Li Xilin discusses his experience escorting a leader from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) from Laos to China for the People’s Republic of China’s National Day in the early 1970s.
Li Xilin joined the 44th Regiment of 15th Army, Airborne Corps of the People’s Liberation Army in December 1970. On July 23, 1971, he was transferred to the Headquarters Guard Platoon of the 43rd Regiment, 15th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Division of the PLA’s Air Force. He was appointed as a Deputy Squad Leader in March 1973.
In late August 1972, Li received orders to escort a leader and his translator from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) from his base in Laos to Mengla Country in Yunnan. Together with another soldier from Shandong, a logistics officer from the base, and a driver, they escorted the CPT leader and his translator to Yunann. His mission was completed once the leader had safely made it to a CPT office in Mengla Country. He did not know much about what the CPT leader was doing, except for the fact that he was to attend the People’s Republic of China’s National Day celebration that year. While Li and his detail did not speak much to the CPT leader, they managed to strike a conversation with his translator, who spoke Chinese with a Fujianese accent. The translator told him that he had studied in a university in Fujian, and thereafter returned to Thailand to work as a translator for the CPT. After Li and his detail had safely escorted the CPT leader and his translator to the CPT office in Mengla Country, they stayed in the county for two nights before returning to base.
Li recollected that while in Laos, he saw many Vietnamese and Thai soldiers, both male and female. From his understanding, the Vietnamese soldiers were dispatched to train the Laotian leftist forces, while the Thai soldiers frequently shuttled back and forth between various Chinese camps in Laos.
Interviewee: Li Xilin
Interviewer and writer: CUI FENG
Location: Harbin City, Heilongjiang province, China
Date: November 14, 2021
Language: Chinese (Translated by CUI FENG)
Interview with Li Xilin
(Li joined the 44th Regiment of 15th Army, Airborne Corps of the PLA in December 1970. On July 23, 1971 , he was transferred to the Headquarters Guard Platoon of the 43rd Regiment, 15th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Division of the PLA’s Air Force. He was appointed as a Deputy Squad Leader in March 1973).
In late August of 1972, we were stationed at a mountain valley in Laos called “Twenty-Four Kilometers,” where our regimental headquarters were located. In that same month, a senior cadre and a translator from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) arrived in Laos and came to our regimental headquarters. The headquarters requested two soldiers to escort the CPT leader back to China to participate in the National Day celebration on October 1st. I was assigned together with another comrade from Shandong to undertake the escort mission.. Along with the CPT leader and his translator, a driver, and another logistics officer from our regiment leading the team, there were a total of six of us in the detail.
The two of us (me and the comrade from Shandong) were responsible for the security. We rode in a PLA truck. The truck had a small red flag on it, which meant that neither the left nor the right factions in Laos could attack or rob our vehicle because it belonged to the postal and communication department. We traveled all the way back to our homeland, to Mengla County on the border of Yunnan Province. The Communist Party of Thailand had an office in Mengla County along our border. After we escorted the CPT leader to the CPT office, we considered our mission complete and returned to our base. I don't know about the details because we were soldiers. When superiors give you a mission, they only tell you what you need to know. After completing the mission, we returned to Laos. That's how the experience was.
It took us about one whole day to travel by car from Muang Houne in Laos to Mengla County in Yunnan. It was a long journey. We sat in the same car as the CPT leader who was a head of the logistics department, but we didn't talk to him. As soldiers, we couldn't ask anything, we could only obey orders. Our superiors told us that he was the head of the logistics department and we had to escort and protect him. In the car, we only chatted with the translator. The translator spoke Chinese with a Fujianese accent. I recognized the accent because we also had soldiers from Fujian in our unit. When I heard the translator speaking with a Fujianese accent, I was puzzled as to why a foreign leader would bring someone who spoke Fujian dialect. I was curious about the translator at the time. But it was a challenging task to escort the CPT leader. We were mentally focused, so we didn't talk much.
Later, the translator took the initiative to chat with us in the car. He started singing songs from the Cultural Revolution, such as "Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman" and "On the Golden Mountain in Beijing." When he sang these songs, I felt puzzled. I asked him if he was Thai or Chinese, as well as how he could speak Chinese fluently? He said he was not Chinese. He studied in a university in Fujian, and then returned to Thailand to become a translator for the CPT.
Mengla County was a very small county town. It may be slightly larger now than it was before, but at that time, it was very small, like a large village. The Laotian people always said that Beijing was the largest city, and Mengla County was the second-largest city. It was a small county town in the south of China, not too big, and located in a mountain valley. The office of the CPT was like a large courtyard because it was in a mountainous area. The mountainous area formed a large courtyard on a slope, and was very spacious. After delivering the leader to the CPT office, we stayed in Mengla for two nights and then returned to Laos.
While we were in Laos, we often saw soldiers from Vietnam and Thailand. Because we were all soldiers, we wore the same uniforms. There were Vietnamese soldiers and Thai soldiers, both male and female soldiers. We saw them all. Thai soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers have different appearances, and you can tell them apart by their speech. Vietnamese soldiers look different from Thai soldiers. Just like Laotian soldiers and Chinese soldiers, their appearances are different, so they can be distinguished. In Southeast Asia, no matter which country, the military uniforms are the same. Whether it's Thai soldiers or Laotian soldiers, they wear the same military uniform, the same color.
As far as I know, the Vietnamese soldiers were mainly responsible for training Laotian soldiers, providing military training. Each company had a Vietnamese soldier training the Laotian leftist forces. As for Thai soldiers, because we were close to Thailand in the Twenty-Four Kilometers (regimental code) and Fifty-Four Kilometers (another regimental code), Thai soldiers were frequently moving back and forth. It's not clear what they were doing, but we often saw them. Our camp, the First Battalion, was located on the bank of the Mekong River, and on the opposite side was the headquarters of the CPT. Our artillery battalion was on the other side of the river.
Interviewer: Cui Feng
Interviewee: Li Xilin
What does the presence of soldiers from various countries in Laos tell us about what the Cold War was like for these countries?