PSA Files: Lot 54D1901

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State2

Participants: M. Henri Bonnet, Ambassador of the French Republic
M. Jean Daridan, Minister Counselor, Embassy of the French Republic
The Secretary
Mr. Livingston T. Merchant, Acting Assistant Secretary, FE

The French Ambassador called on me this afternoon at his request, indicating that the subject which he wished to discuss was Indochina and that it was a matter of some urgency.

[Page 731]

Before recapitulating the contents of the attached aide-mémoire which the Ambassador left with me,3 he stated that he wished to review the attitude of the French Cabinet in the light of recent developments in Indochina. The Ambassador pointed out that the French Government had been engaged for an extended period in a serious and expensive military effort in French Indochina. The Ambassador went on to point out that the recognition of Ho Chi Minh by the Peking and Moscow Governments seemed clearly to indicate that it was in this area that the two Communist powers proposed to take aggressive action. The second development, to which the Ambassador referred, was the ratification by the French Government of the March 8 Agreements, followed by recognition on the part of the United States and Great Britain. He went on to say that the French proposed loyally to carry out the terms of those Agreements and to foster the development of democratic institutions and processes in the three Kingdoms.

At this point the Ambassador made a slightly obscure statement to the effect that the French Government at some point must reach a decision with regard to the recognition of Peking. He said that this decision had not yet been made but he was anxious for me to know that at some point it would be made. I asked him at this juncture what bearing the recognition of Ho Chi Minh by Peking might have on their consideration of recognition of the Chinese Communists. The Ambassador admitted that it obviously was an important factor which would have to be taken into account and asked me if I had some message in this connection for him to transmit to his Government. I made clear that I was making no suggestion but merely attempting to ascertain the present thoughts of the French Cabinet on this point. The conclusion I drew from this side discussion was that the French are not contemplating for the immediate future recognizing Peking but that they do not by any means exclude such action, despite Peking’s recognition of Ho Chi Minh.

I then reverted to the Ambassador’s statement that the French proposed to foster the development of democratic institutions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and asked him whether or not the French Government had in mind at this time the desirability of making a public statement to the effect that the March 8 Agreements represented only a step in an evolutionary process. I pointed out that the reluctance of certain Asiatic countries such as Thailand, India, the Philippines and Burma to recognize Bao Dai and the Kings of Laos and Cambodia rested apparently on their belief that these three States did not in fact enjoy independence. I said that in our case we had brushed aside this question in making our decision to recognize but that I [Page 732] was extremely fearful, in the absence of some expression of intent or further action on the part of the French, the reluctance of the Asiatic powers to come forward, a development so important for the future of the three States, would persist. The Ambassador replied that France had every intention of fostering the further development of these States along democratic lines, but that he felt quite certain that the Cabinet did not feel that it could make any statement of possible future actions having legal force. He added that it would be unfortunate if suspicion were permitted to grow in the minds of the Vietnamese as well as other Asiatic countries that they had not achieved, in fact, a very high degree of independence within the framework of the French Union. He intimated that a statement along the lines that I had suggested may arouse rather than allay such suspicion. I stated that I thought it might be useful if we could sit down with the French and examine this question further in view of the importance of doing everything possible to assure the future success of these new States. The Ambassador promised to convey the views I had just expressed to Paris.

The ambassador then briefly summarized the three points of his aide-mémoire. He expressed the hope that it would be possible for the United States to make a declaration of solidarity with France in this crucial area of Communist aggression, a statement which he felt would be strengthened by the adherence of the British. I questioned him at this point to ascertain whether the French Government was thinking in terms of a statement such as we had made in connection with Hong Kong, to the effect that armed aggression from outside would be a grave matter and call into play the machinery of the United Nations,4 or whether Paris was thinking in terms of a commitment on our part in advance to provide U.S. military forces in such an event. The Ambassador indicated that the thought was closer to the former and pointed out that the French Army was in French Indochina and France must expect to continue to bear the brunt of the operation.

The Ambassador went on to his second point, which was military aid, pointing out the hope of the French Government that with Section 303 funds the immediate needs of the French military and Indochina could be supplied. At the same time he stated that his instructions from his Government contained the hope that staff talks could be initiated and that American officers could proceed to Indochina for a joint study with the French military of the supply requirements and the military situation on the ground.

[Page 733]

Lastly, the Ambassador stated that the French Government trusted that the United States Government would find it possible to render economic assistance and lighten the heavy burdens of the States of Laos and Cambodia and, above all, Vietnam.

I asked the Ambassador if Ambassador Bruce in Paris had received a copy of this communication. Ambassador Bonnet was not clear on this point though he felt certain our Embassy had been kept currently informed of the development of the thoughts of the French Government on this subject.5 I thanked the Ambassador for his call and assured him that these proposals would receive our immediate attention.

  1. Consolidated files of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, 1937–1952.
  2. Drafted by Livingston T. Merchant, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs.
  3. Not printed.
  4. For information on the attitude of the United States with respect to the status of Hong Kong, see pp. 256 ff.
  5. See telegram 746 from Paris, February 16, p. 734.