751G.00/1–551: Telegram

The Minister at Saigon (Heath) to the Secretary of State

secret priority

1181. 1. At his invitation, I saw Bao Dai at Dalat yesterday for a yearend survey outstanding problems. I was accompanied by Blum,1 STEM chief, who had been asked to set up medical and agricultural aid program in southern high plateau which like northern border zone territories and minorities are crown territories under direct rule of Bao Dai and not central or regional governments. Bao Dai has an interest and feeling of authority over these regions and their tribesmen quite distinct from his attitude toward the settled parts of Vietnam. I had the distinct impression Bao Dai toys with idea, in case Viet Minh, with or without Chinese help, takes over the arable areas of Vietnam, of personally continuing resistance with tribesmen and his special mountain division in this wild area which he thoroughly knows from his hunting expeditions. He has been pushing STEM for an aid program for area. When De Lattre was in Dalat two days ago, Bao Dai persuaded the latter to promise French contribution of 25 million piasters toward 50 million piaster deficit in region’s total budget of 61 million piasters. Viet Government would make up balance. Bao Dai complained that De Lattre’s “Colonial-minded entourage” tried to persuade latter to withdraw or qualify promise.

2. To my question as to progress made in forming national army, Bao Dai said he had definitely decided to make Governor Giao chief of staff. He had been forced postpone this appointment, however, because [Page 340]of the bitter feud between Giao and Huu. He had to find a Defense Minister agreeable to both parties. Tri was the only man for position and Huu, who has gone to Hanoi for several days, will try to persuade him to accept the job.

3. To my inquiry when other Cabinet changes which sometime ago he told me were pending would be announced he replied it was extremely difficult to find the proper men. He had not, for example, been able to find a good man for Washington. He said in confidence he had more difficulty with his government than with the opposition. He would have to retain Huu for time being because if dismissed, Huu would start a separatist movement for Cochin-China which would probably find support from French who bitterly regretted ever having given up their former Colony to a unified Vietnam. Asked whether he would change director of information service, Bao Dai admitted that present incumbent was not up to the requirements of political situation. I remarked we had already extended facilities and equipment from both ECA and USIS to them and indicated Legation might be in position increase such assistance, if we could be assured it would be utilized imaginatively and energetically. Bao Dai said his information service was not reaching the people but it was difficult to find anyone really capable of heading the program. That was always the trouble. Even if the US were in a position to increase its generous aid to Vietnam, he, Bao Dai, would hesitate accepting it for he was not sure of finding men who could administer it honestly and effectively. I remarked I had been disturbed by rumors that officials of his government were hoping to utilize the grant of economic independence given by Pau accords to feather their own nests. This would create a most serious situation. We had seen our aid to the Philippines in part wasted by grafting officials. Vietnam, in a previous regime, had a system of censors designed to prevent and punish graft. I said I hoped he was taking steps to prevent any such corruption. Bao Dai replied that it would take a long period to establish a tradition of administrative probity in Vietnam.

4. Returning to question of an effective information service I remarked that, of course, much depended on his own actions and those of his government. I felt there should be both announcement and initial implementation of a social program capable of offsetting Viet Minh propaganda. American economic assistance provided a basis for such a program. As important deliveries arrive, or new activities of our aid program begin, they should be marked by public appearances and statements. Bao Dai and the Vietnamese Government could take essential credit for the accomplishments realized through American aid. We had not embarked upon our program of economic assistance in Indochina merely to get credit for American goodwill and generosity but with the idea of building up and raising prestige of a [Page 341]Progressive Vietnamese Government. Our Legation publicity section would be glad to assist to that end. Bao Dai agreed to this thesis but did not volunteer how or when he would work for its accomplishment.

5. I went on to say that in view of the critical situation and his difficulties with his own government, it seemed to me indispensable that he take up residence in Saigon. He had informed me in our last meeting he was not going to press for the turnover of the High Commissioner’s palace since De Lattre evidently did not want to surrender it and Bao Dai counted on friendly relations with De Lattre to accomplish Vietnamese aims, particularly the formation of the national army. I inquired of Bao Dai why he did not take up residence in the La Grandiere Palace or General Carpentier’s2 house and speculated whether his temporarily occupying inferior quarters in Saigon might not hasten the turning over of the High Commissioner’s palace already promised by Letourneau3 and Pignon.4 I emphasized these observations were purely personal ones. I was without any instructions from my government to discuss the matter with him. I personally felt very strongly, however, that he could not manage affairs from Dalat. Bao Dai demurred he could not move down to Saigon until the French were ready to make the “elegant gesture” of voluntarily turning over the High Commissioner’s palace to him. His Vietnamese subjects, he argued, would not understand his accepting inferior quarters in Saigon.

