In a blunt warning, China today called on Vietnam to halt immediately "intolerable provocations" along their common border amid reports of stepped-up but sporadic fighting there between Chinese and Vietnamese military units.
People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, said Chinese border guards "have been compelled to make counterattacks" in the face of intensifying provocations" by the Vietnamese.
The official New China News Agency said Chinese gunners shelled Vietnam's northern border barricades yesterday in retaliation for Vietnamese bombardment that Peking said killed or wounded at least 15 soldiers and peasants planting spring crops.
The commentary in the People's Daily Sunday edition defended China's actions as "absolutely just and necessary." The commentary appeared to be Peking's stongest verbal broadside against Hanoi since tensions on the Sino-Vietnamese border began mounting anew several weeks ago.
China accused Vietnam of escalating those tensions in order to "divert the attention of the world community" from Hanoi's seasonal offensive in Cambodia. Intense fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border continues between Vietnamese forces and those of Thailand and Peking-backed Cambodian guerrillas.
The People's Daily commentary said, "China is not responsible for the deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations," and warned that "the military provocations and aggresion against China must be stopped at once."
It reiterated China's strong support for Thailand against the "Vietnamese intrusion" and said, "the counterattacks by Chinese frontier guards are both a forceful blow to the arrogance of the Vietnamese authorities and a serious warning against their ambitions" for territory in Indochina.
The Associated Press added from Peking:
Chinese and Vietnamese frontier forces have fired at each other sporadically since they fought a one-month border war in February 1979, but yesterday was the first time China reported retaliating with artillery.
The New China News Agency said a Chinese observation post reported that artillery fire from the southwest Guangxi autonomous region destroyed earthen defense barricades of the Vietnamese troops. It did not say whether any Vietnamese were killed or wounded.
Vietnam had no immediate response to the Chinese reports. Its official news agency earlier had accused Chinese troops of five serious incursions and mortar and artillery attacks on Vietnamese territory between Tuesday and Thursday. On April 7, the Chinese news agency said earlier, Chinese troops returned fire to rescue 34 Chinese peasants after Vietnamese troops started shooting at them as they worked in a field. It said a 13-year-old Chinese boy was seriously wounded.