Conference Files: Lot 59 D 95: CF 20

Agreed Tripartite Minutes on Southeast Asia1

top secret

MIN/TRI/P/9 Final2

I. General

South East Asia is of great importance to the nations of the free world strategically, politically and economically. The loss of the area to Communist control would constitute a serious defeat for all the free world. The fact that China is now under Communist control makes the retention of a free South East Asia more difficult but the necessity more compelling than before.

2. The control of South East Asia by world Communism is essential to the rapid success of Communist strategy in the Far East. The control of and responsibility for China, without free access to the economic and political resources of South East Asia, leaves the Communists with a substantial increase in their liabilities without, in the short run, a corresponding increase in their assets. This is an additional reason for denying this region to the Soviet system.

3. From the end of the war, the dominant theme in the greater part of South East Asia was nationalism and the revolt against Western colonial domination. Though the Communists were to some extent successful in turning this to their advantage measures such as the establishment of Burma and Indonesia as independent nations have done much to meet the desire of the peoples of South East Asia for political freedom and to retain their goodwill and readiness to cooperate with the Western democracies. Nevertheless the Communists continue their efforts to divert the forces of nationalism to their own ends. In Indo-China, where the Communists achieved some success in this respect, the steps taken to establish independent states within the French Union offer the way to a solution of the Indo-Chinese nationalist problem.

4. It is axiomatic that the Western Powers must accommodate themselves to those nationalist movements of South East Asia which are favourably disposed to the West; otherwise, they will inevitably [Page 1083] gravitate towards the U.S.S.R. and its satellites, including China. In the case of those nationalist movements in South East Asia which are already oriented towards the Soviet Union, means other than force alone must be employed to weaken and reverse their ties to the Kremlin.

5. It is important for the economy of Western Europe that Western European trading and business interests in South East Asia should be maintained; but the considerable investment of capital and technical skill made by the Western Powers in South East Asia and the presence in both the independent countries and the colonial territories of South East Asia of substantial European communities provide firm foundation for the further development of the area in a spirit of co-operation between Asian and European countries. The countries of South East Asia are rich in natural resources and certain countries in the area at present produce surplus foodstuffs (considerable quantities of which, however, are consumed in other parts of the area). Thus discontent in the area does not feed primarily on poverty and misery, though the rate of increase of population in the area calls for immediate expansion of food production. The region as a whole is economically under-developed, however, and as a long term counter to Communist encroachment it is desirable that all the Governments of the region should collaborate to intensify measures of development designed to raise the general standard of living.

6. In the same spirit of co-operation the administrative experience of the Western nations should be made available to the countries of South East Asia and they should be encouraged so far as possible to avail themselves of Western assistance.

7. Although the security of South East Asia is of strategic importance to the United States, the British and French have direct responsibilities in the area which make its security of even greater concern to them. The forcible expulsion of French and British forces from Indo-China and Malaya, respectively, would be both a military and political disaster.3 The United Kingdom therefore reaffirms its intention to continue to discharge its responsibilities in British and British-protected territory in the area. The French Government considers that it is only within the framework of close and active cooperation with the United Kingdom and United States Governments that it will be able to continue effectively to discharge its particular responsibilities in this region.

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8. The United States has taken and will continue every diplomatic action which appears practicable to defend South East Asia against further Communist encroachment. It is also prepared to accord military aid within its capabilities and is examining the possibility of according economic aid to Indo-China and certain other parts of the area.

II. Suggested Joint Action

9. The following, while by no means exhaustive, are certain measures which might be jointly taken by the Governments of France, the United States and the United Kingdom:—

(a) arms smuggling

10. It is recognised that there is a considerable amount of arms smuggling taking place in South East Asia and that these arms are being supplied to subversive movements throughout the area. Thailand is believed to be one of the focal points for this arms traffic; for example, arms are known to be smuggled over the Thai-Cambodian border into Indo-China for use by the Vietminh forces.

11. It is therefore suggested that the French, United States and United Kingdom Ambassadors in Bangkok should be instructed to meet together to discuss ways and means of influencing the Thai Government to exercise stricter control over the smuggling of arms into and out of Thailand.

12. Inasmuch as the Philippines are a recognised source of smuggled arms, which find their way to Thailand and to other destinations (e. g. Malaya and Indonesia), the United States delegation has recommended to the Department of State that an approach might be made through the diplomatic channel to the Philippine Government on the subject.

13. The three Governments might also give further consideration to the general problem of checking the illicit arms traffic in South East Asia

(b) coordination of policy in regard to publicity

14. In view of the common threat to the area from subversive movements led by the local Communist Parties, and the revolutionary propaganda they are issuing in accordance with the general line given out by Moscow, it is suggested that the Three Governments should seek to coordinate their policy on exposing and combating Communist propaganda through consultation between their appropriate authorities in the area.

15. It is recognised that there is much material provided by captured documents which could be used to good purpose for exposing the aims and designs of the Communists. It is suggested that the [Page 1085] representatives of the three Powers in the area consult together with a view to making the best use of this material.

  1. Attached to the source text was a cover sheet, not printed, which stated that “the Ministers did not formally approve MIN/TRI/P/9, but amended paragraph 7 and dealt with the questions raised in the introduction.” Concerning MIN/TRI/P/9, see footnotes 2 and 3 below.
  2. MIN/TRI/P/9 had an introduction which noted the French reservations on paragraphs 7 and 8 and set forth the views of the British and French on a joint three-power declaration on Southeast Asia. In the course of the fifth tripartite Foreign Ministers meeting it was agreed that a declaration was unnecessary; paragraph 7 was revised as indicated in footnote 3; and paragraph 8 was left unchanged. For a report on the meeting, see Secto 246, May 13, p. 1052.
  3. The remainder of paragraph 7 in MIN/TRI/P/9 read: “The United Kingdom and France therefore reaffirm their intention to continue to discharge their responsibilities in British and British-protected territory and in French Union territory respectively, in the area.”