This paper started with the notion that the changes with small nations could not make enough impact to the balance or struggle of world powers. China’s strategic change from being a nominal member in the Soviet Union bloc to a de facto ally with the U.S. was the primary reason that had led the Soviet Union to collapse eventually. The Soviet and the U.S. leaders did not have any serious regard to China's presence in the world arena until Nixon-Kissinger (1972) realized and formulated a strategy of working with China against the Soviet Union. Deng Xiao Ping visited the U.S. on January 1, 1979, the date the U.S. Recognized China, and seven days later China launched a massive but a short 28 days war against Vietnam.
The document went into depth describing Vietnam and her wars with France and the U.S. which had built her confidence in winning brutal wars; indeed, the Vietnam soldiers (even civilians) were credited as tough fighters, persistent, deadly and cruel. Though Vietnam essentially won the Vietnam war but she was resentful that China did not support her all the way and China was courted by the U.S. (1972-). Although receiving military aid from China, Vietnam acted alone and hostile to her neighbors, Khmer, Laos and Cambodia; She conquered the South Vietnam in 55 days (1975). Vietnam's over confidence in her ability to fight and her obvious ambition reminded China about Japan's behavior towards China and Indochina prior to WW II. The Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai was alarmed and passed on instructions to Deng to watch out for Vietnam and to prepare a strategy to check her ambitions.
The Vietnam leader, Li Yi, went to Beijing (11/1977) asking for more military aid, but Deng refused him, and then he turned to the Soviet Union. The Soviet wanted to suppress China and granted Li's full request; a year later they signed a peace and cooperation treaty. Then within one year, Vietnam armed all her military forces with Russian equipment. In 12/1978, Vietnam attacked Khmer, captured Jin Bian in 14 days and destroyed Khmer, but it was both a strategic and a tactic mistake. China was wary of Vietnam's ambition in Indochina and had been preparing for war with Vietnam. Destroying Khmer essentially enhanced China's resolve to teach Vietnam a lesson. Hence, during Deng's visit to the U.S., he told President Carter his plan of attacking Vietnam. Carter, with the Vietnam War experience, warned Deng and did not want to get involved in any battle against the war hardened Vietnam. Deng, of course, had all figured out how to fight Vietnam, including stationing troops on China’s Northern border in case Russia invading in the name of helping Vietnam.
Deng originally planned to attack in January, 1980, but khmer's fall in the end of 1978, hastened Deng's plan. Tactically, military maneuver and fighting in the Monsoon season (March and April), are not desirable. Vietnam's attack on Khmer in December and won in 14 days gave China a whole two months to act. Since China had well prepared for a number of years, this two months window was perfect for China to move up her plan. Deng, an excellent and avid bridge player, after touched base with Carter and calculated Russia’s inability to mobilize during the winter, then made a decisive decision to punish the Vietnam with a quick and devastating attack by moving 300,000 Chinese troops with overwhelming fire power across the border (7/8/1979). Though the Vietnam troops were tough and loyal, but they were caught by surprise, outnumbered, outgunned, ill trained for large scale war and poorly equipped with communication gear, thus, suffered great casualty.
In sixteen days, China took Liang Shan, threatening to sweep the open flat capital, Ho Nui, but next day Deng ordered troops to withdraw to return home, on the way back destroying any resistance and industrial bases. Deng regarded Vietnam as the Soviet's Cuba in the East but he only wanted to punish her not conquer her. Tactically, Deng did not want to prolong the war into the Monsoon season. Given Vietnam's fearless or martyr style resistance, the fighting would drag into the rain season. The SVW lasted only a total of 28 days; Deng essentially achieved his objectives, seriously if not permanently quenched Vietnam's ambition of conquering Indochina and her aggression in the Sino-Vietnam border. Vietnam would need a decade or two to recover from the SVW.
This brief war was regarded as a huge success and a brilliant strategic execution produced a lasting impact to Vietnam. After the war, China became firmer in defending any Sino-Vietnam border conflict including the dispute in the South China Sea; China threatened to teach Vietnam a second lesson. This pressure had kept Vietnam to keep one million troops along the border and cost the Soviet Union $2-2.5 million a day to support them. The Cuba show-down with the U.S. made Khrushchev lose face but the U.S. had to promise not attacking Cuba, hence Cuba was never harmed other than being sanctioned till President Obama Visited Cuba normalizing their relationship (2016). The SVW made the Soviet Union lose more than face. It caused the Soviet Union to decline because of her heavy burden in foreign aid. The Soviet Union’s inaction during the SVW cost her so much prestige that many members in the Soviet bloc begin to defect.
Egypt was the first to defect. President Anwar Sadat was in talks with Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, but hesitated to sign a treaty, but three months after the SVW, Sadat became braver and signed a peace treaty with Israel on 3/26/1979. Next was Afghanistan where a coup removed the pro-Soviet leader; Russia had to send 100,000 troops to topple the coup. Then there was Iran where an Islam revolution started 6 days before the SVW to topple the pro-U.S. King. Due to the SVW and the Afghan war, the Soviet Union had no time to take advantage of the Iran revolution. Supporting Vietnam and Afghanistan was an unbearable burden and cost the East Europe a recession. Poland first rebelled (8/14/1980), although the union revolt was put down but a cleavage between Poland and the Soviet Union formed and others followed.
Post SVW, the Sino-Vietnam border conflicts continued until Liyi died (7/1986). Then Vietnam had a naval battle with China in the South China Sea in 1988 but was defeated; Vietnam officially recognized China's claim and occupation of the Paracel islands. Cambodia revived post SVW and kept fighting Vietnam, a bleeding wound for the Soviet Union. With Egypt’s defection, the Soviet began to lose her advantages in the Middle-East; Afghanistan became another bleeding wound for her. Both SVW and Afghan war made the U.S. (Reagan) more confident to engage a struggle with the Soviet not only in the Middle-East but also in Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia), then Africa became the third bleeding wound for the Soviet.
Tracing events back to 1979, we can conclude logically that the SVW was the tipping point for the decline of the Soviet Union. The SVW made the U.S. to see the weakness and vulnerability of the Vietnam and Soviet Union. The short SVW was the only war China initiated against a sovereign country in her modern history. In the other wars, China was either passive or being attacked. The 28 days SVW with low casualty on the Chinese side (<10,000) had two very significant consequences. One, It stopped Vietnam's ambition of conquering the entire Indochina and laid foundation for a peaceful Indochina. Two, due to Soviet Union's strategic mistake of supporting the Vietnam against China, the SVW was the tipping point for the Soviet Union to collapse. The U.S. working with China against the Soviet Union was a winning strategy.