China’s Emerging Overseas Chinese Policy in the Late 1970s and Implications for Ethnic Chinese Communities in Vietnam

and Kampuchea

Ian Lamont ALM Candidate May 17, 2005

Hist E-1834 Chinese Emigration in Modern Times Professor Philip Kuhn Spring 2005

China’s modern policies toward overseas Chinese are rooted in the changes that affected the country in the late 1970s. The death of Chairman Mao Zedong and the shift away from the leftist policies of the Cultural Revolution resulted the revival of official bodies concerned with overseas Chinese, and strongly worded new policies that proclaimed solidarity, friendship, and support with ethnic Chinese everywhere. But were the new overseas Chinese policies implemented in an even manner? For two Southeast Asian countries in the late 1970s, the answer is no. During this period, the People’s Republic of China treated the persecution of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and Kampuchea (Cambodia) quite differently. China excoriated Vietnam for its persecution of its large ethnic Chinese community, while never mentioning the killing of hundreds of thousands of Chinese in Kampuchea. Beijing’s divergent policies regarding overseas Chinese in Vietnam and Kampuchea have been noted before, not only by Western scholars but also by Vietnamese officials who used the issue as a lever in bilateral negotiations with China at the time. Western research and Vietnamese and Chinese primary sources are helpful in understanding Beijing’s overseas Chinese policy, but they are not supported by empirical evidence beyond population and data relating to refugees. Is there any other way to measure the PRC’s overseas Chinese policy? I believe there is, by employing a computer-assisted evaluation of coverage of the two countries by China’s official state run media outlet, the Xinhua News Agency, specifically its English-language service. Manual and automated content analysis of media sources has been a staple of media studies and international relations for decades. The study of history, however, tends to view mass media in a different light. Old media content is often evaluated as individual primary sources — a news article about the Titanic, an essay by Zhou Enlai, a runaway slave advertisement by Thomas Jefferson — but are seldom examined in aggregate. This is beginning to change, as news media are distributed electronically.

Print media content is often stored in databases, and after a few decades passes from the realm of current affairs into historical record. These electronic resources are easily searchable, and can be parsed with software tools that can reveal patterns not readily apparent in selective manual sampling of old media. It is my belief that a structured, computer-assisted analysis of the electronic archives of the Xinhua General Overseas News Service from the late 1970s can help us better understand China’s emerging overseas Chinese policy, and the extent to which it was upheld in dealings with Kampuchea and Vietnam. My content analysis of Xinhua will be augmented by more traditional historical methods of research, including references to individual Xinhua news items. I will also cite scholarly literature on the PRC’s overseas Chinese policy, the nature of Chinese mass media and Xinhua’s English wire service, trilateral relations between China, Vietnam, and Kampuchea.

Overseas Chinese Communities in Vietnam and Kampuchea In the mid to late 1970s, Vietnam and Kampuchea were similar in several respects, besides their proximity in mainland Southeast Asia. Both countries had sizable Chinese communities, numbering between 430,000 and 450,000 in Kampuchea in 1975, and 1.2 million in Vietnam. Marxist governments ruled both countries — Kampuchea by the radical Communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge, and Vietnam by a Communist government that had forcibly united North and South Vietnam in April 1975 after a long civil war. Additionally, both the Khmer Rouge and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam actively persecuted ethnic Chinese living within their respective areas of control in the mid to late 1970s, resulting in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese from each country and the deaths of an estimated 215,000 Kampuchean ethnic Chinese1 and approximately 30,000 ethnic Chinese from Vietnam.2


Vietnam’s Chinese population at the time of reunification 1975 was concentrated in what had been South Vietnam. Only 200,000 lived in the north, compared to about one million in the south. Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese, whom the Vietnamese government refers to as “Hoa,” have a long-standing presence in the country. This has much to do with Vietnam’s proximity to China. For many centuries, Vietnam had been a tributary state to successive Chinese dynasties, and had sometimes been subjugated by and warred with its larger neighbor. Vietnam’s long coast facing the South China Sea and along trade routes to Southeast Asia had facilitated cultural contact, immigration, and trade. During the French colonial period (1862-1954) ethnic Chinese solidified as merchant class.3 Following independence in 1954, the civil war between North Vietnam and the South Vietnam heightened the differences between ethnic Chinese communities in the two areas, as well as differences with indigenous Vietnamese. In communist North Vietnam, socialization of the economy meant that there were not as many opportunities for capitalist endeavors. Many were fishermen or factory workers. In South Vietnam, where most ethnic Chinese lived, Chinese dominated commercial life. Relatively few ethnic Chinese fought for either side during the civil war, although many gave material or other forms of support. This was owing to the complicated situation regarding citizenship following independence from France in 1954. The government in Hanoi, either out of sense of Marxist solidarity with Beijing, or some lingering sense of subservience to China, opted to give Beijing some say over the treatment of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. The communist parties of North Vietnam and China worked out an agreement in early 1955 whereby Chinese residents were to be administered by Hanoi, and were to be treated the same as Vietnamese. According to the agreement, Chinese could voluntarily adopt Vietnamese citizenship after a period of ideological education. The 1955 agreement between Hanoi and Beijing deferred the issue of how to treat ethnic Chinese in South Vietnam until after reunification.

