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Diplomacy in the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising

The period of 1967-1968 was unique in the war of resistance for national unification of our country. Under the auspices of the Party and President Ho Chi Minh, our military and people brought into play intelligence, inherited our ancestors’ tradition of fighting against foreign aggressors, combined national strength with powers of the age, and surmounted immense difficulty and hardship to score the Great Victory in Spring 1975. In each phase of the war, struggle in political, military and diplomatic realms was constantly well coordinated to generate integrated strength of the whole nation.

Attaching special importance to diplomatic struggle at decisive moments, including the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising, was of extreme significance, contributing to dealing a strategic blow to the enemies and basically changing the complexion of the war. On the one hand, the diplomatic front, under the direct leadership of President Ho Chi Minh and the Party Central Committee, closely coordinated with and established an edge for military offensive. On the other hand, it capitalised on success on the battlefield to gain greater victories of strategic importance.

Creating diplomatic posture

The 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising was conducted when the war of resistance against the U.S. became increasingly fierce. After its Strategy of “Special War” had ended in failure, the U.S. was forced to shift to the Strategy of “Local War,” initiating the direct involvement of its expeditionary forces in South Vietnam and bombings in North Vietnam. Given sound leadership of the Party Central Committee, however, our military forces and people gradually defeated this new strategy, especially through beating back the two strategic counterattacks launched by U.S. and Saigon puppet regime’s military forces during the dry seasons for the periods of 1965-1966 and 1966-1967.

U.S. escalation of the war in Vietnam and bombings in the North, which caused great damage and loss to civilians, made progressive people in the world increasingly worried. A number of countries and famous people requested war termination and urged parties concerned to enter into negotiations to find political and diplomatic solutions. The United Nations Secretary-General, Canadian Prime Minister, French President, etc., expressed their willingness to mediate and requested the U.S. to respect Vietnam’s independence and unification and soon enter into negotiations. To justify its war, U.S. launched the biggest ever diplomatic campaign by means of dispatching special envoys to over 40 countries, sending letters to state leaders of more than 100 nations, and many other activities.

Against this backdrop, the 13th Plenum of the Party Central Committee, convened in January 1967, agreed to enhance diplomatic struggle and clearly specified that military and political struggle in the South was the deciding factor in the success on the battlefield, as the basis for victories on the diplomatic front. “We will only achieve on the negotiating table what we have gained on the battlefield. Nevertheless, diplomatic struggle does not only reflect the struggle on the battlefield, but in current international situation, given the nature of the war between us and the enemy, plays a vital, positive and proactive role.” As for specific missions, the diplomatic front gave prominence to the four-point position of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the five-point declaration of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, and capitalised on support and assistance of sister nations and friends who had a strong desire for peace and justice in the world, including American people.

Realising that instruction of the Party Central Committee, in answer to questions raised by foreign journalists on 28 January 1967, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Duy Trinh proclaimed that “…the United States of America must stop its airstrike bombings and other war activities directed against North Vietnam unconditionally. Only after the U.S. has satisfied this demand can the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States of America have a talk with each other.” Subsequently, in September 1967, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that “the U.S. will be ready to stop all of the airstrike bombings conducted by its Air Force and Navy in North Vietnam when this initiative quickly leads to effective discussions.” Thus, this statement basically asked for conditional negotiation. In order to seize the initiative, Vietnam’s diplomacy made a more decisive move. “After the United States of America ends its airstrike bombings and other war activities directed against North Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam will discuss relating issues with it,” said our Minister of Foreign Affairs on 29 December 1967.

Our Government’s proactiveness in seeking possibilities of negotiation represented a sound and timely diplomatic strategy, which helped to garner support of people and international opinions. Our combination of negotiation with U.S. termination of bombings in North Vietnam also highlighted justice of our people’s struggle and exposed U.S. violation of sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of an independent, sovereign and internationally recognised nation. Socialist states, most of non-aligned countries, peaceful movements, and even some Western nations voiced objections to put a great international pressure on the U.S. and force them to find solutions to ending the war.

On the other hand, our release of such a crucial statement right before the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising made the adversaries somewhat subjective and underestimated our capabilities, ensuring confidentiality at both strategic and tactical levels. Consequently, the diplomatic front made direct contribution to enabling our military forces and people to launch the 1968 Spring General Offensive with strong international support and strategic proactiveness on the battlefield.

