserts that his argument, based on an interpretation of Chinese foreign policy that focuses on the notion of "primary adversaries" is "superior to explanations that focus only on bilateral relations between Beijing and Hanoi." (7) He then goes on, though, to discuss recent works by Chen Jian and Qiang Zhai which either do "not deal clearly with theoretical questions" (Chen) or in which "factors at all levels appear to be of approximately equal importance" (Qiang).1 (8) No authors who have put forth what Khoo labels as the "bilateral thesis" are ever mentioned by name. (38) Consequently, one must take Khoo's argument to be that the overriding consideration of Chinese foreign policy during this period was the conflict with whomever the Chinese leadership deemed to be its "primary adversary" and any other alternative explanation for the course of Sino- Vietnamese relations -- whether related to bilateral issues, domestic Chinese or Vietnamese considerations, or a combination of several factors -- provides an inferior explanatory framework. The substance of the argument seems to come down to timing. The new Soviet leadership, following the removal of Nikita Khrushchev in October 1964, first sought to mend fences with Beijing and, when that did not work, it began to increase its aid to Hanoi pursuing what Khoo labels an "aid as a wedge" strategy. (19) This strategy worked, as Chinese leaders pushed the North Vietnamese to reject Soviet aid, something they were unwilling to do given its crucial role in the war against Saigon and the Americans. Tension consequently arose in the Beijing-Hanoi relationship, exacerbated by Beijing's continual refusal to work out a joint aid program with the Soviets and Hanoi's decision to pursue a more aggressive strategy than China's preferred approach of "people's war."At the end of the article, Khoo adds a short section on Sino-Vietnamese disputes over Laos, arguing once again that the timing of the spat, namely after problems arose between the two over Soviet aid, proves that China's concern was not Laos or Vietnam per se, but the extent of Soviet influence in both. This narrative is very familiar to scholars in the field and there is little new that is introduced to make the thesis compelling. It is certainly the case that Soviet aid increased rapidly in late 1964 and 1965 and that, given the rift between Moscow and Beijing, this had an adverse effect on Sino-Vietnamese relations. But there were many other sources of tension, which other scholars have noted, and which Khoo fails to eliminate as his argument would seem to require. The increase in Soviet aid dovetailed with American escalation in the wake of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which changed Hanoi's needs and pushed them into a different strategy from that of "people's war." Strategic differences between Hanoi and Beijing were consequently very significant, as Khoo himself implies in his discussion of China's disapproval of both the Tet Offensive and the decision to enter the Paris negotiations. Given that the timeline of American escalation is similar to that described in the article, it seems to be a perfectly adequate explanation. Khoo quotes a number of conversations between Chinese and North Vietnamese leaders in which the differences over Soviet aid are explicit, conversations well-known to other authors in the field, but there are also citations available, many from the same conversations, which point to other differences, over both domestic and foreign policy. One major issue which Khoo does not discuss is the decrease in Chinese aid after 1968. Tension arose in the Beijing-Hanoi relationship after the advent of large-scale Soviet aid, but Chinese aid did not begin to diminish until 1968. This fact seems to require a different explanation. Was it the Tet Offensive? The Paris peace talks? Or perhaps was there a connection to Chinese domestic politics and the course of the Cultural Revolution that changed Mao's priorities? The discussion of the deterioration of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship would seem to be incomplete without addressing this issue. Finally, on the issue of Laos, Khoo demonstrates that the mere existence of strong North Vietnamese influence in Laos was not by itself a problem for Beijing. However, that merely proves that Laos was not the source of the problems in the bilateral relationship, but it does not demonstrate definitively what was. In short, there is nothing here that proves conclusively that the Sino-Soviet rift was "the fundamental cause" of the deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations, only that it was one of the major contributing factors, as Chen, Qiang, and others have written. In general, while Khoo's use of published sources on the whole is rather good, there are a couple of points where other sources would have been very helpful. In particular, Lien Hang Nguyen's article on the North Vietnamese Politburo and the Tet Offensive, as well as her dissertation on the Vietnam War in its international context, both of which employ North Vietnamese documents, would have been an invaluable addition to the article.2 Khoo writes that "Less evidence is available about DRV leaders' sentiments toward the PRC," (30) and Nguyen's work is the most important recent contribution on the subject. In particular, she writes in detail about the attempt to manage both Chinese and Soviet reactions to the Tet Offensive, which Khoo discusses in his article. The article could have benefited as well from greater use of Soviet sources, especially familiarity with archival material, much of which provides a window into Soviet analysis of the Sino- Vietnamese relationship. The use of these sources would have broadened the view of events from the perspectives of Moscow and Hanoi, and the additional information on the motivations of political actors in those capitals would shed light on the forces which separated Beijing and Hanoi. Khoo's article is a useful summary of the current literature on the crucial period from 1964-1968 on the Communist side of the Vietnam War, but it does not succeed in significantly altering the theoretical landscape of the issues at hand. Instead, it appears that many other factors need to be considered when evaluating Sino-Vietnamese relations including, first and foremost, various considerations of domestic policy in both Beijing and Hanoi such as the power struggle within the leadership and Cultural Revolution in the former and divisions over military and political strategy vis-a-vis the South in the latter. It is possible that further archival access will shed light on these issues but it is also conceivable that issues such as American escalation and Soviet aid, or the Cultural Revolution and the removal of Chinese troops, are fundamentally impossible to disentangle. Notes 1 See Chen Jian, _Mao's China and the Cold War_ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) and Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). 2 See Lien-Hang Nguyen, "The War Politburo: North Vietnam's Diplomatic and Political Road to the Tet Offensive," _Journal of Vietnamese Studies_ Vol.1 Nos. 1-2, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) and Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, _"Between the Storms": North Vietnam's Strategy during the Second Indochina War (1955-1973)_, (Yale University: Unpublished Diss., 2008). Jeremy Friedman graduated from Stanford University in 2004 with a B.A. in history and philosophy and he is currently completing his PhD at Princeton University with a dissertation project entitled "Reviving Revolution: the Sino-Soviet Split, the 'Third World,' and the Fate of the Left. He recently published an article in the journal _Cold War History_ entitled "Soviet Policy in the Developing World and the Chinese Challenge in the 1960s". Copyright C 2010 H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for non- profit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author(s), web location, date of publication, H-Diplo, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses, contact the H- Diplo editorial staff at email@example.com.