Furthermore, during the civil war, male Chinese residents who had not adopted Vietnamese citizenship did not have to enlist in the North Vietnamese Army. In South Vietnam, Saigon initially took an aggressive stance on the issue of nationality. The 1955 Nationality Law stated that children of mixed marriages were Vietnamese citizens by default. The following year, a presidential decree stated that all ethnic Chinese born in Vietnam were Vietnamese citizens. This was a retroactive policy. The same year, ethnic Chinese were required to adopt Vietnamese names. Chinese language schools were ordered shut. Additionally, in an attempt to force Vietnamese citizenship upon ethnic Chinese, “foreigners” were banned from 11 trades dominated by ethnic Chinese.4 Taiwan, which at the time was recognized by most non-Communist states as China’s government in exile, told Saigon that nationality disputes had to be resolved via bilateral negotiations. South Vietnam refused, saying the issue of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam was an internal dispute. Communist China also protested the “brutal encroachment upon the legitimate rights of the overseas Chinese in South Vietnam,” which was echoed by the North Vietnamese government and Vietcong resistance in the South.5 However, it was not complaints from Taipei, Beijing, or Hanoi that forced Saigon’s hand, but rather the actions of the Chinese community itself, which used its economic muscle to force the regime to greatly soften its stance on citizenship issues. They closed businesses, withdrew money from banks, and practically shut down entire segments of the South Vietnamese economy. The government relented. Chinese schools were allowed to stay open. Ethnic Chinese were also exempted from getting Vietnamese identity cards, which meant they could avoid military service. The question of citizenship was quietly shelved, as the civil war began to dominate the national discussion.6 If the government in Hanoi thought these issues could be worked out following their victory in the south, it must have been given pause for thought as the first North

Vietnamese Army units rolled through Cholon (Saigon’s Chinese district) in April 1975. Streets were lined with PRC flags and portraits of Mao Zedong. Ethnic Chinese sympathies were again called in to question the following year, when the government’s call for all ethnic Chinese to register as Vietnamese citizens was resisted.7 In the meantime, the new government was also attempting to transform the capitalist economy of liberated provinces and raise agricultural production. In September 1975 the government forced everyone to convert their old South Vietnamese currency, and put a portion into state-controlled bank accounts. Companies also had to register ownership of cars, machinery, and other property. Consumer cooperatives were established in Saigon, which had since been renamed Ho Chi Minh City. In June of 1976, special taxes were levied on profits. As for agricultural reform, one new policy had a very direct effect on ethnic Chinese communities: the creation of New Economic Zones (NEZ). NEZ were established in rural areas that had been depopulated during the war. The idea was to repopulate them with newly idled urban dwellers, which of course had a disproportionate effect on ethnic Chinese from Cholon and provincial cities.8 Nevertheless, ethnic Chinese in southern Vietnam largely put up with these changes through the end of 1977. A handful fled by boat to Hong Kong or stable counties in Southeast Asia, but many apparently felt the situation was tolerable. This sentiment would soon change. On Vietnam’s border with Kampuchea, a series of cross-border raids by Khmer Rouge forces on Vietnamese villages blew up into a full-scale war by September 1977. Large numbers of Vietnamese troops crossed into Kampuchea. This affected the ethnic Chinese community in several ways: By early 1978, the Vietnamese government had begun to draft ethnic Chinese into the army to support the war, and also began to force ethnic Chinese to move to NEZs that had been set up along the Kampuchean border.

