China in the Vietnam War

In October, 1949, the Chinese Communists won the Civil War, and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This historic event changed the situation in the First Indochina War with the Viet Minh now having a geographically link with their big socialist ally in the North.

Ho Chi Minh immediately sent representatives northward asking for support and assistance. In January of 1950, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (PRC) was officially recognized by the DRV. In April, Viet Minh formally requested military aid including equipment, advisors and training for the People Army of Vietnam (PAVN). In response, the PRC sent their advisors, and begin forming the Chinese Military Advisory Group (CMAG) to assist the Vietnamese forces.

The CMAG was lead by General Wei Guoqing, along with Senior General Chen Geng, and included 281 officers. CMAG and Vietminh began training for their first campaign. In September of 1950, the Border Campaigns were launched. Outnumbered 8 to 1 by the Vietnamese, the French garrisons fell one by one. After these campaigns, the French had almost completely lost control of the Vietnam-China border region.

From 1951 to 1954, the logistical support from China began to increase rapidly. In 1951, the supply provided was only 10-20 tons a month, increasing to 1,500 to 4,000 tons monthly in 1954. This military aid enabled the PAVN to expand their forces from 3 divisions in 1950 to 7 divisions in 1952. China even provided skilled manpower to North Vietnam with an estimated 15,000 Chinese Communists serving in diverse roles from advisors, technicians to garrisons in Vietnam by 1952.

In July 1953, the Korean Armistice was signed. China now could shift more supplies to Vietnam to prepare for the Dien Bien Phu campaign. In this decisive campaign, China provided 4,620 tons of petroleum, 1,700 tons of rice, 1360 tons of ammunition and 46 tons of weapons to Viet Minh. The Dien Bien Phu Campaign Command was established with General Giap as Commander of Chief and General Wei Guoqing as General Advisor. Although Chinese advisors were involved in various levels during the battle, its support is hardly mentioned in the Vietnamese decisive victory against the French in 1954.

In 1954, the First Indochina War had ended. The CMAG had completed its mission and began to return to China. From 1955 to 1963, China continued supporting about $106 million to North Vietnam.

Beginning from 1964, after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the U.S. government began to increase military actions, especially the aircraft bombing campaigns in North Vietnam. Immediately, Ho requested Chinese Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) units, and in July of 1965, PLA forces began flowing into Vietnam. According to the CIA Special Report, there were seven PLA units in North Vietnam, including the 67th AAA Division. In addition to AAA forces, the PLA units also took responsibility to repair and rebuild North Vietnamese infrastructure damaged by U.S. air strikes. Numbers of Chinese forces in North Vietnam were increased to 170,000 troops, including 16 AAA divisions in 1967.

In addition to helping the DRV defend in the North, the Chinese Communists also provided the sinews of modern war resources that enabled the PAVN to launch such massive offensives against South Vietnam in both 1972 and 1975. In the Easter Offensive in 1972, the PAVN were supplied enough first class military vehicles such as tanks, jet aircraft and air missiles to launch 20 large scale divisions to South Vietnam. When the PAVN suffered a terrible loss in which around 450 tanks were lost and more than 100,000 troops were killed in the offensive, China, once again, continued to compensate for the PAVN equipment loss so that they could reform its units for another offensive that ended the Second Indochina War in 1975.

Mao Zedong remarked: “It was having China as a secure rear and supply depot that made it possible for the Vietnamese to fight for 25 years and beat first the French and then the Americans”. The quote had described truly the importance of the PRC’s support, including a promise to step in with a massive numbers of troops if the North Vietnam had been invaded by the US, to the final victory of North Vietnam.

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