SNIE 13-9-70 - CHINESE REACTIONS TO POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENTS IN INDOCHINA

Created: 5/28/1970

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special national intelligence estimate

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Chinese Rcaaions to Possible Developments in Indochina

The following Intelligence organizations participated In the preparation of this estimate:

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

CONCURRING:

Dr. R. J. Smith, for the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence

Mr. George C. Denney,or the Director of Intelligence

and Research, Department of State Lt. Gen. Jammie M. Philpott, for the Director, Defense

Intelligence Agency Dr. Louis W. Tordella, for the Director, National Security

Agency

ABSTAINING:

Mr. Howard C. Brown,he Assistant General Manager, Atomic Energy Commission and Mr. Fred J. Cassldy, for the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.

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CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

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SUBJECT: : CHINESE REACTIONS TO POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENTS

IN INDOCHINA

NOTE

11II X.

tattodfa's Involvement hatew shape to the strugglendochina. This paper considers how China and Worth Vietnam aright view future hypotheticalarticularly In the military field, which might conpel them toignificant change In their strategy, and estimates what their reactions might be if suchdo take place, insofar as these Involve military or other moves by the US and Its allies, they are to be regarded as actions which the Ccasmunfsts might possibly anticipate, not as courses of action being entertained by the Allied side.

THE ESTIMATE

I. PEKING'S VIEW OF THE STRUGGLE IN INDOCHINA

J. Peking has viewed events in Southeast Asia during the course of the war in Vietnam mainlyhe light of Its aspirations for political doninancehe area. Its perspective is longnvolves no fixed time schedule, and is an aspect of its pretensions toorld-wide revolutionary movement. More immediately, Peking sees the warndochinaontinuationengthy liberation struggle; first against the French, and now against the US. Peking's advice to the Cormunists in Indochina has been repetitious and They are to persist in self-reliant and protracted struggle until they can destroy the enemy or his will to fight. That this may involve occasional defeats and considerable lossesoregone conclusion. Onlyrolonged and costly struggle can they hope to achieve eventual victory, and they must carry on this struggle themselves, without reliance on outside forces.

2. On one hand, the Chinese view the fightingest of Kao's theory of "people's war." Theyictory would enhance China's political prestige in Asia and would support their claims for ideological pre-eminence over the Soviet Union. On the other hand,

Peking has had to consider the possibility that an adverse turn in the war might leadecurity threat on China's southern border andossible direct confrontation with the US. In practice, this has meant militant advocacy of "people's war" for others, but careful maneuvering to ensure that China stays safely out of the line of fire.

In defining its role in this struggle, Peking has been both cautious and prudent. Thus far the policy has been to rule out(any direct use of Chinese troops in the ground fighting and to reduce the risks of even an accidental confrontation with the US. There is evidence that the Peking leadership reaffirmed these basic ground rulesong and bitter debate This conflict, which pitted Minister ofiao against his Chief of Staff, was concerned with the assessment of. and possible responses to, the large-scale US intervention in Vietnam then under way. Lin Piao ended the debate with an authoritative endorsement of Mao's theories on "people'smphasizing defenseepth rather than moving across China's borders to meet the threat.

This decision not to intervene overtly in the Vietnam War was consistent with Peking's policy, at least since the Korean War, of not risking major hostilities with either the US or the USSR. There is is

yet no Indication that the acquisition of nuclear weapons has changed this basic stance. Indeed, it may haveobering effect. When hostilities along the Sino-Soviet border9 threatened to escalateuclear conflict, the Chinese moved to calm the situation. We judge that China's troubled Internal situation and its unresolvedwith the USSR Incline Us leaders to continue making the same cautious calculations of risk that have marked their conduct of recent years. This means that China's alms In Southeast Asia should be pursued by subversion, revolutionary activity, and diplomacy rather than by the open use of its own military forces.

S- Recent Developments. Recent events In Indochina are not likely to change this basic approach. As long as the US/GVN oove into Cambodia does not critically affect Hanoi's ability to continue the war, Pekingikely to minimize the threat posed by the current Allied actions. Moreover, Peking probably sees immediate benefits from the political reaction aroused in the US against the Cartwdian involvement. And if the US should not withdraw from Cambodia, Peking would assess theas one in which the US was getting more and more bogged down In an expanding war that would guarantee growing opposition both at home and abroad. In this sense, at least, it would make little difference to Peking whether the US kept to its schedule and withdrew or whether it continued its Involvement in Cambodia.

Peking's view, the US isosing war inhas only to be patient and persevere in order to outlast theorder to preserve that patience, China will continue toVietnam with economic and military aid. More important.probably now better prepared to furnish steady andsupport than it was during the Culturalwith Hanoi have improved considerably since last fall,

and.recent events in Cambodia have brought Peking and Hanoi closer together. The remarkable turnout in Peking for Le Duan's recent visit,hich both Mao and Lin irade one of their increasingly rare appearances,vidence of Chinese concern to strengthen ties with Hanoi at Moscow's expense. Peking's careful campaign to exploit Sihanouk, recently emphasizedajor pronouncement by Mao himself,lso intended to diminish Soviet Influence In Indochina.