In late 1977, ethnic Chinese in northern Vietnam began crossing into southern China, driven partially by rumors of impending war between Vietnam and China. The rumors suggested that Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea would prompt a military response by Kampuchea’s close ally and supporter, China. Vietnam suspected China’s hand in the rumors, and also questioned ethnic Chinese loyalties in the north. In the last three months of 1977, ethnic Chinese in the North were put under surveillance, expelled from the Vietnamese Communist Party, and forbidden from speaking Chinese in public. In addition, thousands living in the five Vietnamese provinces bordering China were moved away from the area as “security risks.”9 The suspicions were extended to ethnic Chinese in the South. Chinese were physically harassed, and their property seized. More drastic restrictions came in March 1978: the Vietnamese government forbade all private trade and big business activities. Police cordoned off Cholon, and looted private businesses and residences. Some residents resisted and were killed.10 These events convinced many ethnic Chinese that there was no future in Vietnam, and the trickle of emigrants soon turned to a flood. Ethnic Chinese in the north preferred the land border; about 70,000 crossed in April and May of 1978, and 90,000 more in June and July.11 200,000 crossed by the time China closed the border on July 12, and afterwards an additional 40,000 snuck across or were forced across by Vietnamese border guards. Vietnam viewed the Chinese (and 30,000 members of minority tribes) who wanted to flee as traitors, and did not attempt to stop them from leaving.12 In the South, ethnic Chinese escaped by boat. After March 1978 an estimated 5,000 left every month. This figure increased after China closed its land border and ethnic Chinese from the north began to leave by boat as well. An estimated 306,851 people fled Vietnam by boat between April 30, 1975, and September 30, 1979, 60-70% of whom were ethnic Chinese. Owing to the poor condition of the evacuation vessels, an

estimated 10% of those who left by boat drowned or died at sea, approximately 31,000 people. The total number of ethnic Chinese leaving Vietnam by land and sea to September 1979 was between 432,000 and 466,000 people,13 although significant numbers continued to flee well into 1980. The exodus slowed as international pressure was brought to bear, Vietnam’s conflicts with China and the Khmer Rouge died down, and restrictions on small-scale commercial activities were lifted. In Kampuchea, ethnic Chinese were also subject to persecution during this period, but to a far more serious degree. Like Vietnam, Kampuchea had been part of France’s colonial possessions in Southeast Asia. However, its ethnic Chinese population was not as large as that of Vietnam, nor did it maintain the same degree of cultural and economic connections with China as did ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. Until 1970, many ethnic Chinese lived in rural areas of Kampuchea, and worked in agricultural trades or small shops. Civil war and unrest caused by American bombing in border areas with Vietnam resulted in most ethnic Chinese relocating to Phnom Penh and larger provincial towns. By 1975, an estimated 430,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Kampuchea, mostly in urban areas. The Khmer Rouge, a radical Maoist movement led by the notorious Pol Pot, came to power in April 1975 and promptly turned Kampuchean society upside-down. Under the direction of the paranoid Khmer Rouge leadership, private enterprise was forbidden and currency was abolished. People living in cities were ordered to the countryside to till the land. Over the next three and a half years, hundreds of thousands of political opponents, people with suspected bourgeois tendencies, and anyone else who dared to resist were murdered outright. Many more died from starvation or disease. As many as 1.5 million Kampucheans died in all. Central Khmer Rouge policies did not single out ethnic Chinese for murder or abuse. Nevertheless, ethnic Chinese suffered disproportionately by stint of the fact that most

were engaged in “bourgeois” occupations, were not accustomed to hard agricultural labor, and were often targeted by local Khmer in the countryside who resented newcomers from the cities. In addition, some ethnic Chinese were killed for speaking Chinese, or for being suspected of harboring loyalties to the People’s Republic of China, even though the two countries were allies. About half of all ethnic Chinese were killed or died during Khmer Rouge rule, or about 215,000 people.14

China’s New Overseas Chinese Policy While these disasters were unfolding for overseas Chinese in Kampuchea and Vietnam, China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution and reforming policies relating to overseas Chinese. The Overseas Affairs Commission had been abolished in 1969 and its bureaucrats purged. Following the deaths of Premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976, and an interim period in which factions within the party vied for control, Deng Xiaoping emerged as China’s new leader and set the country on a road to reform and recovery under the “Four Modernizations” to reinvigorate agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense. Overseas Chinese were almost immediately considered as a source of support, and welcomed with promises of solidarity and a chance to reconnect with the motherland. In early 1978 the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission was re-established. A People’s Daily editorial on January 4, 1978 outlined the new policies governing the PRC’s attitudes toward overseas Chinese. The editorial recognized that overseas Chinese are “part of the Chinese nation … with their destiny closely linked with that of the motherland.” It directly tied overseas Chinese to realizing the goals of the four modernizations, noting that returned overseas Chinese were a “significant force in China’s Socialist revolution and construction.” Additionally, the editorial noted that the PRC would protect the interests and rights of overseas Chinese still holding Chinese

citizenship, and those having family members in China. Overseas Chinese who wanted to return were welcomed to help rebuild the motherland. Even those who had adopted foreign citizenship were still China’s “kinsfolk and friends.”15 On February 26, 1978, Premier Hua Guofeng further elaborated overseas Chinese policies to the 1st Session of the 5th National People’s Congress. In an apparent reference to the situation of overseas Chinese in Vietnam, Hua stated that China opposed any attempt to force overseas Chinese to change citizenship.16

