CFM Files: Lot M–88: Box 152: Pre Mins 1–5

United States Delegation Minutes, Third Session, Preliminary Conversations for the September Foreign Ministers Meetings, “Washington, August 30, 1950, 10:30 a. m. to 12:45 p. m.1

top secret

Delegations: British: Burrows, Graves, Greenhill
French: Daridan, van Laethem, Millet, Fequant
United States: Yost, Raynor, O’Shaughnessy, Jackson, Lacy, Bacon, Bancroft, Myers, McSweeney (Recorder)2

Policy Towards Chinese Communist Threat to Southeast Asia and Current Developments in Indo-China (Agenda Item VI A and D)

The UK’s position was presented by Mr. Graves and began with a general survey of the Southeast Asia situation where the UK feels [Page 1147] developments in the recent months have been encouraging. Burma has strengthened control particularly with regard to isolating the communists from the population. The Burmese government commands more general support now than three months ago. The Siamese government is showing a bolder anti-communist front with increased support from other parties. Arms and equipment which have been received have been a great help to the Siamese government. One important feature about the Siamese position is the interdependence of Siam with the British Commonwealth and Japan in the rice trade. The Indonesian government, although still unstable, has begun to recognize its problems and its justification for confidence in future slow but effective progress.

In Indo-China, Vietminh has not been active in recent months and may be reserving its strength for the much heralded offensive.

In Malaya the Briggs Plan to coordinate the military and civilian authorities’ efforts to bring Chinese squatters areas under effective administration and to deprive the Malay peoples liberation army of support has met with considerable success. It is hoped that the southern area will be dealt with this year, the central states in 1951, and the northern area by the end of 1951 or early 1952. The steady progress achieved proves that the plan is capable of implementation. There has been a steady growth of national consciousness and measures have been taken for granting citizenship to the Chinese and the development of the Malays. Although the slow developmental rate of the Malayans retards the program, Malaya is one of the most advanced and developed of Southeast Asian countries.

In general there has been gradual and steady progress in Southeast Asia. External pressures complicate the problem and our particular attention should now be devoted to covert means of pressure. The UK believes that in the near future the Chinese communists will not find it in their interest to embark on overt aggression but will not fail to take advantage of covert possibilities. But we must intensify direct action to deal with the definite aggressive element present in Indo-China and Malaya. On the basis of the estimate that there will be no Chinese communist aggression in the near future, we need not consider any important intensification of military support efforts in Siam and Burma. There is a hardening of anti-communist opinion as a result of the Korean hostilities but we must show to the Southeast Asian peoples that (1) we are prepared to deal with communist aggression (by intensification of efforts in Indo-China and Malaya), and (2) Southeast Asian nations will receive Western support in making themselves strong and independent (including economic assistance which is probably more important than military assistance). The May Foreign Ministers meeting agreed on programs for control [Page 1148] of arms smuggling and increased propaganda efforts in Southeast Asia. These points are being implemented at the present time.

Even if the UK maintains at the present level economic aid through unrequited exports and if all local resources were exploited, a considerable gap will continue to exist. Economic development of the area would contribute to the general economic welfare. Short term direct dollar aid is required to enable speedy economic development. It would be hoped that such aid could be given in an untied form so that Western Europe might participate (the UK delegation will make available copies of its suggestion on this point).

The UK attaches the greatest importance to solution of the rice problem. The demands of the rice deficit countries are ever increasing. Japan is deprived of access to the rice crops of Korea and Formosa. Burma and Indo-China produce only a fraction of their prewar export crop. To arrive at proper allocation of the limited supply, a meeting is being held at Singapore of the representatives of the rice deficit areas. The UK would like to have SOAP representation and a US observer. While recognizing SCAP’s problems, the UK feels that people of Southeast Asia who were victims of Japanese aggression should have preference in allocation of rice. SCAP purchases in the last period have contributed to the difficulties of rice distribution.

