I have heard that good parenting advice tends to stress consistency; if you "lay down the law" you have to stick with it and not allow "infractions" to go unnoticed or unconcequenced.

For purposes of illustration of what I mean by "back down" or not:

  • Some suggest that the US remained in the Vietnam War as long as it did to demonstrate (perhaps to the Soviet Union) that it was willing to continue to accept large numbers of US casualties in order to prevail and not back down.
  • Obama's "red line" in Syria and the lack of apparent consequences when it was crossed1,2 may be seen as "backing down" for the purposes of this question.

Question: Has post-revolutionary China ever backed down in international (plus SARs, TAR and cross-straits) affairs?

One clear example of backing down - stating a "red line" or something equivalent, something that must be done by another entity, or not done, followed by an apparent lack of consequences when the line was crossed will be sufficient to confirm "has ever".

Note that for the purposes of this question the "red line" will have to be an official position articulated by the Chinese government, not something simply spoken by a member of the PLA into a microphone in the South China Sea.

Hong Kong and Macau are China's SAR's, the Tibet Autonomous Region is TAR, and for the purposes of this question, cross-straits interactions with Taiwan will count as well.

1The Atlantic, June 3, 2018 Inside the White House During the Syrian 'Red Line' Crisis "We in the Obama administration stepped up to the brink of military action against Assad. And then, suddenly, we stepped back."

2Politico, July 19, 2016 Obama’s Red Line, Revisited "The offhand remark spurred a massive success in Syria. Why does the foreign policy establishment consider it a failure?"

  • As a build up, what do you consider as examples where China did draw some red line (and either won the argument or it hasn't been resolved yet)?
    – quarague
    Apr 17, 2022 at 18:42
  • @quarague that's an interesting point; if it turns out that the answer is "No, because they haven't drawn any" then that's the answer. Apr 17, 2022 at 23:23
  • 1

2 Answers 2


Most of the stated "Red Line" have not been crossed. Even in 1995's Taiwan Strait Crisis, China never explicitly state anything. They do plan to switch from an excercise directly to a military operation if Li Deng Hui wins the election, but it is never explicitly spoken by official mouthpiece link. And there is a Red Line about South China Sea, and China has answer the call of bluff with lethal force

It is within Chinese culture to not make things so explicit and give everyone--include themselves--no quarter to maneuver. Having wiggle space is important for China so they can dictate when and where a battle could occur, or the battle should occur at all (Art of War, Thirty Six Strategem and all).


I guess it depends what you mean by "backed down". From some rhetoric, certainly. E.g. compare how China officially treats Russia's invasion of Ukraine with this...

Speaking at a banquet held at the Romanian embassy in Beijing on 23 August 1968, Zhou Enlai denounced the Soviet Union for "fascist politics, great power chauvinism, national egoism and social imperialism". He went on to compare the invasion of Czechoslovakia to the Americans in the Vietnam War and more pointedly to the policies of Adolf Hitler towards Czechoslovakia in 1938 to 1939. Zhou ended his speech with a barely veiled-call for the people of Czechoslovakia to wage guerrilla war against the Red Army.


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