In short, Peking has moved promptly to exploit the Cambodian developments for Its own ends. The Chinese leadership has seized the opportunities presented to reduce Soviet influence on Hanoi and to Increase its own capability to Influence Hanoi without, for the present at least, exposing Itself to greater risks or markedly higher costs.

At the same time, Peking may have some concern that an Intensified and enlarged scale of hostilities could weaken Hanoi's

will and capacity to continue. Against this possibility Pekingrobably prepared to render increased aid to Hanoi, Increase the level of threat in its propaganda, perhaps stimulate Insurgency and tensions elsewhere in Asia, or attempt to unsettle the US by moving troops about in southern China. Judging by fts past actions, however, Peking is likely to calculate carefully the risks of these moves and to prefer gestures and actions that will worry but not provoke the US.

Soviet Factor. Peking's reactions in Indochinaby the terms of its bitter rivalry with the USSR. points during the course of the war, the Chinese haveproject an image of militant devotion to "people'sartlyto outflank politically the Soviets; the latter are constrained

in Southeast Asia by geography and by some concern to avoid complicating relations with the us or offending potentially friendly non-Connunist Asian regimes. Peking calculates in these situations that Moscow's position is certain to be relativelyroviding ample room for Chinese posturingequirement for risky commitments. Nonetheless, this stance carries the risk that the Soviets sight be able to expose the gap between Chinese rhetoric and performance.

so long as large and hostile Soviet forcesnorthern and western borders, there is added reason for avoiding

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direct nllltary involvements in Southeast Asia. In sum, the Soviet factor reinforces other considerations which make Peking want to avoid precipitate and risky action even thoughontinues to discourage compromise settlement of the war.

II. PEKING'S REACTIONS TO POSSIBLE FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

paragraphs above outline what has beenposition on the situation In Indochina. At thisChinese may be preoccupied as well with future developments,in the military field, which might compel them to consider aInvolvement. In this section, we estimate Chinese reactionsof several such possibilities. Peking's reactions to theeffect of these various actions are discussed

Continued Allied Military Activity in Cambodia

probablyontinuing andeffort to exploit the political turnabout in Phnomustained operations by ARVN in strategic border areasdeeper forays, all with US air and logistical support,naval blockade in the Gulf of Slam. Peking may also expect to see

continued enploytrent of US advisory personnel with ARVN units In Caobodia and would not be greatly surprised at reintroductlon of US combat units subsequent to Such developments, fn our view, would not lead Peking to undertake any radically new commitment to the struggle in Indochina. Cambodia Is relatively remote from the Chinese border. Moreover, despite concern over the immediate Impact of the Allied operations, Peking would probably not conclude that longer term prospects for the success of the liberation strugglendochina were critically affected.

Allied Support of the Lon Mol Government

13. Though apparently willing to bargain>on Hanoi's behalf with Lon Noionth ago, the Chinese are now committed to the destruction of his regime. In their logic, there is little doubt that the US will provide support to Lon Noi. China almost certainly expects continued and increased shipments of US (and other) arms to Phnom Penh and, perhaps, the dispatch of US advisory personnel on the Laos pattern. Even so, the Chinese almost certainly give little weight to the capabilitiespresent or futuref the Cambodian Army. The Chinese might attempt to counter the US move by establishing some sort of political-military advisory presenceliberation government" on Cambodian soiln the pattern of its

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mission at Khang Khay in northern Laos. The Chinese will even draw sorce political cottfort fro* the Soviet diplomatic presence in Phnom Penhituation which the Chinese can exploit as evidence of Sovietto the forces working for Sihanouk's return.

Thai Military Comrri trcnt to Cambodia

14. The entry of Thai forces into Cambodia would further complicate the Communist military position there, but it would be equally significant, in Peking's view,ign of Bangkok'sto commit itself more firmly and overtly to an active military role in the Indochina area. The Chinese reaction would be designedlearcut warning to Bangkok of the perils of Its course: the Thai "liberation movenent" would be elevatedore prominent position In Peking's revolutionary propaganda and Insurgent forces In Thailand would be directed to Increase their pressures on the Thai Government. But China would almost certainly see no need to bring its own forces to bear.

Renewed Bombing of North Vietnam

dditional and sustained US bombing raids on North Vietnam's panhandle areaon SAM sites and otherary targetswould not surprise Peking which, as before, would stand aside while Hanoi coped

with the problem of maintaining the southward flow of troops and materiel. If the US resumed bombing of North Vietnam on the pattern, the Chinese would probably, as before, provide engineer troops and AAA units to supplement North Vietnapese air defenses.

Ground Troops in Southern Laos

The Chinese might think it possible that the Allies will try to challenge Hanoi's control of southern Laos by sustained ground operations into that area. While snail Allied Military units have operated In Laos for years, their Impact on the war has been relatively slight and their numbers have been small enough to permit their presence to remain largely unacknowledgedn deference to the "neutral" status of the Lao Government. Crossing this political threshold would be read in Peking as US willingness toar more activist course in Indochina in searchilitary decision.