Using Xinhua as a Barometer of Policy Despite China’s stated goals of offering support to overseas Chinese, its reactions to the humanitarian disasters unfolding in Kampuchea and Vietnam were quite different. China’s actions regarding the persecution of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam included a shrill publicity campaign and the dispatch of vessels to Vietnamese waters to bring overseas Chinese home. However, of the unfolding genocide in Kampuchea, China said nothing. This disconnect between Beijing’s stated overseas Chinese policy and actual practice in Vietnam and Cambodia has previously been noted. Besides recent scholarly analysis, Vietnam itself remarked upon China’s apparent double standard in Kampuchea as the crisis unfolded. However, to my knowledge, no one has used a study of Xinhua content to analyze China’s policies toward the two populations of overseas Chinese. I have created a methodology to do just that. It involves examining the Englishlanguage Xinhua service and applying computer-assisted content analysis techniques. My methodology involved searching the Lexis Nexis Academic database of Xinhua stories from January 1 1977 to December 31, 1979, and, using Microsoft Excel, summing up the number of stories that mention different combinations of the terms Vietnam, Kampuchea, and Overseas Chinese. I then applied simple statistical methods


to measure their relative importance to each other for each month of the three-year period under study. Using state-run media as a barometer of PRC policy is not new.17 Nor should it be surprising, considering the close relationship between Chinese media and the Chinese Communist Party. Lenin articulated the three purposes of journalism, namely, to disseminate propaganda, agitate the people, and further the goals of party organization.18 These ideas were held very dear by Mao Zedong himself: Much of his early party work involved writing articles for party-affiliated publications. One state-run media organization has special prominence among the leadership and populace: The Xinhua (New China) News Service. Xinhua is the official news agency of the central government. Established in 1931 as the Red China News Service, it was renamed the Xinhua News Service in 1937. After the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic of China, Xinhua became country’s national news agency, “authorized to issue communiqués, statements and important news on foreign affairs and to provide domestic and international news for newspapers and broadcasting stations across the country.”19 Xinhua articles never contain objective analysis of PRC foreign policy, or criticism: foreign news is meant to serve Chinese foreign policy. Xinhua editors hold nightly meetings to discuss coverage, and “sometimes are notified by the government about what kinds of foreign news to select or emphasize.”20 In the late 1970s and 1980s, following the post-Cultural Revolution reopening of college and university journalism programs, student journalists were required to study Marxism-Leninism and party policy, and follow the principles of “positive propaganda,” which highlights “situations that can mobilize and inspire the people.” Journalists worked closely with national, provincial, and local propaganda departments, whose staff were often graduates of journalism programs themselves. While strict Soviet-style press censorship does not exist in China, “Chinese

reporters, editors, and media officials exercise voluntary self-censorship. Experienced reporters and editors know clearly what to do and what not do in order to achieve the Communist Party’s goals.”21 Besides Xinhua’s domestic news service, aimed at the Chinese population, it also has several foreign language wire services that compile news about China and the world for international distribution. The aim of the service is to let foreigners and foreign governments better understand the China’s people, policies, and cultural life.22 My content analysis was designed to measure and compare the number of references to overseas Chinese, Vietnam, and Kampuchea, as well as combinations of the three terms, over a 36-month period beginning in January 1977 (Appendix A describes the methodology used). It quickly became apparent that news items about overseas Chinese in any context were rare. Of the 14,292 Xinhua stories surveyed in 1977, only 109, or 0.76%, mentioned overseas Chinese. In 1978, the number of Xinhua news items increased dramatically, to 19,751 (an increase of 38%) and the number of overseas Chinese items more than doubled, to 261, but was still just 1.32% of the total.23 In 1979, 20,615 Xinhua news items were published, but just 191, or 0.93%, mentioned overseas Chinese (see Appendix B, Data Tables for 1977, 1978, and 1979).24 By comparison, mentions of the United States were far more frequent, totaling 1,104 in 1977 (7.72% of the total), 1,471 in 1978 (7.45% of the total), and 1,966 in 1979 (9.54% of the total). Stories mentioning India were also more frequent, ranging between 1.32% to 2.14% for the three years under study. Stories which mentioned “grain” and “China”, which presumably had a strong domestic emphasis, also had a more prominent presence in Xinhua, reaching 2.46% of all news items in 1977, followed by 1.93% in 1978, and 1.79% in 1979 (see Appendix D, Xinhua Keyword Yearly Comparison Table). News items that mentioned both overseas Chinese and Kampuchea were almost nonexistent, totaling just 31 for the entire three-year period (see Appendix B). The

