SNIE 13-10-71 COMMUNIST CHINA'S REACTIONS TO DEVELOPMENTS IN LAOS

Created: 2/18/1971

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special national intelligence estimate

Communist China's Reactions to Developments in Laos

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THIS ESTIMATE IS SUBMITTED BY THE DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AND CONCURRED IN BY THE UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD.

The following Intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of the estimate:

The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the NSA.

CONCURRING:

The Deputy Director of Central Intelligence

The Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State

The Director, Defense Intelligence Agency

The Director, National Security Agency

ABSTAINING:

The Assistant General Manager, Atomic Energy Commission, and the Assistant to the Director, Federal Bureau of Investigati the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

1

SUBJECT: COMMUNIST CHINA'S REACTIONS TO DEVELOPMENTS

IN LAOS

THE ESTIMATE

Chinese Feaponaa Thue Far

1. Peking trailed both Hanoi and Moscow in reacting to recent developments in southern Laos. The Chinese did not speculate publicly on the possibility of cross-border operations Into Laosebruary when they began to cite press commentary from Hanoi, which had begun some days earlier. Since then Peking hasumber ofcomrnentaries as well as several Foreign Ministry statements. At first, these pronouncements dwelt on the same themes: the US isthe war in Indochina; the people of Indochina will certainly surmount the new challenge; and China will continue to provide "powerful backing and support." More recently, Peking has strengthened Its rhetoric, claiming that the allied move into Laos isenace to China" and that

TOTBI

it "definitelyrave threat to China." The latter statements are an escalation of the rhetoric that followed Cambodia last spring, and suggest that Peking nowore serious view of thein Indochina.

Large rallies have been held in Peking and Shanghai to condemn allied actionsattern that will no doubt be repeated throughout the country. Nevertheless, all authoritative comment on the situation in Indochina since the beginning of the month has placed Chinese assurances of assistanceerms of rear base support.

Iteasonable to assume that Peking and Hanoi have been consulting on the present situation, but thereo evidenceigh-level conference. Rumors of important Chinese hou En-lai and Chief of Staff Huang Yung-sheng attending conaunlst strategy sessions In Hanoi in late January and early February appear to be unfounded.ietnamese negotiator, however, has been in Peking recently toupplemental agreement on military and economic aid to North Vietnam.

toe orcflcx

4. No unusual military movementseither on the ground or in

the airave been detected in South China.1

It could, however, presage an expansion of the Chinese roadbuilding activity.-^ The recent discovery of heavier anti-aircraft gunswith associated fire controlhe area of the roadbuilding can not be related

to developments in southern Laos,

Options and Probable Courses of Aotion

5. Peking has viewed the war in Indochinaest of Mao's theory of "people's war" and has consistently advised the communists in Indochina to prepareong and costly struggle and to persist In self-reliant and protracted warfare. Peking doubtless believes victory in such an effort would enhance its claims for ideological

This judgment ie based primarily on information derived from

g, no photography ie available to confirm this,

-* This roadbuilding activity is discussed in the Annex,

pre-eminence over the Soviet Union and would strengthen China's political influencesia. On the other hand, Peking has had to consider the possibility that an adverse turn in the war could leadecurity threat on China's southern border.

6. While Peking has advocated "people's war" for the Indochinese It has given no Indication of intent to use Chinese troops or to risk an accidental confrontation with the US. The involvement of Chinese forceshe struggle thus far has been limited to construction and anti-aircraft detachments In northern North Vietnam during the bombing and currently In northwestern Laos. China has built roads from its own territory into northwestern Laos, and now has00 troops there in engineering, anti-aircraft artillery, and security. This activity can serve several purposes. Roadbuilding to the east facilitates North Vietnamese access to northwestern Laos for support of Pathet Lao operations. The extension of the road south and west In the direction of Pak Beng also poses the threatreater communist presence in the Thai border region and this threat might be exploited toreater Thai role in Laos. And, of course, the road system provides China Itself with direct access to northwestern Laos.