Diplomatic front – resonant strength for victories on the battlefield

A fundamental factor that contributed to victory of the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising was the widespread unity and strong support of the world’s people front granted to Vietnamese people’s just struggle. Over the period of 1967-1968, we continually mounted diplomatic attacks to take advantage of international friends’ support. The just nature of our people’s struggle provided us a vital foundation for garnering sentiment from progressive people in the world. Our proactiveness in diplomatic mobilisation and struggle served to increasingly heighten international wave of support for Vietnam. Many senior leaders of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam visited a number of countries and met with state leaders and people from various walks of life to clarify justice of Vietnamese people in the war of resistance against the U.S. for national salvation. Thousands of demonstrations “For Vietnam” were staged in major capitals around the world. International friends’ wholehearted support for the battlefield constituted an invaluable resource of encouragement to our officers and soldiers, making contribution to creating their absolute confidence in the Party’s leadership, justice and ultimate triumph of the war of resistance.

Taking advantage of support within the U.S. through American people’s anti-war movements was also a crucial mission of diplomatic front for this period. Proposals for negotiation, justice and active attitudes of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as well as consecutive victories on the battlefield, particularly in major cities such as Saigon, Da Nang, Hue, etc., put an end to U.S. illusions about “victory” in Vietnam, making American people’s anti-war movements ever increased. We also sensibly applied measures which included inviting several foreign journalists and reporters to enter North Vietnam to see with their own eyes and write about awful destruction caused by U.S. bombings to civilians in Vietnam in an honest, objective manner. It was the journalists’ news, pictures and articles that provided further strength for increasingly animated, boiling and drastic anti-war movements with the participation of tens of thousands of intellectuals, students and other sociopolitical circles in major U.S. cities. Dozens of thousands of American youths opposed military service. There was a growing number of members of U.S. Congress requesting U.S. Government to end immediately the Vietnam War and enter into intrinsic negotiations. To exploit contradictions within the U.S., our diplomacy brought into play our people’s justice and advantage, making a decisive contribution to shaping the international people’s united, pro-Vietnam front against the U.S. It was argued that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War not only in Vietnam but also in their own country.

The diplomatic front also succeeded in capitalising on the robust support and wholehearted aid of socialist states. In the difficult context of the socialist countries, communist movement and international workers, the Party Central Committee exercised its lucidity and steadfastness in pursuing the guideline of independence, self-reliance, patience with negotiation, and exploitation of friendly nations’ support. Sincere, steadfast exchange at high levels served to maintain and promote the great support of the Soviet Union and China in both material and spiritual aspects, especially at a time when we were devoting our human and material resources to the subsequent General Offensive and Uprising.

Making direct contribution to victories on the battlefield

Victories of the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising were also attributed to the sensible strategic combination of victories on the battlefield and on the diplomatic front.

First, the diplomatic front opportunely and effectively leveraged strategic victories gained in the first wave of the General Offensive and Uprising to force the U.S. to enter into negotiations in our favour. On New Year’s Eve and the first day of the 1968 Tet Holiday, our armed forces mounted simultaneous attacks on the enemies in the whole Southern theatre, including raids on many enemy headquarters in Saigon, Hue and other cities and towns. Right in the first wave, we dealt a decisive blow to the enemies, which compelled U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, on 31 March 1968, declare its unilateral suspension of bombings in the area from latitude 200 N, “readiness for peace building through negotiation” and dispatch of U.S. representatives to anywhere and at any time. This statement officially admitted U.S. failure in escalation of the war in the North and “Local War” in the South. Obviously, this represented the result of a flexible but resolute diplomatic struggle process to force the U.S. to enter into negotiations in our interests.

Although the U.S. did not fully satisfy our demands regarding its termination of bombings in the North, we decided to take this opportunity to conduct direct negotiations with the U.S. with the aim of restraining and urging the U.S. to open negotiations and deescalate the war; and to raise the flag of justice, display our willingness to negotiation, and take advantage of international opinions and friends to enable following operations of the strategic offensive campaign in the short term. On 3 April 1968, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam proclaimed “its preparedness to send representatives to meet with the U.S. counterparts to determine that U.S. unconditional termination of its bombings and other war activities directed against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam would be the precondition for negotiation.” We kept making attacks in diplomatic realm and requested the U.S. to completely end its bombing in the North – not just the area from latitude 200 N - while cooperating with our military forces and people to begin shaping the complexion of fighting while negotiating.

