The Ambassador in Thailand (Stanton) to the Department of State
- Summary of Thai Political and Economic Situation as of January 1953
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D. Policy Recommendations
United States policy toward Thailand must be formulated and executed in a manner which avoids the appearance of interferences in the internal affairs of the kingdom. The Thai are a proud people who cherish their long record of independence and freedom from foreign domination. There is also a trend toward a more nationalistic outlook accompanied by sensitivity toward allegations, such as the communists and the Burmese make, that Thailand is the puppet of the United States. United States relations with Thailand, including the implementation of the MSA and MAAG programs, have been conducted on a cooperative basis of equality. It is essential that the relationship be kept on this basis.
Some criticism has been voiced that our policies, particularly the MSA and MAAG programs, are strengthening undemocratic processes in this country by helping to consolidate the position of the military clique. It must be recognized that this is to some extent true. Nevertheless, in view of the nature of the present internal situation, especially the weakness and incompetence of the opposition elements and their leftist and neutralist tendencies, I believe we must accept the present locus of political power and work out our [Page 659] policies and objectives within its framework, but encouraging at every opportunity more than mere lip service to democratic process of government. I believe this can best be achieved by endeavoring wherever possible to support and strengthen the position of Prime Minister Phibun, who has not only displayed a most friendly and cooperative attitude toward the United States but has also proved the only personality able, in the circumstances, to maintain an effective balance among the contending factions of the military clique and at the same time restrain their excesses. Working as much as possible through the Prime Minister seems to offer the best chance of achieving our policies and objectives under the present regime. In particular, we should endeavor wherever possible and feasible to encourage the Thai Government in its present anti-communist action, without, however, giving rise to the impression that this action on the part of the Thai is the result of pressure from the United States, or that we wholeheartedly support every phase of such action.
Thailand’s constructive role in the work of the United Nations, especially Thai participation in the Korean action, has proved advantageous for United States policies in Asia generally. Every effort should be made by our Government to keep alive and encourage Thailand’s interest in and constructive association with the United Nations. I believe one effective way to achieve this end is to accord Thailand greater recognition in the United Nations as opportunity arises.
In contrast to India, Burma and Indonesia, this country is interested in any plan for the defense and security of Southeast Asia. But some sensitivity has been shown among the Thai, and perhaps not unnaturally, because of the fact that the Western Powers frequently confer about the defense of the area without consulting them. A continuance of this practice may well give rise to resentment and suspicion. Conversely, it would also appear necessary for the United States to associate itself closely with any Southeast Asia security arrangement which may evolve, for if the United States remains aloof, the Thai will feel the arrangement lacks real strength and be reluctant to participate themselves.
Any action the United States can take to assist the French and Associated States in liquidating the communist problem in Indo-China would, of course, have a favorable bearing on our relations with the Thai. At the same time, however, the more we can encourage the French to accord the Associated States greater autonomy, the more we can expect a friendly rapport between them and Thailand.
A solution of the problem posed by the presence of Chinese Nationalist remnants in the Shan States is urgently needed to give [Page 660] our relations with Thailand a more favorable context in the eyes of the Burmese and other Asiatics, and, at the same time, to remove an open sore which at present jeopardizes good relations not only between Thailand and Burma but of course between Burma and the United States.
The present trend of relations between Thailand and Japan is providing a favorable pattern for our general policy of encouraging Japanese trade with Southeast Asia the development of Japanese industrial enterprises in this area to offset pressure for a resumption of economic if not political relations with Communist China. While it is highly desirable to encourage this development, we must be prepared to face some resentment and opposition on the part of other countries doing business with Thailand, particularly the United Kingdom, as well as from some of our own business interests who feel the pinch of stiff Japanese competition in Southeast Asia markets and who resent United States encouragement of Japanese trade at their expense.
I would most strongly recommend that there be no abrupt change in our military and economic aid programs in Thailand. These programs have been successful in proving Thailand’s general security position, in demonstrating an interest in the welfare of an ally and in developing the country’s economy and its capacity to provide rice for the food-deficit areas of Southeast Asia and the Far East. With respect to the economic aid program, however, I believe it is necessary in the interests of making the maximum use of available funds to phase out most if not all the small projects and concentrate our attention on our major objectives, namely, agricultural development, public health and communications, all of which have a vital bearing on increasing rice production, and the health and welfare of the Thai people but which at the same time contribute to the defensive strength and security of the country.
The Fulbright program in Thailand has proved most beneficial in promoting a friendly understanding of the United States and raising educational standards in this country. It should not only be continued for the projected five year period, but funds should be earmarked for extending the program for an additional five years.
The work of USIS in Thailand has been of paramount importance in counteracting communist propaganda and neutralist trends. Unlike some other countries, USIS is able to operate here in a friendly environment and on a nationwide scope. Accordingly, any increase in its operating funds and facilities can be put to direct and immediate use.
Since the fostering of more cordial relations between the countries of Southeast Asia and a better understanding of common problems, particularly the problem of communist expansion, are so [Page 661] important, I have been endeavoring to convince Thai Government leaders of the desirability and wisdom of taking appropriate steps. The response has been encouraging. The Government has sanctioned the appointment of ministers to each one of the Associated States and to Indonesia and an ambassador to Burma. It is hoped that Thailand’s relations with her immediate neighbors will improve and that the joint consideration of common problems will not only be facilitated but become common practice. The Prime Minister also announced his desire to initiate a program for the exchange of students with neighboring countries. In the field of military defense and security the Thai are cooperating well with the British along the Thai-Malay border, while we are encouraging the idea of joint Thai-British naval and air maneuvers. The Thai have also sent several military missions to neighboring countries including Indo-China. These developments represent a greater awareness on the part of the Thai Government of the existence of common problems and common dangers. We should, I feel, encourage not only the Thai Government but the governments of the surrounding countries towards a greater degree of understanding and cooperation.
It is finally necessary to consider the overall impression given to other countries by the friendly and cooperative relationship which has been developed between Thailand and the United States. In general, this friendly relationship affords a favorable example for our dealings with other Asiatics. Nevertheless, Thailand has in effect assumed some of the characteristics of a protege. The Communists, of course, go much further and charge that Thailand has become an American puppet or satellite. Even the Burmese take a somewhat similar attitude which no doubt exists in varying degree among some of the other neutralist countries. This is perhaps an inevitable consequence of our friendly relationship with the Thai, but it is necessary to recognize the disadvantages and pitfalls which are inherent in such a situation. The most serious danger lies, I believe, in the reaction of the Thai themselves. While they are eager and grateful for the material assistance and friendship we accord them, they are also extremely sensitive to suggestions or charges that they are under our tutelage. In the implementation of our policies toward Thailand, therefore, we must not give the impression that we are exerting pressure on the Thai by virtue of the aid extended for this will inevitably undermine the friendly relationship that exists between the two countries. That relationship is a definite asset to the United States for it is really remarkable that this small country surrounded by turmoil and exposed to communist aggression should so openly side with us.