Presumably, the Allied forces in southern Laos would be urgetted against VC/NVA sanctuaries, logistical bases, androutes to South Vietnam. The Chinese concern would depend on the degree of success these operations had in stemming the flow

of men and supplies from North Vietnam and on the nationality of the forces Involved.

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18. The Chinese would probably view Thai entry into southern Laos as partonger range US plan to place the defense of the Mekong Valley in Thai hands. Although China (and North Vietnam) would be Inclined to doubt that effective Thai troopsufficient numbers would be available toecisive Impact on thethe Communists might see the move as portending the eventual commitment of US ground forces to the area. The entry of US ground forces into southern Laos would raise concern in Peking because of the military effect on Hanoi's logistic system and because it would raise the spectre of later US ground operationsorthern Laos. Nonetheless, so long as the deployment of US forces were confined to southern Laos, the Chinese would probably feel no need to Introduce their own forces in the area. They would probably move ground forces to the Laos border, however, and might reinforce their units presentlyorthwestern Laos in order to signal their concern over the safety of their borders.

GrounO TrocpSprthern Laos

19. Northwestern Laos borders China, and Peking would be most sensitive to military activities In that region. Moreover, to help supply PL/NVA troops in the region, Chinauilding roads from Its own territory, androopsngineering, AAA, and

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security units areorthwestern Laos in connection with this Up to now, other Chinese security requirements in northwestern Laos have been met by PL/NVA control of the region.

Any direct efforty US, Thai, or Lao bombing or by Thai/Lao ground harassmentto force the withdrawal of Chinese troops from northwestern Laos would be resisted. The Chinese already have AAAlace to defend against air attacks and, with PL/NVA forces, sufficient ground strength to meet snail-unit probes. If necessary, they night also reinforce their own troopshe regionimited scale or encourage PL/NVA troops to undertake diversionary moves for political and psychologicaleints against Luang Prabang.

This Is not to say that the Chinese would push ahead on their road construction under any and all circumstances. The road Itselfat least the segment south of Huong Sals not critical to the Connunist position In the region. Thus, If PL/NVA forces proved unable to remove any Thai/Lao blocking force south of the present terminal at Huong Houn, the Chinese might choose to stop construction rather than commit their own combat forces to action in

y See map of North Laos.

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the area. The presence of Thai forces well south of Muong Hounn the area of Pak Beng or south of the Mekong (in Sayaboury Province)ould probably not result in offensive military action by the Chinese.

Laos and the area of the Plain of Jars issensitive as northwestern Laos from the Chinese point of view.dispatch of sizable Thai ground forces into this region wouldvery seriously by Peking. If this should happen, theprobably move quickly to bolster their forces in borderto northwestern Laos, but the initial burden of meetingwould probably remain on Hanoi. Ifhai force was,

anoi's view, formidable enough to threaten its vital Interests in the area, the North Vietnamese might feel compelled to request direct assistance from China. In these circumstances, Peking might respond to Hanoi's request.

eveloping situation in Indochina,concern would be the possibility that an adverse turn inmight leadecurity threat on China's southern border orconfrontation with the US. This makes military movesaos

particularly sensitive. In addition to primary concern over the direct threat to its bordersorthwestern Laos, the Chinese would be apprehensive over any actions in northeastern Laos whichhreat to the security of North Vietnam. In contrast to Its direct security interest in northern Laos, actions in southern Laos and Cambodia are of concern to the Chinese primarily in terms of the way In which they affect Hanoi's capacity to prosecute the war. For Peking, Laosore significant role In this respect than does Cambodia.

In general, as in the past, we see two circumstances in which actions such as those discussed above might provoke Chinese reactions beyond the limits of what they have done in Indochina The first wouldituation In which military forces approached areas in northern Laos inay that Hanoi foundhreat to the security of North Vietnam, orhreat to its own borders. The second wouldituation in which Allied actions, singly or in combination, seriously threatened Hanoi's will and ability to continue the struggle in South Vietnam.

In the first case, Peking would probably Introduce ground combat troops to northwestern Laos to prevent the establishment of a

strong military presence on its borders. Peking might undertake deployments elsewhere in northern Laos If persuaded that North Vietnam's own security was threatened. ase might arise if large non-Lao forces overran the Plain of Jars and moved

26. In the second case, where Peking sensed that Hanoi's will and ability to persist in the struggle in South Vietnam were failing, the Chinese would attempt to encourage Hanoi to persevere and would offer generous material assistance. They would loudly threaten the Thai, the Cambodians, the South Vietnamese, and the US and attempt to step up guerrilla warfare in Thailand. But if Hanoi, nonetheless, concluded that it had no choice but to postpone the armed struggle, the Chinese would probably feel compelled to accept the decision. Ue do not believe that China would wish to alienate Hanoi by further demands that it actively continue the war, nor would Peking choose to commit its own forces to the Indochina struggle so long as territories critical to its own security or that of North Vietnam were not threatened.

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