character of these stories is telling. In 1977, the four news items were about PRC political events — two stories about Hua Guofeng, one about a commemoration ceremony for Zhou Enlai, and one story about the PRC’s National Day. All mentioned Kampuchea and overseas Chinese as separate entities and in passing. The number of news items mentioning both terms rose to 16 items in 1978 and 11 in 1979, but the emphasis was on Vietnam and the overseas Chinese crisis there — Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea was often mentioned in the same news item as an additional black stain on Vietnam’s character, or Xinhua reported the Khmer Rouge’s reaction to the crisis. There is not one Xinhua story during the three-year period that explores the treatment of overseas Chinese in Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge rule. As far as Xinhua (or the government of the People’s Republic of China) was concerned, it was a non-issue. Xinhua’s coverage of overseas Chinese in neighboring Vietnam was far more extensive, with the exception of 1977, when there were only six news items. Much like the coverage of Kampuchea that year, the few news items that mentioned overseas Chinese and Vietnam in 1977 were all lightweight political pieces that separately cite the involvement or support of Vietnam and overseas Chinese — “Chinese Embassies Show Film in Memory of Chairman Mao,” published on Feb. 14, 1977, is a typical example. However, in 1978, news items mentioning both terms shot to 78. The coverage in 1978 was overwhelmingly about the border crisis and China’s direct criticism of Vietnam’s treatment of overseas Chinese. It was during this time when several new terms entered Xinhua’s lexicon to describe overseas Chinese in Vietnam: “Victimized Chinese” and “Persecuted Chinese.” There was a marked spike of such articles between May, about when China first publicly complained about the thousands of ethnic Chinese crossing into China, and September, when the last of several rounds of high-level bilateral talks to resolve the crisis ended in failure (see Appendix B, 1978 Data Table, and Appendix C, Xinhua References to Vietnam, Kampuchea, Overseas Chinese).

In late 1978 and into 1979 there were a trickle of stories about overseas Chinese in Vietnam, but almost all were about international reaction to the Vietnamese government’s creation of the boat people crisis and to Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea. In other words, after September 1978, China rarely directly criticized Vietnam on its treatment of overseas Chinese, but instead used indirect criticism in the form of other countries’ condemnation of Vietnam on the boat people issue and the war with Kampuchea.

Analysis of a Shift in Xinhua’s Coverage of Vietnam This spike of critical Xinhua articles in 1978 warrants special analysis. The persecution of overseas Chinese in Vietnam began in late 1977, and continued into 1980, yet it was only during this relatively short period in mid-1978 that China directly took Vietnam to task for its shoddy treatment of overseas Chinese. Two reasons can explain the lack of direct criticism prior to 1978: the absence of a coordinated overseas Chinese policy, and China’s attempts to mediate the growing crisis through diplomatic channels.25 The Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission was reestablished at the beginning of 1978, and while Xinhua mentioned its creation, it did not bring up the problems facing overseas Chinese in Vietnam for four months. Why the delay? I surmise that China was still attempting back-channel approaches to resolve the situation, including the use of an economic carrot-and-stick approach (it signed a bilateral trade and economic agreement with Vietnam in January 1978, but cancelled it a few months later). Furthermore, I believe the central government wanted to give the relaunched Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission a few months to get up to speed in terms of organization and mission before throwing it into the fray. It was the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission that first publicly complained about the border crisis on April 30. In late May the Xinhua English news service started

