As the world awaits Beijing’s response to the Ukraine war, history shows its reaction could be complicated
The troops gathered on the border. The supreme leader decided that it was time to invade, to teach the other side a lesson. Shortly afterwards, troops breached the internationally recognised border and clashed with local forces.
Not Ukraine 2022, but Vietnam 1979. In January of that year, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping told the US president Jimmy Carter that he wanted to “spank the butt” of his neighbours. For a month, Chinese and Vietnamese forces clashed, leading to a death toll of tens of thousands. Chinese troops withdrew in March 1979, when, unlike Vladimir Putin, Deng sensibly decided to declare a famous victory and head home. Since then, there has been no unambiguous breach of an international border by Chinese troops.