This is a bit of what I am looking for:vietnamwar/chinese-and-soviet-involvement/, but it seems incomplete.

Specifically, as the Soviets increased their aid to North Vietnam, where did Soviet weapons transit through past 1969 or so, when China and the USSR had a brief border war?

Normally, the weapons could easily leave the USSR, transit through China and get to North Vietnam. But what arrangements were made to keep the flow going once the Soviet-Chinese border froze up? Did Soviet weapons transit by sea to Hanoi? Did land shipments stop but then resume once a ceasefire was reached? (the "hot" phase of the border incidents was pretty short)

Just to be clear, this question has nothing to do with how weapons got from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, but only how they got from Soviet factories to North Vietnamese hands.

To be precise: Soviet-Chinese armed clashes happened in March 1969 and August 1969. I'm interested in weapons supplies between then and Sept 11, 1969 when Chinese/USSR agreed to re-exchange ambassadors.

  • From the article you linked: "Russian supplies bound for Hanoi still had to pass through Chinese territory, where they were often held up by suspicious officials." So they still had to transit China, although this is thin on details. Aug 6, 2019 at 4:56
  • seems very thin on details during a war between the 2 and in the immediate aftermath. that's what I meant by incomplete. Aug 6, 2019 at 5:01
  • Just checking since you did ask in your Q "Did Soviet weapons transit by sea to Hanoi?", which seems to be answered already, unless you had a reason to doubt your source. Aug 6, 2019 at 5:03
  • Before asking the question, I did what's often asked "a bit of research". The closest thing I got from various search terms was what I linked. But it seems to really gloss over the bit that I am interested about. I just have a really hard time believing that in the midst of this little war on the border, they'd just agree to transit those shipments. Later, after a suitable time sorting out their issues, maybe. I'm interested if any interruption took place. Note that my posted link is concerned about lots of different things, not just this. Aug 6, 2019 at 5:08
  • Please move comments into question. Comments are not for discussion.
    – MCW
    Aug 6, 2019 at 13:56

1 Answer 1


China and Soviet Union were fighting for primacy in communist world, they both needed Vietnam for that

First we need to notice that Sino-Soviet split started before Vietnam war, and long before 1969. Without going into too much details, conflict was mostly ideological but some national interest were also involved. Both sides criticized each other, but that did not prevent them for supporting same side in Vietnam war (i.e. North Vietnam) . Overall, Soviet aid trough years fluctuated but it was not affected substantially by events in 1969. Chinese help peeked in 1967, and was somewhat reduced after that, but didn't stop completely. Both sides were trying to pull Vietnam in their own sphere of influence, and Soviets seemingly had upper hand in the end. Nevertheless, China did not out of blue switch sides in Vietnam because that would harm their prestige in communist and pro-communist countries around the world . In fact they were giving aid right until the end of the war.

As for near war situation, this is somewhat over-exaggerated. There was one serious battalion-regimental level conflict over Zhenbao (Damansky) Island in March. Russian Wikipedia has substantial details. Second one was platoon-company sized near Tielieketi/ Lake Zhalanashkol in August, and again Russian wiki has details. Soviet society was semi-closed at that time, so they were able to suppress details about the losses somewhat, although in 1970 when situation eased somewhat they acknowledged losses and gave medals to those killed and wounded. Chinese suppressed information even more, to this day they only acknowledge 68 Chinese soldiers KIA, real figure probably closer to couple hundred. Anyway, on September 14, 1969 both sided met and agreed to back off a bit. Conflict remained frozen until 1990's when border disputes were settled. Throughout whole period (March-September) diplomatic relations were not broken, and neither was rail or air traffic. This may seem strange in our time, but in those days informations in communist countries were tightly controlled, and disseminated mostly trough newspapers and radio . Therefore population of both countries, especially China, did not know much about what was happening.

As a final note, 1969 US public was already sick an tired of Vietnam war . Nixon started Vietnamization and Operation Rolling Thunder already ended. Soviet shipping was free to move cargo directly to Vietnam, without going over Chinese territory. This would also affect potential Chinese overland blockade (and make it partially useless), and probably made China abandon this as an option.

  • +1. but the battalion-level stuff seems to have been long premeditated by Mao. and it might have escalated to nukes. it was totally a "my wee-wee is bigger than yours", but they went through a pretty tense period from Mar 26 to Sept 11 (when relevant diplomatic folk met at airport and de-escalated). Aug 8, 2019 at 8:17
  • this wasn't just a small incident, Mao was really going for a "we're big boys now" show. again, There's talk of mighta-been nuke usage. this is in a very narrow range of time, March to August/September, 1969, essentially. I just wonder if the US Army military analysts watching the war noticed it. Aug 8, 2019 at 8:26
  • @ItalianPhilosopher It was not small from modern perspective, but it was small from Chinese perspective. Remember that they participated in much bigger "conflicts" with Vietnam in 1979, India in 1962 and of course Korean War. All of these were not considered full fledged wars by Chinese leadership at the time. As for nuclear option, this is exaggerated in modern sensationalist publications. Sure, there were contingency plans, but Soviets did not even employ tactical aviation and very limited armor . Chinese even less.
    – rs.29
    Aug 8, 2019 at 17:27
  • 1
    alright, so no disruption then? I'd never heard of a NVA/VC weapon shortage during 1969 so it did probably just keep on ticking along. accepted. Aug 9, 2019 at 5:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.