What If? (China invades Vietnam edition)

The picture at right is a map of an alleged Chinese plan to invade Vietnam, published by the South China Morning Post (hat tip: Coming Anarchy).

Vietnam has formally protested to China over so-called “invasion plans” appearing on mainland websites that purport to detail the complete military occupation of the country by China.

Hanoi has twice summoned senior Chinese diplomats to voice its concerns over the material which, while unsourced and apparently unofficial, has alarmed diplomatic and military elites in the Vietnamese capital after appearing repeatedly over the past month.

The supposed plans detail a 31-day invasion, starting with five days of missile strikes from land, sea and air and climaxing in an invasion involving 310,000 troops sweeping into Vietnam from Yunnan , Guangxi and the South China Sea. The electronic jamming of Vietnamese command and communications centres is mentioned, along with the blocking of sea lanes in the South China Sea.

My experience of the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based print and online newspaper, has been that it may not be the most reliable source but that it certainly isn’t anti-Beijing.

The Christian Science Monitor has more:

Once united by their communist ideology, relations between Vietnam and China cooled in the 1970s, particularly when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978 to oust the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime. Partly in retaliation, China invaded Vietnam a few months later, as detailed by Global Security. The two sides fought a nasty one-month border war that left tens of thousands dead before Beijing retreated. Border clashes continued throughout the 1980s.

That history helps explain Vietnam’s sensitivity to public “invasion plans” on Chinese websites, no matter how bogus they might be.

Now I’m sure the United States has plans for all sorts of contingencies including invasions of Canada or Mexico, it would be highly embarrassing if the details came out, and this certainly is embarrassing. But it does provide interesting fodder for speculation.

What should the U. S. response be to such an action? I can see several:

  • Who cares?
  • Cluck our tongues but acknowledge that regional powers have the de facto right to do pretty much what they want within their spheres of influence cf. Russia
  • Bring the matter before the UNSC (where China has a veto)
  • Issue a stern demarche, otherwise not much
  • Leap to Vietnam’s defense

You be the president. What do we do?

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. How china could conquer vietnam in 31 days> http://tinyurl.com/727doj
    the plan is younger than a year. should i worry? #vietnam

  2. sam says:

    At a guess, I’d say some combination of “Who cares?” and “Cluck our tongues…”.

  3. sam says:

    Ah, read “should” as “would”. Still, on either construal, I think the “some combination” thing still obtains.

  4. Michael says:

    Now I’m sure the United States has plans for all sorts of contingencies including invasions of Canada or Mexico

    Really? I would find that unlikely, as the details for any actual invasion will depend so much on the reasons for the invasion, any plan at this point would be pretty well worthless. I can see us documenting communications infrastructure, military bases, radar stations and the like, but nothing approaching an actual plan. War-games scenarios I can see, but nothing that would be meant to be used in operation.

    What should the U. S. response be to such an action?

    Spend a good long time pouring over those plans to discover not only what China planned to do, by why China planned to do it a certain way. We can probably learn more about their military capabilities by discovering how they planned to handle logistics than by any number of spy satellites.

    We could also start talking about selling defensive weapon systems to Vietnam, which would probably be the most punishing thing we can do to China at this point.

  5. Steve Verdon says:


  6. DL says:

    Give the problem to Sarah (the pit bull) and soon China will be having all its stuff “made in Alaska”

  7. Ben says:

    Leap to their defense? Yeah, right. Been there, done that. Ain’t gonna happen.

  8. anjin-san says:

    China has been trying to conquer Vietnam on & off for over 1000 years, without much luck. They got a nasty surprise when they attacked them in ’79.

  9. Beldar says:

    Ben: How embarrassing it must be, to be utterly shown up for your lack of historical understanding by anjin-san!

    Our guys in the Vietnam War (mid-1940s to 1975) were in the south. They lost. But the existing regime in Vietnam is the fairly direct successor, albeit modernized and considerably converted to capitalism, of our former enemies. Helping them would not be “been there, done that” at all.

    True to its communist heritage, Vietnam is still a remarkably totalitarian state, but it’s moving in the right direction. Much of the credit for that, not coincidentally, can be laid jointly at the feet of an unlikely pair of collaborating senators, John McCain and John Kerry, who led the push to normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam during the Clinton administration.

    Normalization, renewed ties among families scattered by the post-1975 diaspora, and increasing commercial power and ties notwithstanding, Vietnam is still not remotely as close an ally to the United States as, to pick another relevant example, Georgia. But the point here, if China were to invade, would not be that China is attack an ally of ours so much as that China is using brute military force to subdue and dominate its neighbors.

    That is something we ought to discourage and penalize, through a combination of stern, consistent, and very public rhetoric on the one hand, and tangible economic disincentives on the other. China wants not only to be an economic superpower, but a respected one with a seat at all of the same tables that are occupied by the U.S. and E.U. countries. Those institutions aren’t for barbarians. When the Chinese act barbarously, the should forfeit those seats, or their progress toward gaining them.

    It should go without saying (but since it’s fashionable on the Left to falsely assume and assert otherwise with the GOP holding the White House, I’ll say) that we ought to do our best to enlist our diplomatic and commercial allies (principally NATO and Australia) in these efforts.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Beldar… if you want to learn more, you might want to start here.


    Any time you want to sit down and compare notes on history, just let me know. Most of my reading on Indochina goes back 25 years or so, but I still have some game 🙂

  11. David C Beach says:

    We would immediately warn off China and provide Vietnam with logistical and satellite surveillance Intel of Chinese troop/naval movement. We would negotiate a resupply of russian munitions to VN and covertly provide air dominance. The US would support Vietnam for two reasons. 1. Early termination of China’s regional ambitions is not optional. Until stopped they would steam roll and intimidate the entire Region and then the world. 2. A 12 to 24 month battle between the two would wear down China, making it reassess its Geo political ambitions. At the same time this event would cause a realignment of trade away from now unreliable China re energizing the made in USA brand as well as other democracies.

  12. Michael says:

    and covertly provide air dominance.

    Yeah, I’m sure Vietnam wouldn’t mind some US war planes over their heads…..

  13. Thanh says:

    Even if it were successful, the PLA invasion would only conquer the North. Vietnam is over 1,000 miles long (ex. Washington DC to Miami) and the millions of Vietnamese in the Central and South will carry on the fight. In addition, the PAVN has forces in Laos. And finally, the tenacity and rigor of the Vietnamese will never be extinguished,even if Vietnam is not well-armed as the PLA. Vietnam has a history of fighting as underdogs (France, US) but in the end prevailing. The Northerners have extreme discipline unlike the Southerners, they will not be taken easily. China may be victorious with a Spratlys invasion and conquest, but an attack on mainland Vietnam will be disastrous and the PRC would deeply regret.

  14. wiseman says:

    China will not attack Vietnam. Not only it will be a disaster for both VN and CN, but it will also expose China as a paper Dragon, and they dont want to ever loose face with the world. China should have better ways of handling things and respect others even if it is a smaller country. All eyes are on China right now. If China wants to be a respectful country, it has to earn others’ respect. Intimidating and bullying wont earn nobody’s respects, only distrusts and hate. China is smarter than that, we all hope.