Second, our diplomacy created a great deal of international pressure on the U.S. and heightened our justice to garner international support for the General Offensive and Uprising. Throughout the first wave of the strategic offensive, our diplomatic corps and news agencies repeatedly contacted and spread news to propagandise Vietnam’s justice perspective. Since May 1968, we officially opened negotiations with the U.S. in Paris, where there were many international diplomatic corps and news agencies, making it easy for us to disseminate our victories and the justice of our people’s struggle. Throughout the second and third waves of the General Offensive and Uprising, we were determined to object to U.S. escalation of the war in the South, request the U.S. to completely and unconditionally stop their bombings in the North, and reject their proposals for restoring demilitarised zones, refraining from shelling major cities, and stopping increased support for the Vietnam War. Success on the diplomatic front, therefore, made direct contribution to victories on the theatre of war.

Third, the diplomatic front capitalised on outcomes obtained on the battlefield to compel the U.S. to officially deescalate the war and acknowledge position of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, providing a solid foundation for facilitating the conclusion of the historic Paris Peace Accord in January 1973. During the negotiation process from May to October 1968, we showed great perseverance in asking the U.S. to put an end to its bombings in the North with a view to changing complexion of the war, creating favourable conditions for building the North, and providing support for the South. By 1 November 1968, the U.S. proclaimed its acceptance of stopping bombings throughout North Vietnam and participation of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in the four-party talks. The U.S. notified us of this content through negotiation channels in Paris. On 2 November 1968, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam issued a statement which affirmed that “to reach a sound political solution to Vietnam, the U.S. Government had to abandon its plot to intervene and invade Vietnam.”

Our decision to accept the four-party talks while still maintaining direct negotiation channels with the U.S. Government contributed to binding the U.S. to negotiations of the Paris Peace Accord and showed our capabilities to bring into play great achievements of the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising. That decision became more and more significant in the context that Richard Nixon had just won the presidential election and planned to adjust its strategy for the Vietnam War without quitting negotiations. Our strategy to force the U.S. to acknowledge the role of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam also helped to split the United States of America and the Republic of Vietnam since Nguyen Van Thieu’s Administration resolutely opposed the participation of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in negotiations. According to their calculation, the participation of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in negotiations would give rise to a political solution to South Vietnam, and their regime would be no longer the sole political force. Signing of the agreement on four-party talks was also a proof of the soundness of our Party’s guideline on establishing the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, which served as a great source of encouragement to Southern soldiers and compatriots, particularly against the backdrop of our immense difficulties in human resource and combat posture over the period of 1969-1970.

Lesson learned in the long term

The 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising occurred exactly half a century ago, but its successful lessons have always prevailed in our Party and people’s revolutionary cause. The skillful combination of military, political and diplomatic struggle is reflected through the following aspects.

First, victories of our military forces and people in diplomatic struggle in 1968 were, first and foremost, attributed to the sound, direct leadership and instruction of the Party and State. The preparation of diplomatic posture, planning and exploitation of outcomes brought about by the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising were directly instructed in each stage by the Party Central Committee, President Ho Chi Minh and other leaders.

Second, those important victories also reveal the enduring values of cleverly aligning military and defence posture with diplomatic front. The diplomatic front contributed to upholding outcomes gained on the theatre of war by means of the adversaries’ public commitments, dissemination of victories, and courting international friends’ material and spiritual support. At the same time, the diplomacy also contributed to victories and gave support to the battlefield.

Third, the 1968 Spring Strategic Offensive and peace talks in 1968 in Paris also prove the importance of keen surveillance, assessment and judgment of international and regional situations as well as the balance of power. Our people’s victories indicate that correct evaluation of the situations and issue of sensible strategies will serve to make full use of national strength and powers of the age, enabling us to win victories regardless of disadvantageous situations and balance of power.

Given the aforementioned lessons, victories of our armed forces and people in the 1968 Spring General Offensive and Uprising are of strategic importance and profound epochal value. The diplomatic front made contribution to bringing into play victories on the theatre of war and opening negotiations in Paris, which were 5 years long, creating the premise for our people to liberate the South and unite the country. Lessons on combining diplomatic struggle with military struggle in 1968 remain valid and need to be brought into play, developed and applied in a creative manner, contributing to the cause of national building and defence.

Pham Binh Minh, Member of the Politburo, Deputy Prime Minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs

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