reporting on the story almost every day. The bilateral talks which took place throughout the summer at first saw the two sides trading blame over who was responsible for the exodus of ethnic Chinese. China stated Vietnam had broken the terms of the 1955 agreement between Beijing and Hanoi governing the citizenship of ethnic Chinese. It also said the Vietnamese government was treating ethnic Chinese “residents” unfairly, a situation that the PRC would not tolerate. Beijing said ethnic Chinese should be allowed to gradually obtain citizenship, and not be forced to do so. Vietnam claimed nationality was an internal issue, and accused China of sending agents to stir up ethnic Chinese. In the final series of talks in September, the two sides tied what had been a bilateral dispute to larger international issues. Beijing denounced Hanoi’s links with Moscow and its conflict with Kampuchea, and further charged Vietnam with wanting to create a Southeast Asian federation. Vietnam pointed to China’s apparent hypocrisy on the issue of overseas Chinese: Why didn’t China protest the treatment of overseas Chinese in Kampuchea, many of whom had fled to Vietnam? PRC diplomats responded that unlike in Vietnam, ethnic Chinese in Kampuchea were not specifically targeted for abuse.26 Vietnam’s accusations were seldom mentioned in Xinhua wire service reports that summer, except to be criticized (e.g., “Viet Nam Uses Chinese Residents Question As ‘Political Trump Card,’ Says Chinese Negotiator,” September 19, 1978). Otherwise, most Xinhua English-language wire stories that mentioned overseas Chinese and Vietnam during this period played on several common themes: the Vietnamese government’s persecution of ethnic Chinese, refugees’ tales of horror from no-man’s land at the border, and China’s efforts to help ethnic Chinese. Xinhua made no mention of Vietnam’s accusation of Beijing’s double standard in Kampuchea. I believe there are several reasons for this. Reporting this inside China would suggest that some official policy statements were empty words, and in the postMao era, the new regime was eager to cement its domestic reputation. Additionally,

broadcasting such news could also lead the Chinese populace to reason that in certain countries China was willing to put the interests of foreigners ahead of ethnic Chinese. As for Xinhua’s English-language service, revealing or debating Vietnam’s claim could potentially exacerbate the anxieties of ethnic Chinese in other Southeast Asian countries, whom the government was anxious to court. It could also complicate foreign policy goals in Southeast Asia — memories of China’s actions during the political crisis in Indonesia in the mid-1960s were still fresh in many Southeast Asian capitals, and Beijing did not want to scare any more countries into Moscow’s sphere. After September 1978, Xinhua’s English service abruptly ended the wave of direct criticism of Vietnam on this issue. Until the end of 1979 there was only a smattering of news items that mentioned Vietnam and Overseas Chinese, usually in the context of the refugee crisis, which was often tied to Vietnam’s military involvement in Kampuchea. These news items almost always highlighted foreign criticism of Vietnam, rather than direct vitriol from Beijing. Some examples: “Venezuelan Committee Denounces SovietVietnamese Invasion of Kampuchea” (January 31, 1979), “Nepalese Weekly Condemns Viet Nam's Aggression against Kampuchea and China” (February 27, 1979), and “French Paper Exposes Vietnamese Export of Refugees” (June 16, 1979). Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea in late 1978 and near defeat of China’s Khmer Rouge allies provided a pretext for a Chinese invasion of Northern Vietnam. The number of Xinhua stories that mentioned Vietnam or Kampuchea rocketed as a result. January 1979 was the peak month; there were 329 Xinhua news items that mentioned Vietnam (about 20% of the total) and 434 that mentioned Kampuchea (about 27% of the total) (see Appendix B, 1979 Data Table, and Appendix C, Xinhua References to Vietnam, Kampuchea, Overseas Chinese). Yet, as noted in the preceding paragraph, only a handful mentioned overseas Chinese as well, and usually in an indirect fashion. It is almost as if Xinhua, and by extension, the Chinese government, was taking deliberate

care to avoid giving opinions about the continuing overseas Chinese refugee crisis and Vietnam’s treatment of ethnic Chinese, even though these issues contributed to the deterioration of relations between the two sides. I believe there are four reasons why Xinhua avoided direct criticism of Vietnam on the ethnic Chinese crisis post-September 1978. First, in the summer of 1978, China had found this method to be ineffective in reducing the number of refugees and stabilizing relations with Vietnam. It may have even made things worse for ethnic Chinese and increased Vietnam’s suspicion of China’s motives. Second, prodding Vietnam on this issue during the summer of 1978 had eventually resulted in Vietnam bringing up an extremely uncomfortable question: Why was China so keen to berate Vietnam over its treatment of ethnic Chinese, but say nothing about the deaths and forced migration of ethnic Chinese in Kampuchea? This touched a third rail of Chinese foreign policy — China’s extreme sensitivity to other countries criticizing domestic policies, especially regarding human rights and separatist movements, and Beijing’s pains to avoid the appearance of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. China had been caught out on this issue before. In the mid 1960s in Indonesia, China’s evacuation of ethnic Chinese and alleged involvement in Indonesia’s internal political life had badly hurt its profile in Southeast Asia. Many Southeast Asian countries viewed with suspicion any moves on the part of Beijing to extend influence to ethnic Chinese communities, and by September 1978, after needling from Hanoi on this point, China likely wanted its state-run propaganda machine to pull back on this issue to avoid damaging relations with other Southeast Asian countries and head off wider criticism of its apparent double standards in Vietnam and Kampuchea. Third, the nature of the refugee crisis changed after China closed the land border in July of 1978. While there were some scuffles at the border afterwards, and incidences of refugees skirting border posts or being forced across, the exodus of ethnic Chinese from

