The naval clash between Vietnam and China over Johnson South Reef aka Gac Ma Island was the last battle between the two communist neighbors.It occurred on March 14 1988 when Chinese forces launched an attack on the island that was formerly under Vietnamese control. This resulted in the deaths of 64 Vietnamese soldiers the sinking of two Vietnamese ships and China’s occupation of the reef as well as other islets and rocks in the Spratly Islands ever since.
Despite Vietnam’s heavy loss of human life and territory the military incident was soon deliberately ignored by the Vietnamese government following a 1990 summit between Hanoi and Beijing in Chengdu that led to a normalization of ties in 1991.
In fact for nearly three decades after that secret meeting the clash was seen as a very sensitive if not taboo topic in Vietnam. Neither was the incident taught at schools or aired in political discourse. Recollection of the clash was often avoided by the one-party state’s highly censored media.
Any attempts by local activists to mark the bloody skirmish moreover were thwarted or forcefully interrupted by police.