The social and cultural links between Southeast Asia and the West are important. An important feature of communist activities in the area has been the use of the WFTU, WFDY, and IUS which have caused considerable harm. The IFFTU is just beginning to counter these organizations’ activities. The three governments must strengthen with the Southeast Asians the social and cultural links of Southeast Asia and the West.3

In summary the UK position consists of seven conclusions. (1) Indo-China is the principal problem in the area because of its geographical situation and the fact that the issue is already joined there, (2) the fulfillment of the Briggs Plan is vitally important to the whole area; it is principally a UK problem but may require joint effort, (3) the British Commonwealth and the US must continue to supply Burma and Siam with military supplies to assure the continuance of effective administration and public confidence therein, especially in border areas, (4) the three governments should press economic aid plans so that the peoples of Asia realize their welfare is at stake in the struggle between the West and communism; there must be a mixing of the welfare of the West and Southeast Asia, (5) every effort should [Page 1149] be made by the Western countries to assure that adequate supplies of rice are available to rice deficit countries. This will require the cooperation of SCAP and other deficit countries, (6) the West must strengthen the links between Southeast Asia and the West: (a) foster responsible Asian nationalism, (b) develop trade exchange between SEA and the West, (c) discreetly help to strengthen organizations such as the IFFTU, (d) increase cultural exchange, (e) provide copious information regarding Western activities in Asian affairs, (7) the three governments must continue to insure that the governments and people of SEA are made aware of the true nature of the communist menace in Asia.

The French views were presented by Mr. Daridan. With regard to the Bangkok Conference on arms smuggling decided by the Foreign Ministers in May, some meetings have been held but until now there is no evidence of real help by the Siamese in checking the frontier.4 The French delegation expressed the view that Bangkok Committee is too bulky, particularly on the Siamese side, to perform useful work and that the Siamese government expects others to do its work.

The French government is aware of British successes in Malaya but is disturbed that in Malaya as in Indo-China a large proportion of the population is engaged in warfare and another large portion of the population remains “on the fence”.

With regard to Indo-China, France has already transferred 17 administrative services to the Associated States and by the end of the year expects to transfer services connected with geographical survey, meteorology, civil aviation, rice, oceanography, merchant marine, and ports and railroads. Other administrative powers have been transferred to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. As the result of achievements in the Pau Conference,5 it is hoped to be able to transfer treasury and customs administrations as well. One of the great difficulties in arranging transfers of powers is that of locating reliable and capable local personnel while a large proportion of the population is “on the fence”.

The main difficulties in Indo-China remain military. There has been slow and steady improvement and large areas have been liberated, including important rice areas (thus depriving Vietminh of income it had obtained from the export of rice). The French government considers that Ho Chi Minh is a man who tries to back up what he has said, and he has promised a general offense in 1950. There is plenty of evidence of the building up of strong forces and a strong offense [Page 1150] in the north must be contemplated. In the last five years 22,000 French soldiers have been killed and 27,000 wounded. French forces have been increased and together with the 12 Vietnam battalions and relatively large defense units are considered to be sufficient to meet a general Vietminh attack. One major problem is that French equipment is wearing out; of two lists of urgent military needs presented to the US government in March 1950, including 17 priority types of items, only 7 of these priorities will be met by expected shipments.

Since the beginning of this year the French have been faced with possible Chinese aggression. The Chinese communists have made heavy shipments of military equipment to Ho, are repairing roads, are training increasing numbers of Vietminh troops (at least 40,000 have been trained). Vietminh now could put divisions in the fight in the next few months. The French government does not agree that there is no prospect of attack by Chinese communists on Indo-China and requests that the US consider possible measures of aid. Since Indo-China is primarily a military problem at the present time, the French government thinks that economic aid should be made more complementary to military aid.

