China and the Vietnam Peace Talks, 1965-1968
The Vietnam War was not just a war between Vietnam and the United States; it also drew in several other countries that were allied with each side. These allies all had their own goals, agendas and fears and contributed to the war.
A peaceful settlement to the Vietnam War was a goal for many countries and for some it was something not entirely desired. China, for example, tried to sabotage peace process and encouraged North Vietnam to follow her example. The reason for this was relations with the Soviet Union, including an obsessive fear about the declension of international communism as observed in the Soviet example. However, things did not go quite as she wanted.
During the mid 1960s Beijing was asked to participate in a number of peace talks between Washington and Hanoi. However, Beijing strongly opposed these peace talks. When the Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin proposed an international conference on Indochina to the DRV and China in 1965. Beijing was not pleased with the Soviet’s move, believing that Moscow wanted to make an arrangement with Washington regarding Vietnam.
On the first and second of April 1965, the British government requested to send an envoy to Beijing to discuss the Vietnam issue; however, Beijing asserted that this was “inappropriate and unwelcome”. For the Chinese, “the British government, the Chinese continued, had not condemned U.S. aggression in Vietnam and thus had betrayed its obligations as a co-chair of the 1954 Geneva Conference”.
“On June 22 Xiong Xianghui, Chinese Charge d’Affaires to Britain, met in London with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who was selected for the Commonwealth mission be-cause of his good relationships with both Hanoi and Beijing. In accordance with Beijing’s general policy of opposing peace talks, Xiong told Nkrumah that the British Commonwealth peace mission would only be “beneficial to U.S. imperialism” and that China would not welcome it. Two days later the Chinese Foreign Ministry approved Xiong’s position. In a message to the British government on June 25, Beijing officially rejected the Commonwealth mission, claiming that the U.S. violation of the Geneva Accords lay at the root of the Vietnam problem”.
On the 19th July, French Minister of State Andre Malraux arrived in Beijing as a special envoy of President Charles de Gaulle. Discussing the Vietnam issue with Beijing, he proposed a ‘neutralization of Indochina’. According to this plan, Vietnam’s borders would be divided along the Truong Son Ra Mountains. West of here, plus Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand would be neutral. China did not agree.
China kept on demanding Moscow to ‘turn up the heat’ on Europe to support the Vietnamese struggle. In March 1966, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, insisted that the Soviet Union “resort to brinkmanship” and produce “greater tension in the west” to oppose Washington’s development of the Vietnam War.
China’s reasons for opposing the Vietnamese peace talks can be explained as such: Chairman Mao believed that the war in Vietnam could be seen as a model war of national liberation that could prove the appropriateness of Beijing’s militant approach. Another reason was that Mao wanted limit the power of the Soviet Union in Southeast Asia as he thought that if Moscow and the US could achieve a settlement together then they might collaborate on other problematic issues in Asia, diminishing China’s influence.
Finally, Mao saw the persistent conflict in Indochina constructive to restore ideological dedication within China and to assemble domestic support for the Great Cultural Revolution.
Zhai, Qiang (1999) Opposing Negotiations: China and the Vietnam Peace Talks, 1965-1968, The Pacific Historical Review, University of California Press.