Skirmishes along the Chinese-Vietnamese border have been taking place daily, according to a senior Chinese military officer. Yet the root of the conflict lies hundreds of miles away in Kampuchea (Cambodia). The tense situation on the border, where fighting is reported to be heavier than at any time since the 1979 border war, cannot be relieved until Vietnam withdraws its troops from Kampuchea, says Zhang Xiu Ming, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army forces in Kunming.
In a rare press briefing, Zhang claimed that Vietnam has positioned 60 percent of its armed forces along its northern frontier with China. He confirmed Western reports that in the past two weeks Vietnam has reinforced its border defenses with an additional four regiments.
The link between China's military posture and Vietnam's actions in Kampuchea seldom has been so clearly stated as in Zhang's remarks Wednesday.
``We can't sit down at the negotiating table to talk about peace until they have stopped attacking us, stop the provocations, withdraw their forces from Kampuchea, and stick to the UN resolution,'' he says. The UN resolution to which he refers calls for internationally supervised elections in Kampuchea to form a new government. Zhang also reaffirmed China's support for the resistance forces in Kampuchea and for Thailand.
Since the beginning of this year, fighting along the border ``has never stopped for a single day,'' Zhang says.
He claims that since January, Vietnamese troops have fired 130,000 shells into the Laoshan pass area. In the past six years, he says, the Vietnamese have fired more than 300,000 artillery rounds into Yunnan Province, killed nearly 1,000 villagers and soldiers, and destroyed more than 100 villages along the 440-mile border between Yunnan Province and Vietnam.
Western diplomats in Peking have confirmed that the artillery exchanges and fighting along the Sino-Vietnamese border have been more intense in the past three months than at any time since the border war between the two former allies in 1979.
China has used the border to exert pressure on Vietnam to discourage the Vietnamese from taking military action against the Kampuchean forces which are resisting the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh.
In the first three months of this year, Vietnamese forces overran the main bases of three resistance groups in western Kampuchea. But China did not wage a counteroffensive on the scale of the 1979 attack, as some Western observers had expected.
According to Zhang, Vietnam has 160,000 troops in 12 divisions in Kampuchea. Vietnamese officials reportedly have said they will withdraw one-third of these troops by the end of this year, and that all Vietnamese troops will be out of Kampuchea in 10 years.
Zhang says that ``from the deployment of [Vietnam's] armed forces, we can see they are directed against China.'' He claims, however, that China's own military posture toward Vietnam is defensive.
``We will never take a single inch of land from Vietnam,'' he says. Zhang would not say how many Chinese troops were deployed along the border, but stated that China has ``sufficient forces and sufficient weapons to deal them a heavy blow.''
Zhang denies foreign reports of Chinese intrusions into Laos, and says that the border with Laos is peaceful. ``Our troops have never made any provocations on our border with Laos,'' he says. Yet he did say that Vietnam has three Army divisions stationed in Laos.