The French government therefore requests (1) direct military aid as mentioned by President Truman on June 27,6 (2) financial aid on military expenses in Indo-China to the amount of about $150,000,000 (this request will be made to the NATO), and (3) a coordinated survey of the possibilities now existing to meet the potential Chinese communist threat and coordinated US–UK–French measures to resist such attack.

With regard to the questions raised in the past regarding (1) mediation of the Indo-Chinese difficulties, and (2) a possible French appeal to the UN in case of Chinese communist attack, the French delegation states that the French could not accept mediation since it would put France and the Associated States on the same level as the rebels, but France would appeal to the UN in case of direct Chinese communist attack.

The French government agrees with the British on the need to counter aggression but such action must be successful. We must give Southeast Asia the certainty that we are going to win. Uncertainty is one of our most important problems in that it affects our efforts to get the indispensable elements of the local population for service in a stable government. Substantial economic aid in due time to SEA [Page 1151] will be necessary if we are to meet the basic requirements of the economy and the morale of the SEA populations.

The US views were presented by Mr. Lacy who stated that there are large areas of agreement among the three governments. We agree that Indo-China is the principal problem and we think that Indo-China is the key to control of the mainland and may be the key to the insular areas dependent on the mainland. Preservation of Indo-China from communist domination depends on the concomitant success of the military and political programs. Military progress depends on the degree of support which can be achieved of the indigenous population in the suppression of guerrilla warfare. To be successful Western allies in SEA must have at least the neutrality of a considerable segment of the population. There has been much political progress in Indo-China in securing non-communist nationalist support for Bao Dai and reducing the political support of Ho. But military success is essential; the population must be assured of security. All three governments agree that a most significant contribution to the military program lies in increasing the participation of native armies. The US would like details of the Pleven proposals.7 The US is considering its role in this connection. Much remains to be done by the French and Indo-Chinese to impress upon the rest of the world, particularly Asia, the importance of French concessions already made to Indo-Chinese nationalism as well as indication of the future plans. India’s failure to recognize Bao Dai is due less to disagreement than to ignorance. This is also true of Indonesia and the Philippines. This supports the French and British suggestion that the propaganda program be increased. The US is addressing itself to this problem.

The US is not so optimistic as the British regarding the possibilities of Chinese communist invasion and faces a joint survey of what would be required in the event of invasion.

Mr. Bancroft stated that the US would hope that the Indo-Chinese problem would not be referred to the UN now but is in full agreement that if there is direct invasion by the Chinese communists the matter should be referred to the UN in order to gain the free world’s support as occurred in the Korean hostilities.

With regard to SEA generally, Mr. Lacy stated that there is substantial agreement among the three governments. The US would hope that there might be increased cooperation between the British and Burmese military, pointing out that the US is aware of the difficulties in this matter. The US agrees we should continue to cooperate in limited military aid to the Burmese.

[Page 1152]

The US is considering how it can aid in implementation of the Briggs Plan. The question of the rice problem is now receiving urgent consideration by the US government. The US realizes the great importance of this problem and will hope to communicate again with the British within the next 24 hours. The US agrees with the French and British that the cultural links between the West and SEA are important and is following closely the IFFTU efforts in the area.

In response to a US inquiry, the French delegation stated that it has no information regarding the possibility that another nation might bring the Indo-Chinese question before the United Nations in the absence of direct Chinese communist aggression.

With regard to the decision in May to renew efforts to convince SEA peoples of the nature of the communist menace and to persuade them that they must fight for their own sake, we think considerable success has been achieved. Recent indications from Indonesia are that that government understands and will do its best in difficult circumstances to liquidate communist threats, though it will probably be some time before Indonesia abandons its neutrality. The three governments should support the present moderate anti-communist government. Such support will have effect elsewhere in South Asia and Southeast Asia where peoples are impressed by our attitudes toward Indonesia. The New Guinea problem8 presents difficulties but in view of the past history of Indonesian negotiations we can be hopeful that a negotiated settlement can be achieved. The three governments should not intervene in these negotiations and efforts must be made to avoid any appearance that a brown versus white struggle is in the making. The present Indian position is moderate but will not stay so if it appeared that race differences had developed.