6. Bao Dai felt De Lattre was sincere in his desire to create a Vietnamese national army, to support Bao Dai’s regime and to put up a real fight in the north. De Lattre was going to France in the middle of January to endeavor to obtain an extra division of French troops. Bao Dai thought that one division utterly insufficient reinforcement. He thought De Lattre and the French with encouragement of the British were harboring the illusion it would be possible to transform Mao Tse-tung5 into a Tito.6 Bao Dai thought there was not a chance of such an occurrence. On the other hand, he did not believe that the Chinese would openly invade Indochina. We [He] indeed hoped that they would because then, and only then, could he really go to the Vietnamese people with a cause demanding their support. He thought it more likely that the Chinese would send in supporting troops and increased assistance but would keep Viet Minh formations in the actual line of attack. Already, according to Bao Dai’s information, there [Page 342]were 20,000 Chinese troops and officials in the northern border region. He had reports that at Langson there were 6,500 Chinese troops and that the political administrator was a Chinese woman Communist. (Note: Governor Giao in a later conversation said he did not believe more than a few Chinese were actually on Vietnam soil. He regretted that De Lattre had not yet decided to give French support to the formation of Vietnamese counter-guerrilla and resistance organization.)

7. This concluded the substantive aspects of our conversation. After leaving the palace, Bao Dai’s Military Adjutant accompanied me to the airport. He is also nominally commander of one of the Vietnamese battalions in the north. Of his own volition he criticized the tactics being employed against the Viet Minh. He said that instead of fighting defensively, smaller groups must be organized to make raids at night and on holidays against Viet Minh communications and land detachment. They would need special arms and equipment for such operations. Regular military formations must be maintained for the defense of the cities and to meet Viet Minh orthodox military formation but formation of counter-guerrilla units should not be delayed. However, he said concurrently, there must be an increased effort politically to indoctrinate both troops and population. Viet Minh propaganda was latterly meeting with great success.

8. I was more than usually disappointed in this last conversation with Bao Dai. He expressed intelligent understanding and agreement with the measures which should be undertaken but there was no evidence of urgent determination and leadership to accomplish them. He is undoubtedly working on the formation of his army at Dalat and is consulting with a great number of people these days. I learned that the Cao Daist Pope was at Dalat the day of my visit and that several miles away resided General Quan Nam Hung, an old Vietnamese officer who was trained and served under Chiang Kai-shek.7 But with our reverses in Korea and new Viet Minh attacks in the north, the feeble public support and hope in Bao Dai’s regime is becoming dangerously weaker. It is clear to me that Bao Dai is perfectly aware of this deteriorating situation but it is also perfectly clear that he has not yet arrived at a definite plan or urgent determination to correct it. I expect to see De Lattre today or tomorrow and return for further conversations with Bao Dai early next week.

I might add that I asked Bao Dai if he intended to go to Hanoi and he said yes but not immediately. His first trip must be made to Hue. He said showing that the imperial and Confucian family tradition is still strong in him despite his Western education that he was chief of the imperial family including 30,000 or 40,000 people. Several [Page 343]members of the clan had been assassinated recently by Viet Minh. As chief of the clan he must make the required visits of condolences.

Department pass Paris. Sent Department 1181, repeated info Paris 551.

  1. Robert Blum, Chief of the Special Technical and Economic Mission to Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia.
  2. Gen. Marcel Carpentier, Commander of French Union forces in Indochina, 1949–1950.
  3. Jean Letourneau, French Minister for the Associated States.
  4. Léon Pignon, French High Commissioner in Indochina, 1948–1950.
  5. Chairman of the Central People’s Government Council, People’s Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
  6. Josip Broz-Tito, Yugoslav Prime Minister and Minister of Defense; Secretary General of the Yugoslav Communist Party.
  7. President of the Republic of China.