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Peking would naturally be concerned about theuccessful interdiction of the Hoh trail could have on the capability of the NVA/VC to carry on the struggle in the South. At this early point, Peking's most sanguine estimate is probably that Hanoi can counter the South Vietnamese move and through pressure In Laos and South Vietnam, can force an early withdrawal. In their worst case estimate of the consequences of operations generally limited to the Tchepone area, the Chinese will have considered the possibility that Hanoi's supply lines could be disrupted so severely that the overall communist positionouth Vietnam would suffer serious deterioration.

In an effort to forestall this latter situation, thereumber of things that Peking might do short of direct Involvement of its own combat forces. It would, of course, seek to persuade Hanoi to persevere in the struggle, and it would promise additional materiel support to encourage Hanoihis course. Peking could also offer to re-introduce logistic personnel into North Vietnam.

8eyond these measures the Chinese may see small risks and considerable advantage In certain stepsaccompanied by shrill propaganda closely coordinated with Hanoi's military efforts and threatsthat convey menace but which do not conniit them to serious action. The purpose would be to raise the threat of Chinese

Trrr^Ecniixl I

intervention and thus to encourage an abortive end to current Allied operations in southern Laos and, In any event, to create such apprehension particularly in the US, as to inhibit any future initiativesimilar nature.

Among the measures that the Chinese might take to give credence to their threats would be to move troops about in South China or tohow of stepping up construction of the new road to the Mekonga project they probably Intend to move ahead with anyway. They might also send reconnaissance patrols beyond the present area of road construction toward the Thai border. This latter move would have the particular objective of causing Bangkok to pull back from Us involvement in Laos.

Another move open to the Chinese would be to introduce advisory personnel Into combat areas and to let their presence become known. They might feel that the advertised presence of such advisors could raise the spectre of Chinese intervention as In Korea, without in fact involving much real risk. {Chinese observers have visited COSVN in the past but so far reports of Chinese advisorsombat situations in Cambodia and Laos have not been confirmed.)

Finally, if it were prepared to go still further Peking could send troops into the Plain of Jars area or even into southern Laos. But

this would be unlikely unless US troops or ARVN forces backed by US air power, having destroyed communist forces around Tchepone, should rove northward with the apparent intent of carrying the war Into North Vietnam or northern Laos. In this event the Chinese would feel that their own security Interests were directly threatened.

of these circumstances,adical shiftpolicy seems most unlikely. In northern Laos there isno real threat to Chinese or North Vietnamese interests.Vang Pao and US air power Inflict heavy blows on thearound the Plain of Jars In the next few months, Laotiannot beosition to threaten vital Chinese or North Thus, we doubt that the Chinese would choose at this pointthe risks involved by moving toarger role in northern Laos.

for southern Laos, there are practical difficultiesan effective Chinese military presence there. would suffer the same relative disadvantages in firemobility as the more readily available North Vietnamese. also have the same logistical problems that confront theconsiderations of this sort, however, lie the larger risksof direct involvenent with the US.

It Is possible, of course, that the South Vietnamese incursion into southern Laos would arouseense of desperation in Hanoi as toequest for participation of Chinese combat forces. All the evidence we have, however, extendingood many years,that the North Vietnamese would be exceedingly reluctant to call for such assistance, unless they saw that the security of their own country and regime were In grave peril. Shortirect threat of this kind we do not believe that the North Vietnamese would invite the Chinese in.

In sum, China's most likely course of action in response to recent events in Laos is to publicly and privately encourage Hanoi to persist in Its protracted struggle; to raise the level of threat In its propaganda; and to Increase its flow of arms and equipment to allayreluctance Hanoi may have about continuing the conflict. At this stage of the Allied incursion into Laos, Peking probably sees the US

and Its allies still bogged downar that offers no graceful exit. If Hanoi maintains Its will to resist, the Chinese will probably see no need to change their basic approach. And even if North Vietnam feltto shiftess aggressive posture or toegotiated settlement. Peking would have little leverage to preventove.

