396.1–LO/5–250: Telegram

The United States Delegation at the Tripartite Preparatory Meetings to the Secretary of State

Secto 89. From Jessup. (Section one of two.) Second Trilateral Sub-Committee SEA.1 At Dening’s request French delegation opened on Indochina. Du Gardier, Pignon’s2 diplomatic adviser, in a presentation made following points:

During last four months military situation has shown improvement while political, guerrilla and fifth column conditions have deteriorated. 23,000 peasants defected in Tonkin in March and this trend continuing. Some regular army officers have also defected including cousin of Viet-Minh Cabinet officer. On other hand, terrorism and guerrilla activities especially in Cochin China have increased, and fifth column has received orders to intensify its activities as evidenced by recent murder of French police official. Communist Party is coming more and more into open not only in Indochina but also in Malaya and Hong Kong with purges and terrorism.
Importance of Ministers Conference on SEA public opinion, publicity given to fact SEA and Indochina on conference agenda has caused following reaction: there must have been many conferences but few results, this is last chance for Western Powers to show their determination to keep SEA their side, their solidarity among themselves and their power. This is favorable time for Western Powers to do this as there is breathing space created by news of famine and high taxes in China and many Vietnamese and overseas Chinese who were willing to take chance on inevitability of Chinese Communist domination SEA are now back on fence. Du Gardier offered opinion 80 percent SEA peoples are less interested in ideology than in being on winning side. (Here he quoted reason allegedly given privately by Pibul3 for recognizing Indochinese states “because the Western world is richest and strongest.”)
For above reasons, a statement of solidarity of three powers and as many others as wish to join, emerging from this conference, is of the highest importance.
French Army morale is good in the north where strict military discipline is maintained and less good in south where discouraging guerrilla operations are in progress. In poor morale two trends are [Page 939] discernible: (1) feeling that war is not approved by entirety of public opinion at home and wide sections of world opinion regard it as colonialist war; (2) French interests in Indochina are not important enough to die for, that country is being given over to Vietnamese and that when war is over French influence will have disappeared. This is one reason why French do not now plan to increase powers of Vietnamese. French troops must feel they are fighting for something; they need the feeling that their actions are approved. Hence, psychological as well as material importance of hoped-for Western military aid.
Political crisis in Vietnam. Three ministers of importance to Viet Party left government because of their disgust at inaction and lack of manifestation of authority of Bao Dai and inability Prime Minister organize government effectively. French had no part in provoking crisis and only intervened after it had continued for three weeks when they urged Bao Dai to find a way out. French were not behind choice of Prime Minister-designate Tran Van Huu despite rumors in press circles where Huu being considered pro-French. French, however, are glad he entertains more friendly sentiment towards them and realizes importance of effort they are making to hold military perimeter. France needs a government which is an ally while France is doing most of fighting and thus feels that Huu, unlike his predecessor, will come out with statement of common Franco-Vietnam cause against Viet-Minh. Huu is strongly in favor of quickly building up Vietnam army and French will cooperate fully.

Dening asked further details concerning organization and chain of command of Communist Party in Vietnam, also if there were documentary evidence its international connections and Du Gardier replied in affirmative saying evidence increasingly showed Communist Party organization in Vietnam and Communists getting key jobs down through to lower levels.

(Section two of two) Dening then referred to propaganda posture of Bao Dai venture observing it did not show on credit side of ledger. Du Gardier agreed saying French were at least beginning long deferred effort but had many difficulties; no information service in SEA, small staffs in French Legations and Consulates and no translations into English which was principal language of civilization in area. Dening asked if there was not chance of cooperation here and Jessup said US which had good size information service in SEA would be glad to help in getting out the facts.

Replying to query by Jessup regarding rice crop prospects, Du Gardier said there would be slight amount for export this year; Tonkin was slightly deficient as usual; there was balanced situation in Annam and excess in Cochinchina.

Discussion then turned to arms smuggling from Siam following same lines as yesterday (Secto 744). Massigli and Du Gardier feared [Page 940] influx of new arms under military program might increase those available for illicit traffic and Merchant stated we intended obtaining commitments from Siamese not only regarding US arms aid but also regarding those which new arms would replace. Also suggested US might attempt to obtain greater cooperation from Philippines.

