751G.11/1–3052: Telegram

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


1505. Rptd info Paris 559. Jan 27 Vietnamese New Year, as dean dipl corps I delivered address at Dalat which I said in this critical year eyes of the world were on Bao Dai in hope he wld lead Vietnam towards victory and stability. (Text by despatch.)1

Fol day had talk with Bao Dai. He started with long pessimistic diatribe on Vietnamese fin and polit situation and state of relations with Fr concluded by suggesting novel “solution”.

He had made a canvass of possible successors to Huu and cld not find one with requisite prestige or ability for the job. Ngo Dinh Diem2 was best known but this prestige and favor extended only to Catholic community embracing but a tenth of Vietnamese population. Further Diem was an “incapable” obstinate and inordinately proud. Ex-Gov Tri had real ability but shown himself slave to Dai Viet party without ideals or true program except establish authoritarian monopoly of polit power. There were many who professed patriotism but in office they wld he felt show same vanity and personal ambition which characterized Huu. In the entire cabinet, only one man, Tam Min Natl Security, was really doing his job. Huu was suspicious, jealous and wld give none of his collaborators requisite liberty of action. Giao,3 ex-Gov of Annam wld make a better Prime Min than Huu. I observed I was good friend of Giao, realized his good qualities but there were admitted defects in his governorship of Annam. Bao Dai said Giao wld be all right under his close control. I said it wld have to be close.

The fin situation of Vietnam was as unpromising as the political [Page 23] Bao Dai said. Three billion piastres wld be needed for Viet natl army in 1952, and only one billion wld be available from Viet revenue. Fr had not promised meet this deficit.

I observed before such aid cld be considered it wld be necessary for govt to present an authentic budget. Bao Dai said he “cld not understand” why Huu had not yet submitted budget. I replied that Bao Dai cld force Huu to take such action if he only exerted his auth. Bao Dai said a dangerous stalemate of incompatibility with Fr had been reached which requires bold effective solution. Fr must cease “annoying” interventions in internal polit matters coupled with menaces of cutting off fin aid. I observed that he cld object and effectively resist Fr intervention in purely internal matters if he wld firmly take the reins of govt. As regards the fin situation I thought that Fr and even ourselves has every right to intervene to the extent of “control” in the Fr sense of the word and consultation. The fact was Vietnam was a bankrupt country dependent mainly on Fr and to a lesser extent on US. I reminded that in a previous interview he had himself argued we shld exert some effective control on Huu govt financial operation.

Bao Dai went on to say it was time for Fr to declare what their real aims were. They must have some concrete aims which, he hoped, did not contemplate a return towards colonialist control. I remarked it wld be impossible for Fr turn the clock back to colonial control even if they wanted to. As to Fr aims it seemed fairly clear that questions of natl prestige were involved and the protection of nascent Fr Union with which Fr, along gen lines of Brit commonwealth expects to transform its former imperial possessions and its protectorates. Letourneau had said if Assoc States were lost Fr Union was doomed. I understood Fr made no secret of expectation of some econ assurances and preferences along line of Brit imperial preferences. There was also legitimate desire to maintain a certain currency of Fr language and culture in Indochina. Bao Dai said time had come to get off the plane of sentiment to one of reality. I remarked that in my own conversations with Letourneau I had found him frank and realistic.

Bao Dai said that perhaps it wld not be utterly tragic if Chinese were to invade. He cld found and lead effective resistance against the Chi, the hated traditional enemy. I remarked that Chi would work thru the puppet VM which with Commie ruthlessness and efficiency wld speedily do away with all potential leaders of resistance. At present time only Fr Union forces kept Vietnam from becoming Chi Colony.

[Garble] Bao Dai then came to “solution” of present difficulty with Fr.

He said it not his idea but De Lattre’s. Prior latter’s departure Fr Gen Le Cocq had raised with De Lattre question his successor in case [Page 24] latter’s health prevented his staying on in Indochina. After reflection De Lattre had reportedly replied that no French shld be given combined functions commanding gen and HICOM. Bao Dai shld be appointed as successor. Bao Dai commented he wld be nominally CIC with Gen Salan technically acting as his chief staff. Fr civil functions wld likewise be under his control with. Gautier having title polit advisor. Such solution wld go far towards allaying Viet fear of restoration Fr colonialism. Bao Dai wld take over active control Viet govt and army. Up to present, he asserted, it wld have been neither desirable nor practical for him to do so. I said that I had great respect for his intel but inquired bluntly whether he realized punishing load of work and responsibility he wld have to undertake. He cld not stay in mountains—he wld have to move to Saigon and Hanoi. Was he physically and otherwise prepared take over, this workload of responsibility? He asserted he was ready. Whether or not Fr Govt granted him such titles or powers, I told him I felt that if he wld come down and assume active supervision his govt and his army, and make sustained effort of will he wld succeed. As I have said in my address to him year was critical. He had little time to lose.

Bao Dai said that he cld not actively take over reins govt unless Fr increased his powers. He felt that during his previous stays in France he had accomplished much more for true Viet independence than when he resident in Vietnam. He had even thought of making trip to France with that idea in view but it frowned upon by Fr. I observed that I wld also greatly regret to see him leave his country at this tide of its affairs. Bao Dai said death De Lattre was greatest loss, not only from mil point of view but from polit since De Lattre had finally come realize that this impetuous intervention into Viet polit affairs counter-productive, and that he and De Lattre had finally established real consultative partnership. He terminated interview by saying he felt he cld count on me as sincere friend and advisor. I confirmed this but said that with him absent from Saigon it difficult make our friendship very effective.

Comment: I have no idea how Fr wld take suggestion he be named HICOM and CIC. In Brit Commonwealth there precedent in recent appointment of an Australian and a Canadian being named high command Gov-Gen respectively. Actually I think Fr might be well advised consider some such romantic step in effort to break polit impasse. Whether with these powers and titles Bao Dai wld effectively exert himself is of course open to question. It shld be possible to convince him to take continued residence in Saigon and Hanoi where he wld be available to good advice and control.

  1. The text of Ambassador Heath’s address is contained in telegram 1497 from Saigon, Jan. 28, 1952, not printed. (851G.424/1–2852)
  2. A prominent leader of the Vietnamese Catholic community.
  3. Pham Van Giao.