Memorandum of a Conversation at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, March 13, 1950, 5 p. m.1

  • Present: Ambassador Jessup2
  • Ambassador Bruce
  • Woodruff Wallner
  • M. Schuman
  • M. Parodi

M. Schuman began the substantive part of his conversation by asking Ambassador Jessup for his general impressions of his trip, with particular reference to Indochina. Ambassador Jessup said that his impressions on the whole had been good, that he had been well impressed by Bao Dai, High Commissioner Pignon and Generals Carpentier and Alessandri. He felt that there was a good chance of the success of Vietnam under Bao Dai but that this would require continuous and effective action. There were such real dangers of collapse that the situation could not succeed unless a lot of hard work were put into it. Passing to the the broader picture, Dr. Jessup said that the sum of opinions of the best observers in Southeast Asia indicated that there would not be an armed attack against Indochina, Siam or Burma but that the Chinese Communists would operate by military aid, infiltration, subversion, the sending of specialists, etc., perhaps in all three countries, probing for a soft spot and then concentrating on the place where the softest spot was found. Of the three, Burma now seemed to be the softest.3 With respect to Thibet, Dr. Jessup said the general expectation was that the Chinese Communists would take this country over if necessary by the use of regular armed forces since there was no recognized international frontier. In general, the two forces at work in the area were nationalism and Communism, and it was important for the western nations to make every effort to show that the two were incompatible. There was also, he added, the element of defeatism to be overcome, particularly among the Chinese colonies in the area where the feeling was that Communism [Page 755] had come to stay and that there was no use or profit in attempting to swim against the tide.

Schuman said he felt that Bao Dai and the French had not sufficiently developed propaganda among the Annamites to the effect that Ho Chi-minh meant Chinese domination.

Dr. Jessup said that there were two aspects to this problem: arousing anti-Chinese feelings might appear advantageous on the short term but on the longer term had its dangers and disadvantages, and M. Schuman agreed that one must do nothing to provoke Chinese aggression. Dr. Jessup spoke of exploiting the alternatives before Indochina’s natives: in cooperating with France they were dealing with a power that was giving up its former status and gradually retiring, while in cooperating with China they were dealing with something that was growing and extending its strength. He felt that it was important that the French should dramatize this role of their future withdrawal by a series of gestures confirming their intentions. Another important thing was that these neighboring countries should be better informed as to what had taken place in Indochina, what the March 8 agreements meant and how much the French had given away. He had been struck by the almost total ignorance of Indonesian and Siamese leaders as to the actual situation in Indochina. The French diplomats in these neighboring countries were not doing enough in this direction: they were taking too much for granted. It was important to develop a series of themes and keep pounding away at them. This was particularly necessary if the active and well-organized Viet-Minh propaganda was to be countered.

M. Schuman asked M. Parodi to note this point. He added that it was going to be difficult to convince the Indians because of Nehru’s prejudices which were fed by the reports of the Indian Consul in Saigon. He agreed with Dr. Jessup that the Indians were inclined to link the Indochina problem with the difficulties about the French Establishments in India. He exclaimed over the tedious and obstructive way the Indians were behaving in this matter, saying that he and Parodi deserved going to Heaven because of their patience with the Indian tactics. Franco-Indian relations, however, were far too important to be spoiled by a minor matter such as these French possessions, and this was the guiding principle of French policy in the negotiations.

In reply to Schuman’s question about conditions in Indonesia, Dr. Jessup said that they were on the whole good and that he had been particularly pleased to note that relations between the Indonesians and their Dutch advisors (particularly the younger ones) were splendid.

[Page 756]

Schuman said that of course the Indonesians had more independence than the Viets and he felt that the latter should gradually achieve the same status. The Viets, however, were serving an apprenticeship. They must be given more but always with the impression that they had earned it. For this reason it was very difficult to announce one’s intentions in advance: the element of reward, of merit, would then be absent.

Dr. Jessup pointed out that both in Vietnam and in the neighboring countries the populations needed to be reassured about French intentions. For instance, it had taken ten months for the French Parliament to ratify the March 8 agreements. This caused suspicion that the French were holding back, and the tardy ratification had not entirely reassured them. The suspicion lingered. Furthermore, invidious comparisons with the status of the Indonesians would continue to be made.

