Notes on People’s War in Southeast Asia


5. Post-Mao Policy of China, 1976 to the present

In the last five years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1971-1976, the Rightist and Centrists in the Communist Party of China had gained so much ground in weakening the Left, in devaluing the need for people's war in Southeast Asia, in giving priority to developing rapprochement with the US under the guise of opposing the Soviet Union.

Ultimately, after the demise of Comrade Mao Zedong, the alliance of Centrists and Rightists paved the way for a counterrevolutionary coup and the restoration of capitalism, under the slogans of "reforms" (capitalist-oriented reforms), "opening up to the world" (integration into the world capitalist system) and "promoting peace, stability and economic development in the region" (including the withdrawal of support from the Southeast Asian communist parties, the dissolution of Central Committee delegations of fraternal parties in China and wherever possible the liquidation of people's war).

What obfuscated China's policy of liquidating people's war in Southeast Asia was its conspicuous support for Democratic Kampuchea from 1975 onwards and in the entire duration of the Third Indochina War from 1979 onwards, its opposition to the invasion of Kampuchea by Vietnam and its counter-invasion of Vietnam also in 1979 and its support for the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CDGK) based on the three-way alliance of the Party for Democratic Kampuchea (the erstwhile Communist Party of Kampuchea), the Sihanouk forces and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front led by Son Sann in 1982, extending up to 1991.

But the Party of Democratic Kampuchea was put in the position of being cornered by its two major allies in the coalition government. It was supported by China but it was also required to collaborate with the US and Thai governments to allow all allies in the coalition government to have bases along the Thai border and free passage of personnel and materiel to and from Kampuchea across Thailand. Democratic Kampuchea retained the UN seat of Kampuchea until 1982. Then this was passed on to the CGDK until 1993.

The Party of Democratic Kampuchea became bound to agreements in 1991 under the auspices of the UN to liquidate the people's war and attain national reconciliation among all political forces through elections in the 1993 under the supervision of the UN peacekeeping mission. The Party of Democratic Kampuchea was outmaneuvered by the other political forces, including its allies in the CGDK, and by the US, Chinese and Thai governments. It backed out of the agreements and resumed the people's war after realizing that it had been outmaneuvered. But by then, it had become isolated and deprived of the support of its former foreign supporters. The Party of Democratic Kampuchea went into a process of rapid disintegration from 1996 to 1998.

The war between Vietnam and Kampuchea disrupted the previous important relations and arrangements of the Communist Party of Thailand with the Communist Party of Kampuchea and the People's Revolutionary Party of Laos. China also used its support for the Party of Democratic Kampuchea and its allies in the coalition government to advise the Communist Party of Thailand to refrain from revolutionary radio broadcasts against the Thai government and finally to close down its Yunnan-based radio broadcasting station.

In connection with its policy of peace, stability and economic development and policy of supporting the resistance in Kampuchea, the Chinese authorities had advised, pressured and induced the Communist Party of Malaya to make a peace agreement with both the governments of Malaysia and Thailand since the early 1980s. The peace agreement was done in 1989. Subsequently, the Malayan Communist Party liquidated itself, surrendered its arms to the Thai authorities and converted the former revolutionary base at the Thai-Malaysian border into a tourist spot.

There are reports that upon Deng Xiaoping's return to power, the Chinese authorities prevented the leaders of the communist parties of Thailand and Burma from promptly communicating and meeting with their forces across the border. It may be true that these parties suffered setbacks due to external factors. But in the first place there are internal factors to consider. A communist party has to develop on its initiative and be self-reliant. Otherwise it becomes dependent on another party and becomes vulnerable to dictation from the outside.

The leadership of the Communist Party of Thailand based in Northeast Thailand was predominantly Chinese and failed to expand towards the non-Chinese communities in the plains and to handle correctly the thousands of Thai students who had joined the revolution after the military coup of 1976. The Thai government succeeded in attracting back these students with an amnesty proclamation in 1982. From that time on, it was able to make military advances on the armed base of the people's army and to arrest cadres of the communist party in urban and rural areas. There is no open manifestation of the current existence and activities of the Communist Party of Thailand.

Nearly all members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Burma were outside of Burma. Unable to cross the border from China, they could not have a handle on the people's army which increasingly came under the control of localist commanders. But the Communist Party of Burma still shows some signs of life, such as a website and statements by a prominent communist general who was one of the major founders of the Burmese National Army but who joined the Burmese Communist Party. The Burmese military regime had rebuffed previous proposals of the Burmese Communist Party to retain its armed units and some territory in exchange for a truce.