Three bilateral agreements on borders and landmarks between Vietnam and China took effect on Wednesday 14th July, eight months after they were signed. The accords include a Protocol on Border Demarcation and Marker Planting, an Agreement on Border Management Regulations and an Agreement on Border Gates and Border Management Regulations.
Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son said "These legal documents have officially ended a 36-year land border settlement process between Viet Nam and China," during a ceremony to honour the agreements at the Thanh Thuy border gate between Vietnamese province Ha Giang and Chinese province Yunnan.
Vietnam and China share a 1,450km-long border, including 384,000km of rivers and streams. On 27th December 2001, the first border marker was installed at the Mong Cai border post between Vietnam and Dongxing, China, following a 1999 treaty on land borders between the two countries. By 31st December, 2008 the border demarcation was declared complete; in total 1971 marker posts had been installed, including one that accords with a Vietnam-Laos-China agreement.
The history of conflict between China and Vietnam predates Western interference. Vietnam was a tributary of the China’s Qing dynasty, until the French invaded in 1858, and by the 1890s Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were all French colonies. The Japanese occupied Vietnam during the Second World War after which the Viet Minh fought the French for Vietnam’s independence. China was involved with both sides: Mao Zedong's communist CCP backed the Viet Minh, while Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang nationalists whom the Communists eventually defeated in 1949, backed the French restoration. After the decisive 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, when the French were comprehensively defeated by the Viet Minh, they quickly left Vietnam and the July 1954 Geneva Accords divided the country into North and South Vietnam.
Throughout the second Vietnam War which began in 1959 between the Viet Minh and the US backed South Vietnamese, both the Chinese and the Soviet Union supported the North, despite the fact that relations between the Chinese and Soviets had soured since the late 1950s. The North Vietnamese drifted towards the Soviet Union throughout the 1960s, and relations deteriorated between Vietnam and China further in the 1970s, especially as the latter reoriented its foreign policy towards the USA.
Conflict broke out between the two countries in 1979 over Vietnam’s role in Cambodia. Vietnam had invaded Cambodia in late 1978 in order to remove the virulently anti-Vietnamese Khmer Rouge, who were demanding land from Vietnam and massacring ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. China was supporting the Khmer Rouge and therefore invaded North Vietnam in February 1979 in an effort to force Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia, although the official explanation had more to do with the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese forces got as far as Hanoi before withdrawing, conducting a ‘scorched-earth’ campaign in the north on their way out, but both countries claimed victory because Vietnam was not forced to alter its plans in Cambodia.
Border skirmishes continued through the 1980s and a naval conflict occurred in 1988 over the Spratly Islands. The conflict ended in 1989, when Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia, but it took another 10 years before a treaty was signed designating a border, which remained secret.
The ceremony on 14th July 2010 marked the culmination of moves towards cooperation, and the two countries have agreed to establish a Vietnam-China Joint Committee on Land Border to manage the border. The construction of a highway between Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi and Kunming, which is the capital of Yunnan province, is underway.
The ownership of the hundreds of Spratly Islands and other parts of the South China Sea is still disputed between Vietnam, China, and other countries in the region. While the islands themselves are uninhabited, it is thought that the region may contain large reserves of oil and gas although this has not yet been proven.