M. Schuman reiterated that it was impossible to go too fast, that the Vietnamese had much to learn.

Dr. Jessup said that there were other measures which could be taken by administrative action and which had symbolic value, such as the removal of Indochinese affairs from the Overseas France Ministry.

Schuman replied that the decision in principle on this matter had been taken: the affairs of the three Indochinese states would be removed from Overseas France but it had not yet been decided where to place them. The alternatives now were (1) a separate Ministry of Associated States patterned after the British Commonwealth Office and (2) an Undersecretariat of State attached to the Foreign Office.

In replying to M. Schuman’s question Dr. Jessup said that he felt that the transfer would have more significance if made to the Foreign Office.

M. Schuman pointed out that the protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia were already handled by the Foreign Office and that it was important that they should not be confused with the Associated States of Indochina. Furthermore, the British system was an imposing precedent. He added that the matter would soon be decided.

In reply to a question by Dr. Jessup, M. Parodi said that the interstate conference would be held at Dalat early in April.

Dr. Jessup returned to the subject of a series of gestures which while not costly would have great psychological effect in the area. He referred to the joy which had attended the turning over of the University of Hanoi to the Vietnamese. A series of little things like this would bear great fruit. He then spoke of the symbolic value of a date, even an unprecise date, being attached to promises. Even the Soviets [Page 757] had found it advisable to set the date of 1952 for the time when they would leave Manchuria. It was not necessary to be this exact: one could even use the formula such as “X months or years after a certain event came to pass”.

Schuman said that while he was in principle favorable to such an idea, since it served as a target, a goal and an incentive for the local people, the situation in Indochina was complicated by the war and by the fact that the presence of French troops was necessary wherever they were needed.

It was impossible to set a date when they could withdraw to their bases. He added, however, that the subject should be given study.

Dr. Jessup then spoke of the necessity of establishing some guiding principles if the propaganda war was to be won. The first was, “We keep our promises but the Communists break theirs”. The second was that both psychologically and militarily it was preferable to win over 200, say, Vietnamese followers of Ho Chi-Minh than to kill the same number. M. Schuman agreed.

In response to a question by Dr. Jessup, M. Schuman said that as he understood it the Vatican would not stop at the formal act of diplomatic recognition of the three Indochinese states but would follow through with an active campaign on the part of its local priests and bishops to cause the greatest number of defections among Catholics from Ho Chi-minh. As an example he cited the intention of the Vatican to appoint a Vietnamese as bishop of Hanoi.

Dr. Jessup then referred to the question of the Palace at Saigon. He said that Bao Dai had been reluctant to meet him in Saigon because the number one building belonged to the French and not to him, and had invited Dr. Jessup to go all the way to Hanoi where Bao Dai could receive him in the number one building of the town. M. Schuman seemed impressed, turned to Parodi and said: “Il faut absolument arranger ça.” He remarked that Bevin had also spoken to him about the matter and advised Dr. Jessup to take it up with Bidault, who would be the final arbiter in the matter.

Schuman then referred to the drain on France caused by the Indo-Chinese situation and said that it prevented France from doing its part in the defense of Europe. It was particularly for this reason that he was happy that we were contemplating aid for Indochina. In extending this aid, he said he felt sure that the American Government realized that France was not defending her own interests alone in Indochina but was defending the joint interests of the non-Communist world.

After Dr. Jessup had answered some questions concerning his impressions re India and Burma, the interview came to an end.

  1. This memorandum was drafted by Woodruff Wallner, First Secretary and Consul of the Embassy in Paris. It was transmitted to Washington in despatch No. 546, March 16 (751G.00/3–1650).
  2. Ambassador at Large Jessup stopped in Paris on his return trip to Washington at the conclusion of his 3-month tour of the Far East.
  3. Ambassador Jessup underlined this sentence and wrote “omit” in the margin. In a separate marginal notation he added “Don’t think I said this but unimportant.”