With regard to arms smuggling, it appears that there are differences of evidences at hand regarding the success of the Bangkok Committee. It would be useful to have the evidence available to the French. If Siam is failing to play its full part it is probable that the US can do something about it.

Mr. Yost stated many points of agreement have been revealed and that the major disagreement relates to the likelihood of Chinese communist overt attack on Indo-China.

The UK stated that in the view of the UK government although there is evidence of activity near the Indo-Chinese border and although there has been hostile communist propaganda, there is no evidence of Chinese intent to attack in the near future. Since in the British view the Chinese do not wish conflict with the French [Page 1153] or the possible resultant general war and since the Chinese communists are likely to resist Soviet pressure to associate themselves with Ho, it is unlikely that they will go beyond providing arms, training troops, the use of Chinese territory and provision of technical advisors to Vietminh forces. The French and US views will be transmitted to the Foreign Office.

In view of the considerable discussion which has taken place regarding the defense of Indo-China and the need for consultation to ascertain what help would have to be given in the event of Chinese attack, the UK would like to start consultation as early as possible to determine what aid could be given.

The French stated they would refer the British suggestion to Paris and indicated that the delegation is of the opinion that the French government would recommend consultation on the spot in the Far East.

It was agreed that the question of a coordinated survey would be referred to the Foreign Ministers for decision.

In response to a British inquiry regarding any evidence of further substantial rallying of Ho supporters to Bao Dai, the French delegation stated there has been substantial rallying to Bao Dai in the rice regions of Tonkin and in Cochin-China.

The UK and US stated that Bao Dai must have something to show in order to gain support. Thus it would be helpful if it were possible for the French to speed up transfers of power, etc., to provide something notable which might be used as convincing evidence of Bao Dai strength. The British stated it is particularly difficult to persuade Commonwealth and other governments to recognize Bao Dai in the absence of such evidence.

The French agreed with the British views regarding the propaganda efforts that should be made and that French efforts on the publicity side have been a bit feeble. The French pointed out that it is difficult for the French government to advertise itself and therefore must wait until local governments can speak for themselves. The French are as desirous of transferring all powers as it is to withdraw its troops but faces the same difficulties in this question as in the military aspect, i. e., finding reliable and capable local personnel. The French felt that there may have been some surprise at the amount of aid which is now needed. The new estimates are based on the experience in Korea which proved that a Chinese attack would employ all means of modern warfare and Vietminh itself can be expected to be prepared for modern warfare.

  1. Attached to the source text was a cover sheet, not printed, which indicated that the series designator for these minutes was SFM Pre 3.
  2. William S. B. Lacy, Acting Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asia Affairs; Ruth E. Bacon, United Nations Adviser of the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs; Harding F. Bancroft, Director of the Office of United Nations Political and Security Affairs; Denys P. Myers, of the Office of the Legal Adviser.
  3. Documentation on the World Federation of Trade Unions, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, the International Union of Students, and the International Federation of Free Trade Unions is scheduled for publication in volume iv
  4. Regarding the Foreign Ministers consideration of arms smuggling, see p. 1082; for further documentation on the Bangkok Conferences, see vol. vi, pp. 1 ff.
  5. For documentation on the Pau Conference of France, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, see ibid., pp. 690 ff.
  6. In his statement on June 27, reporting that he had ordered the United States forces to support South Korean troops against the attack by North Korea, President Truman also said that he had “directed acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indochina.…” (Department of State Bulletin, July 3, 1950, p. 5)
  7. For further documentation on the Pleven plan, see pp. 154 ff.
  8. For documentation on the negotiations between the Netherlands and Indonesia concerning the status of New Guinea, see vol. vi, pp. 964 ff.