HIT DH.UEX

ANNEX

CHINESE COrWUNIST MILITARY FORCES IN LAOS The Chinese Ccanunist Presence

The Chinese military presence in northwestern Laos has expanded slowlyingle engineer regiment in8urrent force ofroops. As the roadbuilding progressed, additional construction and anti-aircraft personnel were brought in to maintain and defend the road system.

At the end of the last dry season inhinese strength there was estimated atroops. Since then, these military forces have increased slowly as Peking undertook new road construction once the rainy season ended. Moreartillery (AAA) troops were deployed along the road system, and an additional engineer regiment was Identified. Furthermore,

that the Chinese

this

engineer regiments in Laos have five subordinate battalions instead of the normal three. esult, the estimated military strength has been increasedroops.

augmentation continues.

ANNEX

The bulk of the existing force consistsivision-level engineer unit ofroops organized into at least five regiments. nti-aircraft personnel also are present to defend the construction force. The engineer unit, deployed to Laos from North Vietnam inas subsequently augmented with additional engineer, support, anti-aircraft, and security units. It apparently functionsask force comnand authority for the road construction program and maintains communications with the Kunming Military Region Headquartersubordinate comnand.

Logistical support for the roadbuilding program in northwestern Laos is channeled fron Kunming through rear serviceunits in Ssu-mao and Meng-tzu. Prior to extending their road construction program into Laoshe Chinese built aof all-weather roads from these two support bases to the Yunnan border area as part of an over-all program, an indication that itong term in nature.

The Chinese unitsorthwestern Laos have been careful to avoid any ground conflict wtth Laotian Government forces. North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao units have been used to clear government troops from the area prior to the initiation of road construction.

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AV.iX

The Chinese anti-aircraft and security forces have been active in their defensive role, however. AAA units have not hesitated to fire on the occasional Lao aircraft that have attacked the road or on any aircraft that happened to fly over the road.

Chinese AAA inventory now includesm andm andewmandsame number of smaller caliber automatic weapons. The weaponsalong much of the Chinese-built road networkorthwestmajor concentrations at Huong Sal, Huong La, and Huong Houn. pieces generally protect strategic bridges, large barracksstorage installations. The smaller pieces are more widelydefend the road construction units. Moreover, the use oftracking procedures, seen sinceanuary, enables ChineseIn Laos to function more effectively in an area defenseforces were assumed prev16usly to be functioningrole protecting individual construction elements.

The Road ConatruoHcn Program

the Chinese began the major road constructionnorthwestern Laos inhey have builtilesgraveled roads with permanent bridges at large watersystem runs south from the Yunnan border to the village of Muong Sal,

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Trm-TrriGRia:

ANNEX

where it splits into two routes: one turns northeast toward Routend the North Vietnamese border, and the other leads southwest toward the Mekong River and Thailand.

road toward North Vietnam was completed at the end ofbridge stilleeded across the Nam Ou River at Huong Khoua,is no evidence that the Chinese Intend soon to build thenecessary to span this waterway, but on the basis of theirconstruction activity, itikely that one will be An engineer regiment recently moved into the Muong Khoua area.

are signs that Chinese engineers in northern Laos mayto resume construction of Routeoward theof early January indicates an increased buildup just northHoun, the present terminus of the road. Construction camps arenew AAA sites are being constructed, and some radar-directedare in place. So far this dry season, Chinese roadbuilderson finishinghich runs northeast from Kuong Sai

to Muong Khoua, and improving the surface to Routeetween Muong Sai and Muong Houn. Both projects are almost completed.

AWEX

10. If the Chinese extend Routes far as Pak Beng, it wouldignificant psychological impact on the Thais. The Nam Beng valley has been used in the pastormjnist infiltration route into Thailand,oad would facilitate the shipment of supplies to the Thai insurgents.

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