Dening and Du Gardier exchanged views on pattern Communist organization agreeing that mask of nationalism was being less used by Communists throughout SEA, that slogans of international Communism were coming to fore and that this fact should be exploited in propaganda.

Dening then returned to declaration of solidarity and Du Gardier referred to Massigli’s proposal of yesterday a draft of which would be circulated tonight or tomorrow morning (this will be cabled when received).5

Dening then made following points regarding possible declaration:

While he could not speak for Bevin he would welcome French draft as point of departure. Commonwealth solidarity however was highly important. At Colombo, Commonwealth could not agree on joint political action regarding SEA, hence his tentative suggestion to obtain a general declaration to which Asian as well as west powers could adhere. One must also take account of neutrality feeling: Asian fear of being pawns in great power conflict. (Dening increasingly shying off solidarity declaration.)

Jessup referring to subcommittee’s purpose to submit agreed papers to Ministers suggested three be prepared: (1) assessment of situation and our objectives, (2) specific fields of common endeavor, e. g., arms smuggling and coordination of information, (3) a final statement to emerge from conference. He could not say now that US accepted [Page 941] principle of three-way declaration as our tentative view had been that it might be construed as ganging up of west against east. We would however sympathetically examine French draft. He then circulated as basis for discussion as agreed paper on point 1a US draft based on C–2a paragraphs 1 through 5 (being cabled separately).6

Merchant requested views of others on desirability and feasibility of association or organization of Asian states, outlining US position. Dening replied British experience showed one must start with economic cooperation in hope it would lead first to political cooperation and eventually to strategic cooperation. (First exists in embryo only; second is not yet visible and third cannot be envisaged for long period.) This is slow process and it is difficult for west powers to speed it up although something emerging from conference might help.

Merchant generally agreed with these views and Dening and Du Gardier observed that jealousies of Asian states prevented any one of them taking successful initiative.

Massigli closed by asking what progress was made on Japanese peace treaty. Jessup replied that US decisions on best course to follow had not yet crystalized7 and Dening observed that UK was engaged in “academic exercise of attempting to obtain common denominator of Commonwealth views before formulating its own”.

Sent Department Secto 89, repeated Paris 715.

  1. The meeting was held at 2:30 p. m. in the India Office.
  2. Léon Pignon, French High Commissioner for Indochina.
  3. Luang Pibul Songgram, Premier of Thailand.
  4. Supra.
  5. Transmitted in Secto 91, May 2 (midnight), not printed, a translation of this draft read:

    “During the meeting in London the Foreign Ministers of US, France and UK have studied situation SEA.

    “They have taken note with satisfaction of entry of new Asian states into community of free nations. They view with approval the efforts of these states to maintain their independence despite the difficulties they have had to face in the political and economic fields and because of the dangers which threaten them from within and without

    “Declaring the will of their governments to help the SEA states in their efforts to defend their freedom and insure peace; convinced that this objective can only be obtained through the development of the national characteristics (génie national) of each community and through the increase of economic prosperity, the ministers have recommended that their governments furnish these states with all the assistance in their power.

    “They hope that the three governments may obtain the cooperation for the above stated objectives of all nations interested in the maintenance of peace in this region of the globe.

    “They declare that any threat affecting the integrity or security of the SEA states would cause them to adopt all measures appropriate to terminating it” (396.1–LO/5–250)

  6. Transmitted in Secto 90, not printed (396.1–LO/5–250), but see Secto 135, p. 943 and footnotes 3 and 4 thereto. Copies of FM D C–2a, “Southeast Asia,” dated April 25, and an earlier draft, dated April 20, neither printed, are in CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 149: May FM Meeting C, D Series. For the text of the Joint Chiefs of Staff comments on FM D C–2a, see United States Department of Defense, United States–Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1971), Book 8, pp. 318–320.
  7. For documentation on the United States position on the Japanese peace treaty, see vol. vi, pp. 1109 ff.