In order to explore the timing of strike-slip movement along the Ailao Shan–Red River shear zone, an 40Ar/39Ar thermochronological study of the Day Nui Con Voi metamorphic massif in northern Vietnam was undertaken. The massif, exposed in the southeastern segment of the Ailao Shan–Red River shear zone, reveals a rapid cooling in the early Miocene (25–21 Ma) after a very slow cooling ca. 34–25 Ma. The slow cooling period most likely resulted from a geothermal perturbation in the lithosphere owing to the late Paleogene (40–30 Ma) extension in eastern Tibet and western Yunnan, China. The rapid cooling, consistent with evidence of a wider rapid cooling span from 27 to 17 Ma compiled from the entire Ailao Shan–Red River shear zone, constrains the duration of left-lateral shearing, which eventually offset Indochina from South China by about 600 km. The time constraints we have established reinforce the argument that the onset of the Ailao Shan–Red River shear zone postdates the opening of the South China Sea that began ca. 30 Ma. This result highlights the necessity for reevaluating the Cenozoic tectonic models of Southeast Asia.

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