northern Vietnam shifted to the sea. Some went to China by boat, but most went to Hong Kong or other parts of Southeast Asia.27 This reduced the pressure on China to cope with ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam. Fourth, although the refugee crisis had contributed to the bad blood between Vietnam and China, bilateral relations took a turn for the worse in late 1978/early 1979 following Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea and China’s subsequent invasion of northern Vietnam. It is not surprising that Xinhua’s coverage of large-scale military conflict would overshadow a slow-moving refugee crisis. Additionally, I believe Xinhua, acting in the interest of the Chinese leadership, did not want to indicate that there was any link between the refugee crisis/Vietnam’s treatment of ethnic Chinese and China’s invasion of Northern Vietnam. Making this connection would only give Vietnam an excuse to accelerate the persecution of ethnic Chinese and push more of them into the war zone, and after hostilities were over, use those who still remained as a lever to extract better treatment or more concessions from China. Hence, China’s brief invasion of Vietnam was officially in “self defense,”28 but there is a strong indication that Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea and near-defeat of the Khmer Rouge also played a role in the Chinese attack. Most Xinhua news items during this period show a high correlation with the Kampuchean issue: approximately 60% of all news items that mention Vietnam in February and March 1979 (the months when China occupied northern Vietnam) also mention Kampuchea (see Appendix B, 1979 Data Table).

Conclusion One question remains unanswered: Why did China in the late 1970s treat the persecution of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam differently than the genocide of ethnic Chinese in Kampuchea?


I believe the answer can be found in China’s foreign policy goals, which outweighed Beijing’s stated desire to improve relations with overseas Chinese. In the 1970s China was concerned with the Soviet Union’s growing partnership with Vietnam. A serious rivalry between the two Communist superpowers had emerged in the early 1960s, and over the following two decades smaller Communist states had to choose sides. North Vietnam was able to take a middle ground while it fought the United States and South Vietnam. It served as an intermediary between the two sides in the 1960s, and even managed to get Moscow and Beijing to cooperate in bringing war materiel to the front.29 In the late 1960s, Hanoi began to tilt toward Moscow’s sphere, and its relations with Beijing began to slide. Hanoi’s centrist Communist leadership was alarmed by the ultraleftist policies of China during the Cultural Revolution, as well as the emergence of a cult of personality around Mao Zedong. It also distrusted China’s realignment with the United States in the early 1970s, believing that Beijing was putting short-term national interests ahead of long-term Communist goals.30 Territorial disputes in the South China Sea also contributed to the deterioration in relations in the 1970s, as did Vietnam’s admission into Comecon, the Soviet-sponsored economic alliance, and of course the issues surrounding ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. Another major foreign policy issue Kampuchea. In the early 1970s, both North Vietnam and China had supported the Khmer Rouge while it was still a radical Communist rebel movement in the Kampuchean countryside. After the Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975, China became Kampuchea’s primary supporter while the country descended into madness. Thousands of Chinese military and civilian advisors were dispatched to the country, as well as regular shipments of weapons and oil. In return, Kampuchea shipped rubber and natural products used to make Chinese medicine, including herbs and geckos.31 Vietnam supported the new regime for a few years, but this changed after repeated Khmer Rouge attacks on Vietnamese villages and

the deaths of thousands of civilians. Vietnam suspected a Chinese hand in the Kampuchean attacks. By 1978, China had a new overseas Chinese policy in place, which stated support of ethnic Chinese abroad. In Kampuchea, China had thousands of military and civilian advisors in the country. It had to know about the deaths of thousands of ethnic Chinese there. But in the face of growing Soviet influence in Vietnam, and Vietnam’s increasing hostility toward China, Beijing needed the Kampuchean alliance. It was prudent to remain silent about the deaths of ethnic Chinese. At the same time, Vietnam’s alignment with the USSR, and Vietnam’s conflict with Kampuchea, was threatening to China. The persecution of ethnic Chinese in Vietnam was worth exploiting in the press and in bilateral negotiations, at least for a time. The issue was de-emphasized in late 1978, as China realized confronting Vietnam on the issue was counterproductive, and full-fledged military hostilities between the two sides overshadowed the overseas Chinese issue. It is for these reasons that I believe China’s overseas Chinese policy in the late 1970s is closely connected to China’s foreign policy. Computer-assisted content analysis of China’s state-run press agency provides a new tool to examine China’s policies in these fields, and I anticipate that such methods will be increasingly used in the future, as mass media is stored in digital form, easily subject to compter-assited examination.

Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 296 2 Ramses Amer, The Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and Sino-Vietnamese Relations (Kuala Lumpur: Forum, 1991), p. 107. Most died at sea attempting to flee the country. 3 During the French colonial period, the Qing and Republican governments regarded ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam with an unusual degree of paternalism. During negotiations for the Treaty of Tianjin (1885), the Commercial Convention (1886), the Convention of Nanjing (1930) and the Chongqing Agreement (1946) China sought from France special status for ethnic Chinese in Vietnam, including the right to freely engage in desired occupations, avoid discriminatory taxes, and maintain Chinese schools. Chang Pao-min, Beijing, Hanoi, and the Overseas Chinese. Berkeley (Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Center for Chinese Studies, 1982), p. 5 4 Chang Pao-min, p. 11 5 Chang Pao-min, p. 14 6 Chang Pao-min, p. 14 7 Chang Pao-min, p. 17


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Amer, pp. 26-29 Chang Pao-min, p. 24 10 Chang Pao-min, p. 27 11 Chang Pao-min, p. 30 12 Amer, p. 78 13 Amer, p. 107 14 Kiernan, p. 295 15 “Liao Cheng-Chih On Guidelines And Policies On Work Concerning Overseas Chinese Affairs,” Xinhua General Overseas News Service, January 4, 1978. 16 Chang Pao-min, p. 26 17 See Robert Stone, “Speaking to the Foreign Audience: Chinese Foreign Policy Concerns as Expressed in China Daily, January 1989-June 1993,” Gazette: The International Journal for Communications Studies (Leiden, Netherlands) 53 (1994): 43-52, and Lu Xinlu, “What Does China Want the World to Know: A Content Analysis of CNN World Report Sent by the People’s Republic of China,” Gazette: The International Journal for Communications Studies (Leiden, Netherlands) 58 (1996): 173-187 18 J. Herbert Altschull, Agents of Power: the Media and Public Policy (White Plains, NY: Longman Publishing USA, 1995), p. 211 19 Chang Won Ho, Mass Media in China: the History and the Future (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1989), p. 66 20 Chang Won Ho, p. 74 21 Chang Won Ho, p. 256 22 Despite publishing 50,000 to 60,000 “words” per day in the late 1980s, it is not known how many Xinhua stories were rebroadcast abroad or prompted follow-up stories by foreign media outlets. At this time, most of Xinhua’s paying clients were located in Africa and South America. Further, the articles were (and still are) quite boring in terms of subject matter and writing style. Breaking news is rare. Bylines are not used. Domestic stories concentrate on economic and social progress in China, while the guidelines for foreign coverage are to uphold China’s national independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty, and to support the struggles of all peoples, especially those in the third world for “independence, emancipation, social justice, and economic and cultural progress.” Chang Won Ho, pp. 68-72 23 The relative increase is partially due to the reopening of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission and the activities of Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission officials beginning in January 1978, as well as the overseas Chinese refugee crisis on China’s land border with Vietnam. 24 The results for the last year were particularly surprising to me, as by 1979 the central government was fully oriented toward promoting the four modernizations, and that was the year that the first four “special economic zones” to attract foreign investment were created in Guangdong and Fujian provinces. I can only speculate that the significance of creating SEZs in areas which had strong ties to overseas communities was more appreciated on a provincial level than by the central government. Because Xinhua is oriented toward central government policies rather than provincial-level policies, the SEZs’ overseas Chinese connection was overlooked or underreported. It is also possible that Xinhua did not want to be seen as giving any special attention to overseas Chinese. 25 Amer, p. 44 26 Amer, p. 76 27 Chang Pao-min p. 58 28 “Statement By Xinhua News Agency Upon Authorization,” Xinhua General News Agency, March 6, 1979. 29 Stephen Morris, Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia: Political Culture And The Causes Of War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999) p. 130 30 Morris, p. 144 31 Morris, p. 133


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