East Asia 1969: Sino-Soviet Border Conflict
In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, a hugely destructive campaign to purge China of anti-Communist thought. By now, Chinese and Soviet interpretations of Communist ideology had become quite different, with the Soviets abandoning the hard-line thinking of Stalin in the 1950s. This Sino-Soviet split erupted in war over old border disputes in 1969, mostly around tiny Zhenbao Island.
2 Aug 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident▲
The US Navy destroyer USS Maddox engaged three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, after they reportedly pursued the destroyer and it fired warning shots in return. US President Lyndon Johnson would use the incident, together with another alleged attack—which may not even have involved North Vietnamese ships—in the Gulf of Tonkin on 4 August, to justify increased US involvement in the Vietnam War.
10 Aug 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution▲
In response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, United States President Lyndon Johnson pushed for greater powers to pursue the war in Vietnam. As a result, the US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on 7 August 1964, with Johnson signing it into effect on 10 August. The resolution authorized the president to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia, allowing for the rapid escalation of US military involvement in the region.
16 Oct 1964 Project 596▲
In Project 596—named after June 1959 when the Soviet Union decided to end its support of the Chinese nuclear program—the People’s Republic of China detonated its first nuclear device northwest of Lop Nur, Xinjiang. The test made China the world’s fifth nuclear power.
16 May 1966–13 Sep 1971 Cultural Revolution▲
Mao Zedong, Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, started the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—a movement to preserve ‘true’ Communist ideology by purging remaining capitalist and traditionalist elements from Chinese culture. The revolution utilized China’s youth as Red Guards, and led to the purging of political opponents of Mao, the desecration of historical relics, widespread violence, and the persecution of millions of people. Although Mao officially declared the Cultural Revolution ended in 1969, it actively continued to 1971 and was not officially denounced until 1981.
2 Mar–11 Sep 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict▲
On 2 March 1969, the People’s Liberation Army ambushed Soviet border guards on disputed Zhenbao Island, leading to a seven-month undeclared military conflict between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Although fighting around Zhenbao Island ended by late March, tensions remained high, with further clashes occurring on the western border—between Xinjiang and Kazakh SSR—in August. The war ended on 11 September when border negotiations were reopened between the two countries.