September 2 is the independence day, the greatest national celebration, in Vietnam. On September 2, 1990 the Vietnamese chiefs of Party and Government did, however, not stay in Hanoi to celebrate the 45th birthday of their state, but flew to Chengdu, China’s tenth largest city, for a secret summit with the Chinese leadership. This was the first meeting between the Vietnamese and Chinese leaders since the mid-1970s. The Vietnamese understood that their acceptance of the time, place and the personnel composition of the meeting, which included Vietnamese elder statesman Pham Van Dong and excluded Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach, was a sign of deference to China. During the meeting, Vietnam’s leaders also let the Chinese dictate the terms of negotiation. This they did against the background of a decade-long hostility between the two countries.17
Why this breakthrough? There must have been an urgent reason for the Vietnamese to do so. From the deference strategy’s perspective, the Vietnamese behavior was reasonable because the counterweight of the Soviet Union was no longer available and Vietnam was still in isolation from both its regional context and the West. Facing China, Vietnam found a disproportionately more powerful neighbor, and in order to prevent Chinese aggression, Hanoi had to pay deference to Beijing. This could be the calculation of elder statesman Pham Van Dong and Premier Do Muoi. Yet, Party chief Nguyen Van Linh had a different concern and priority.18 Before the summit, the latter had eagerly sought Chinese contact to discuss about protecting socialism against the United States and the West. This was also his primary intention at Chengdu.19
Although the Chinese refused to play the Vietnamese game, Linh and his like-minded in the VCP Politburo still tried to reestablish the Sino-Vietnamese relations on an ideological basis. As Linh himself explained to Chinese ambassador to Vietnam on June 5, 1990, the situation was marked by imperialism’s offensive to eliminate socialism and the difficulties of the Soviet Union, the stronghold of socialism, in defending socialism. In
17 Tran Quang Co, “Hoi uc va Suy nghi” [Memoirs and Reflections], Hanoi, 2003, manuscript, chs. 13-14. The author was Vietnamese First Deputy Foreign Minister from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.
18 Linh, Muoi, and Dong headed the Vietnamese delegation at Chengdu.
19 Ibid., chs. 10 and 13.