Why did not Communist China annex Mainland Southeast Asia?

May 2017
China is undoubtedly currently one of the most powerful countries in the world - in terms of territory, population as well as already economy. Yet it seems that it could have easily been even more powerful than it is right now. That additional power could have come from either annexation or vassalization of Mainland Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, West Malaysia, etc.). I wonder why the Chinese didn’t use the chance to expand their country, especially in the climate of the Cold War, right after the WW2. Why didn’t it happen? Reasons they could have used:

- cultural ties (linguistic and religious similarities between all these countries with China.)
- tributary system (nearly all countries of Mainland Southeast Asia were at some time part of the Chinese tributary system, China could have claimed it tries to reunite all of the Chinese historical territory.)
- Chinese diaspora (there is a huge Chinese diaspora living in the said countries, sometimes accounting for almost the half of the population of respective countries, e.g. in Thailand. China could have claimed that it tries to unite all the Chinese people into one country.)
- discrimination of the Chinese (the Chinese being an economic elite in almost all of these countries suffered sometimes from racist riots and discrimination. China could have claimed it tries to save them from progroms.)
- spread of communism (communism was enormously popular in that part the world right after the WW2. China could have claimed they try to convert these countries to communism, something they cannot achieve on their own. They actually did a lot to support the movement in these countries but never tried to annex them.)
- opposition to imperialism (Mainland Southeast Asia was subjugated by european powers and in case of Vietnam there was a war fought to expel the French. China could have claimed it tries to free this part of the world from the european imperialism, something that these countries cannot achieve on their own.)
- lack of democracy (countries in this part of the world after the WW2 were either military dictatorships of communist dictatorships with a very poor human rights record. The international community wouldn’t have defended them the same way democracies are usually defended.)
- imperial rivalry (China deeply destroyed by Japanese imperialism and confronted by Soviet imperialism and USA imperialism could have claimed that in self-defense it preemptively annexes these countries to counter imperialism from all of the said countries.)
- war involvement (China was deeply involved in the Vietnam war, it also had a problem with Kuomintang leftovers in Myanmar and Thailand. The conflict was already on so why not try the most radical solution and annex these countries.)

It looks right now like the USA treats China like its sworn enemy, even though China probably doesn’t see itself as such.
The USA is an imperialist, chauvinist country. Their crypto-fascist culture made it exterminate Native Americans and steal a large part of the Mexico territory and they apparently have no remorse about that, yet they hypocritically try to lecture others. They see the world of international relations as a darwinist world where the great powers bully smaller countries, invade them, pillage them and even steal their territory. Apart from that, they have that jingoistic idea that they are somehow exceptional. They cannot coexist with countries that are or even may be as powerful as they are. That is the reason why they go so crazy about the rise of China, or any other country for that matter. No matter what China does, they will be treated as enemies by Americans, they just cannot change their mentality. China must be surely aware of that by now. Why the Chinese didn’t try to play the american game and expand their own country. It wouldn’t have made really much change to their international standing, because they are anyways criticized about the issue of Tibet and such, usually by such compromised countries like the USA. Was it their lack of cynism or foresight, they didn’t see the great power confrontation they are being drawn into by the USA? Is that because China is itself shy of being imperialist and have therefore to its own disadvantage didn’t use the chance?

What are the relations between China and these countries today? Are they in its sphere of influence?
Jan 2015
They tried to goat Vietnam into going for a brawl fight against France in Dien Bien Phu with the promise that they will send their own army in if it went bad. Of course, we are not that stupid. It's easy to invite your enemy into your home but chasing them out wouldnt be so easy.
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Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
They tried to goat Vietnam into going for a brawl fight against France in Dien Bien Phu
battle of Dien Bien Phu is co-commanded by Wei guoqing of military consulting team of PLA and Vo Nguyen Giap of Việt Minh
also PLA were invited to join the anti-US war in the 1960s-1970s, and 0.32 million chinese soldiers served in viet nam during the war.
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Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
none of the listed reasons sounds actually reasonable.
the OP asks something beyond the historical study.
Dec 2010
Because it doesn't make sense. Economical sense.
Laos was pretty much an anarchist state divined by tribal lines on the highlands, and is still quite chaotic as of right now. Safe for tourists though.
Vietnam is always very sinicized, and sinicized states are never fond of each other. You can check up the relationships between Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China.
Thailand crushed Communism. Moreover, there are many mountain ranges which can act as naturl barriers between China and Burma/ Thailand.
Jan 2016
United States, MO
As stated in the OP, most of these countries were rather anti-imperialist. And I doubt the locals from these places would prefer Chinese to Western imperialism. I mean much of Asia saw right through Japanese imperialism.
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Oct 2016
3rd planet of the Solar System
why would China want to do that ?? as if governing 1.4Billion people under one flag was not already hard enough.

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Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
Also early communist China wasn't that strong and it has a nasty northern neighbor who is/was not to keen on Chinese expansion. Furthermore expansion into Indo-China would definitely mean trouble with France and/or UK and most probably also with the US, not to mention that these countries were also quite capable of handling themselves.