chapter  4
23 Pages

Vietnam and China: steering a path between hostility and dependence

Among the 11 countries of Southeast Asia, Vietnam’s relationship with China is unquestionably the most complex, conflicted and conflict prone. Historical interaction, both ancient and modern, has played a decisive role in moulding mutual perceptions, more so in Vietnam. Unlike most of the other countries surveyed in this study, it is impossible to appreciate the nature of contemporary Sino-Vietnamese relations without reaching back over 2,000 years to the time when Vietnam was subject to Chinese suzerainty, first as a colony and then as a tributary state. Two millennia of Chinese overlordship, combined with an intense relationship over the past 60 years characterized by extremes of amity and enmity, have shaped Vietnam’s China psyche to be deeply ambivalent: respect for a fraternal socialist country whose economic reforms Hanoi seeks to emulate, coexisting with deep resentment, bordering on hatred, of Chinese condescension, bullying and perceived attempts to control the country’s political destiny. China’s image of Vietnam is similarly conflicted: a tenacious fighter of colonialism worthy of Chinese support, but also as a devious, ungrateful, even unfilial member of the ‘Sinic family’.