East Asia 1979: Sino-Vietnamese War
Mao Zedong's death in 1976 led to a two-year power struggle for leadership of China. Meanwhile, Soviet-allied North Vietnam annexed South Vietnam and, in late 1978, invaded Chinese-backed Cambodia. China responded in early 1979 with an attack on Vietnam. After a month of brutal but inconclusive warfare, the Chinese withdrew.
13 Dec 1974–30 Apr 1975 Spring Offensive▲
North Vietnam launched probing attacks into South Vietnam, capturing Phước Long by early January 1975. With it now clear that there would be no US intervention, the North Vietnamese invaded the Central Highlands in March, decisively defeating the South Vietnamese at Ban Me Thuot. On 30 April, the People’s Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong forces entered Saigon, bringing the war in Vietnam to an end.
2 Dec 1975 Fall of Vientiane▲
Over May and June 1975, Pathēt Lao forces gained control of much of Kingdom of Laos, facing minimal resistance. On 2 December they captured Vientiane, capital of Laos, forcing the abdication of King Savang Vatthana and leading to the declaration of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
9 Sep 1976 Death of Mao Zedong▲
After suffering two major heart attacks in March and July 1976, Mao Zedong, Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, was hit by a third attack on 5 September, rendering him an invalid. He died almost four days later at ten minutes past midnight on 9 September 1976, aged 82. The Communist Party of China kept his death secret until 4:00pm that day, when it released the news in a nationwide radio broadcast.
6 Oct 1976 Fall of the Gang of Four▲
The Gang of Four—four powerful Chinese Communist Party officials led by Mao Zedong’s last wife Jiang Qing—and a number of their associates were arrested by Chinese authorities, less than one month after Mao’s death. The four were labeled counter-revolutionary forces and blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Their arrest triggered major celebrations across China.
22 Jul 1977–10 Sep 1980 Rise of Deng Xiaoping▲
Hua Guofeng, Mao Zedong’s successor as Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, restored denounced reformist Deng Xiaoping to his posts in the Chinese government as part of an effort to rid the Communist Party of extremists. However, Deng soon outmaneuvered Hua to become the most powerful figure in China, forcing Hua to step down as premier in 1980 and chairman the following year. Deng would proceed to improve China’s foreign relations and adopt a series of economic reforms which would help modernize the country.
25 Dec 1978–7 Jan 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia▲
Following repeated border clashes, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Khmer Rouge-ruled Democratic Kampuchea (modern Cambodia). The 150,000-strong Vietnamese force quickly defeated the Chinese-armed Kampuchean Revolutionary Army and, on 7 January 1979, occupied the capital of Phnom Penh. With the Khmer Rouge leadership forced to flee to neighboring Thailand, the Vietnamese backed the creation of a new state in Cambodia—the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.
17 Feb–16 Mar 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War▲
In response to the Vietnamese occupation of Chinese-backed Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China invaded northern Vietnam, capturing a number of cities near the border. On 6 March, the Chinese declared their punitive mission had been accomplished and withdrew their troops. Both sides would claim victory, however, and small-scale border clashes would continue until 1990.