China-Vietnam relationship is complex and often troubled. Despite diplomatic statements and rhetoric about ideological similarities, there are many unpleasant historical memories that linger on besides maritime territorial disputes, security concerns and geopolitical competition. The bitter memories of war last much longer than the war itself and more so if it is thrust on a country. The outburst of the Vietnamese people on social media is immitigable evidence that people may forget the physical wounds but not deception and emotional hurt.
February 17th marked the 43 years of the 1979 Sino-Vietnam war. To commemorate the war, Vietnamese people used social media platforms to express their sentiments. Posts on personal Facebook pages and Twitter accounts were full of anti-China comments as well as veiled criticism of the Vietnamese government. People expressed their anger and condemned China for inflicting the war on Vietnam. The fierce fight (February 17th to March 16th, 1979) claimed many lives, soldiers and civilians alike, in Vietnam’s border provinces.
The 1979 war along the 600 km China-Vietnam border and armed clashes that flared border disputes in the subsequent years resulting in a heavy death toll and huge economic losses are a nightmare for the Vietnamese people. Although both countries suffered casualties, what has rankled the Vietnamese was Bejing’s deliberate efforts to distort history and fix the onus of violence on Vietnam. Some Chinese websites, films and Television shows depicted that the Vietnamese army had invaded and the Chinese had acted in self-defense, even as the opposite was true. In the border war China attacked Vietnam in response to actions being taken by the Vietnamese to restrain the China-backed Khmer Rouge, an act of aggression and self-defense, although both Bejing and Hanoi claimed victory.
In Vietnam, low-profile anniversaries of the fierce fight against the Chinese invasion are organised each year in local cemeteries in the Northern border provinces while small-scale demonstrations take place in other parts of the country including Hanoi. But Vietnamese veterans, military enthusiasts, historians and diplomats have long urged the government to reconsider their decades of deliberate silence.
Recently there were calls for Hanoi to highlight the facts of the war to help people all over the world, including the Chinese, to fully understand what really had happened. In 2013, Major-General Le Van Cuong, former director of the Strategy Institute under the Ministry of Public Security, and other retired politicians told state media that it was time to review the official commemorations of the war and that government must include it in textbooks. Young academicians were also concerned over the ignorance of most of the students about the 1979 war, even as information about Vietnam’s just and defensive stand against the Chinese 1979 aggression remains vague. Vietnamese youth have also been shown movies projecting Chinese culture and history.
The wounds left by the 1979 war still haunt the Vietnamese people. According to some observers, the Sino-Vietnamese war has begun receiving renewed media attention after almost 43 years due to recent escalation of tensions with China in the South China Sea.