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Ton Duc Thang

Ton Duc Thang

Ton Duc Thang, 1888-1980, Vietnamese politician. He was an early supporter of Ho Chi Minh and was imprisoned (1929-45) by the French colonial regime. After Vietnamese independence, he rose quickly in the North Vietnamese Communist party. He was vice president (1960-69) and became president of North Vietnam, a largely ceremonial position, upon Ho's death in 1969. After 1976, Ton was president of the newly reunited Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Tôn Đức Thắng (August 20 1888 - March 30 1980) was the second and final President of North Vietnam and the first President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. He served as President, initially of North Vietnam from September 2 1969, and later of the united Vietnam until his death. He was a key Vietnamese nationalist and Communist political figure and served as vice president to Hồ Chí Minh.

Early life

Thang was born to Ton Van De and Nguyen Thi Di on Ong Ho Island along the Mekong River, roughly four kilometres from Long Xuyen, the capital of the An Giang Province . From 1897 to 1901, Thang received his education in Chinese script, history and philosophy from a private tutor in Long Xuyen. This tutor, an anti-colonialist, carried a heavy influence on the early development of Thang's political beliefs . Afterwards, he learned French at an elementary school in Long Xuyen. Thang lived with his parents until 1906, when he moved to Saigon.

In 1919, in the Black Sea when he was with the French Navy, Thang claimed to participate in a plot with fellow sailors to turn over the French warship Waldeck-Rousseau to the enemy Bolshevik revolutionaries. He continued to participate in rebellious activities against the French, and in 1929 he was imprisoned by the French at Poulo Condore. He remained at Poulo Condore until 1945 and immediately rose again into the public eye. After Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh came into power in August 1945, Thang became the presiding member of the National Assembly.

Alternative version of events

Christoph Giebel, Associate Professor of International Studies and History at the University of Washington and author of the book, Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism: Ton Duc Thang and the Politics of History and Memory, relates the basic outline of the mutiny and determines from his examination of historical evidence, such as ship logs, that Thang did not participate in a mutiny on a French ship sent to the Black Sea in 1919 to help defeat Bolsheviks, those fabricated story that linked Vietnamese communism with the October Revolution in Russia and recounted across the Communist world in the 1950s. Giebel highlights disagreements over Thang involvement with a Saigon labour union in the 1920s and the naval-yard strike there in 1925 .

Years with North Vietnam

Becoming a figure

Thang also served as president of the Lien Viet during the rebellion against the French from 1946 to 1954. However, the organization was dissolved after the Geneva convention in 1954 which gave the Viet Minh sole control over North Vietnam. Thang then took over another organization, the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, a Communist pro-government nationalist group. Thang led the Fatherland Front in its conquest to draw supporters from South Vietnam. Thang’s work with trying to win over South Vietnam helped lead him to becoming the vice president of the North Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh. In 1967, when he was still vice president, Thang won the Lenin Peace Prize, a yearly prize similar to the Nobel Peace Prize, but given out by the Soviet Union. After Ho Chi Minh’s untimely death in 1969, Thang served as the final president of the independent socialist state of North Vietnam.

Fall of Saigon

With the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, Thang’s North Vietnam captured the capital and the heart of South Vietnam, thus allowing for the future reunification of North Vietnam and South Vietnam as one entity collectively known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Presently, April 30 is recognized as a public holiday in Vietnam known as Reunification Day, even though it was not until July 2 that the two countries became officially united as one nation.

Thang as president of Vietnam

With the South Vietnamese government ousted, Thang was easily able to keep his control over the unstable new nation. Vietnam under Thang experienced early troubles, as political and economic conditions were deteriorating and millions of South Vietnamese were fleeing the country as boat people.

Deposing of the Khmer Rouge

Troubles with the newly formed Vietnamese government further progressed in early 1978 when Thang approached the Soviet Union for help in deposing the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which was aligned with People's Republic of China (PRC). The situation seemed like a golden opportunity for the Soviet Union because they knew that the Vietnamese army could easily defeat Cambodian forces. A Vietnamese victory would weaken the only aligned nation with the People's Republic of China in Southeast Asia and demonstrate the superiority of being aligned with the Soviet Union. The growing tensions between the PRC and the Soviet Union had drastically escalated the situation in the area. The Soviet Union was anxious about the future outcome of a war by proxy between Vietnam and Cambodia.

In December 1978, after months of growing border conflicts and an influx of Cambodians seeking refuge in Vietnam, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia. By January 7, 1979, the Vietnamese had easily captured the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh and deposed of the Khmer Rouge regime. However, the Soviet Union's diplomatic victory was short-lived. The PRC was now being backed by the United States, and they increasingly showed signs of being close to war with Vietnam. The Soviets knew that they could not go help the Vietnamese if the PRC decided to invade Vietnam.

Not surprisingly, on February 15, 1979, the People's Republic of China officially announced plans to invade Vietnam, thus ending the crucial and significant Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, which had been signed just on the previous day in 1950. The PRC claimed that the invasion was as a result of mistreatment of ethnic Chinese and the Vietnamese presence on the PRC’s Spratly Islands.

On February 17, a PRC force of about 200,000 had crossed into Thang’s country, and they immediately started to invade Vietnamese cities and towns. Thang had left an army of 100,000 men to fight off the PRC, and heavy casualties were reported from both sides. With the Chinese not wanting to linger in Vietnam any longer, they started to move out of the country less than a month later, on March 16. China’s early exit from the country drew up much confusion to who was the victor of the Sino-Vietnamese War. Thang proclaimed that Vietnam had won the war, while his counterpart in China, Ye Jianying, proclaimed a Chinese victory. However, one thing is sure about the Sino-Vietnamese War's outcome. Thang’s Vietnam was able to successfully depose of the Khmer Rouge from power in Cambodia.

Death and legacy

Thang died on March 30, 1980, in Hanoi, a little more than a year after the conclusion of the Sino-Soviet War, at the age of 91 from a heart seizure and respiratory failure. He was succeeded by one of his vice presidents, Nguyễn Hữu Thọ.

Even though Thang had been the first president of the reunited Socialist Republic of Vietnam, he has not attained the same reverence as his predecessor, Ho Chi Minh, had received from the Vietnamese people. Thang served as the nation’s leader during the pivotal time when North Vietnam and South Vietnam were reunified as one. Many people had left Thang’s Vietnam and became boat people in fears of Thang’s rule over the country, and the potential destruction that he could cause.

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