751G.02/4–850: Telegram

The Chargé at Saigon (Gullion) to the Secretary of State


234. 1. In view local situation IC and continuing Vietnam Government crisis1 highly unlikely French would make statement proposed Deptel 13632 to Paris nor do I believe they should.

2. Best chance getting any declaration lies in establishing close local (Saigon) relations with French in new over-all approach to propaganda [Page 774] and psychological warfare. When French become used thinking these terms under our guidance they may yet make some kind of statement their initiative although it may not be all Department hopes. Until draft French statement emerges from such working relationship I believe pressure on French in Paris would be unavailing and counterproductive.

3. Been discussing these matters with French and Vietnamese since arrival here and Landon3 and I have given them detailed suggestions (reported separately). We have now set up informal American-British-French-Vietnam ways and means study group bearing in mind danger involving US responsibilities.

4. As to Department’s analysis and suggested statement I discern two themes interlaced in message in reference.

French have come long distance down liberal road in IC and should tell world about it more skillfully.
French should announce now that what they have done only installment what they propose to do.

5. I agree first proposition and dissent second. It true French have bobbled propaganda opportunities and lost credit due them for very real concessions. Local French now fully agree.

6. I do not believe they will make statement at this time, drawing on future in sense Department prefers. If it is be more than merely perfunctory or aim at wider effect in Asia imagined by Department, it would have to be reasonably definite about timing and substance further concessions. French would not risk unhinging local military and political situation in hope gaining recognition by other Asiatic countries which:

May not be forthcoming and which, as Department says, we cannot guarantee and
May not have nearly so much effect local situation as we envisage.

7. Deptel 176, March 29 deals with some facts which determine French attitude. Renewed proposal for “evolutionary” statement comes precisely at time when local authorities hitherto more liberal than those in France are recommending to Paris that they dig in their heels on March 8 agreements for another year. Vietnamese, exhilarated at prospects American aid, are already in their minds telescoping evolutionary process down to nil, preparing claim command all forces in interior Vietnam, revision March 8 agreements, derogation from principle of coordinated action among associated states and with French. There is possibility friction among states and between French and Vietnamese with risk to interstate conference and repercussions military situation. Present government crisis Vietnam symptomatic. [Page 775] If French were now to dangle prospect further concessions before Vietnamese, latter would merely delay buckling down and getting together.

8. There limits to promises French can make and those limits fixed by will to fight of individual French soldier. At heavy cost French army defends western and US interests on frontier which happens lie in Tonkin. If it failed this country and its neighbors would my opinion tumble into Communist catch all with record speed. Fact that French may have mixed motives or that they only discovered their wider mission late in day not important compared US interests they defending. Past certain point, pressure on French will yield diminishing returns. That point will be reached when individual soldier gets idea he fighting for Vietnam independence or for British at Singapore instead tricolor.

9. For indefinite time foreign army in being will be required IC, not so much for suppression Viet-Minh as to check threat from north. Even most ardent Viet-Minh [Vietnamese?] do not foresee time when this not necessary. Some would like see Jap army here under American command but most realize that French must stay on frontier. Behind frontier internal pacification job must be handed over to Vietnamese but timing transfer will long be subject controversy. If Vietnamese do well they can be entrusted with defense their own country all sooner. We cannot expect relations between Vietnamese as whole and French be satisfactory long as French army remains, yet remain it must.

10. This situation fundamentally different from that in Indonesia or in Philippines which are after all islands with few Communists. I do not see how if American public and “responsible Asian ministers” are seized with [of?] hard facts, they can expect Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to have immediate “full measures of independence and sovereignty which have recently been transferred by Netherlands to Indonesia.”

Statement of French intention revolutionary enough to make any impression on Nehru or Romulo would be too drastic for present delicate balance in IC.

11. I cannot agree that French can make evolutionary statement but cannot make further substantial concessions within March 8 agreements. They can liberalize stand on distribution American aid, expedite transfer of powers, accelerate creation of sectors under Vietnam use Army control, give Vietnamese postage stamps, share of communications, civil aviation, custom and exchange control. Our interest there can speed this process up and secure it adequate publicity. But French cannot do this in orderly way if Vietnamese encouraged hold out for further illusory benefits.

12. Other US missions in Asian countries will report effects French statement would have their countries and whether mere declaration [Page 776] would move them to recognition. As I see it, Asian attitudes actually make little difference to local situation, however much they count in UN or with US public opinion. After great power recognitions on opposite sides only, others which made a ripple were Thailand and Vatican. India vote would count but prospects seem unlikely. Viet-Minh has never attempted to make capital out of hesitation of Asian states. Perhaps “responsible” Asian minister can be convinced verities of situation by personal inspection.

13. Embassy Paris will doubtless report effect on French politics of pressure for statement. I am advised that Senate, Minister of War and President of Republic all opposed to promising further concessions at this time. Pignon under heavy pressure from home to stick close to March 8 agreements.

Although idea of statement is now put forward with bow to past French efforts, it is still same old bone of contention between ourselves and French and has become gage of prestige.

14. It seems some that great powers move into periods of colonial aberration and out of them in cycle which cannot be particularly speeded by outside nagging. The French whose colonial history is series of washouts at hands of Anglo Saxons are likely to get backs up at pressure from US. Nor are they likely to be impressed by assurances JCS is studying strategic problem IC so long as ultimate decision is unknown.

15. European [sic] policy must be to strive in background and over long term to preserve precarious balance between increasing independence for Vietnam and support of French military effort, justifying each to each, and helping both to combat Communist efforts to exploit their differences until Vietnam can take over or Communist world threat subsides or is destroyed.

Sent Department 234; Department pass Paris 115, London 11, Tokyo 13, Moscow 5, Djakarta 9, New Delhi 6, Manila 21, Bangkok 32.

  1. Three members of the Nguyen Phan Long government resigned on March 25.
  2. March 29, p. 768.
  3. Kenneth P. Landon, Officer in Charge, Thai, Malayan, and Indochinese Affairs, on visit in the Far East.