187. Telegram From the Secretary of State to the Embassy in the Republic of Vietnam1

4095. 1. Taipei’s 11152 and 11223 and Saigon’s 48974 to Department, bearing on problem possible operation clean-out Chicoms on Woody Island, Paracels, and related question conflicting sovereignty claims Paracels and Spratleys, under active consideration in Department.

2. Meanwhile, Department hopes limited knowledge in area of US naval-air reconnaissance exercise conducted last week in eastern Paracels will have salutary effects. Accordingly, Taipei, Bangkok, Vientiane, Manila may inform highest officials Governments on most confidential basis of following. Upon receipt reports June 10 by GVN from its station on Pattle Island, Paracels, that Chicom troops had been landed on nearby Robert Island, GVN informed US Government which immediately dispatched task force of two destroyers and reconnaissance planes on scene to conduct naval, air and ground reconnaissance of island June 12 and 13. Results this reconnaissance negative. Inform Foreign Ministers this information given them on strictly confidential basis to reassure them of US watchfulness overall situation southern Pacific area.

3. If it has not done so already, Saigon authorized its discretion brief Mau5 on negative results US naval-air reconnaissance Robert [Page 381] island. Embassy Saigon further requested evaluate possible motives GVN in raising question such urgent basis with US, British, Australians, ICC. While we recognize likelihood this was simply hasty acceptance unconfirmed reports, following speculation has occurred to Department:

Could Mau, in view firm reiteration Vietnamese claims to Paracels and Spratleys which he made in Viet-nam Press interview June 8 (following upon May 29 GVN declaration on same subject), have deliberately used unconfirmed reports of Chicom landing Robert in order involve US in support Vietnamese claims?
Is there possibility Mau may have been led to such course by reports Chinats sending 2 destroyer escorts to Paracels after their visit Spratleys?
Conversely/is there possibility Mau may have wished use reports of Chicom landings Paracels to test our eventual reaction possible Vietminh attacks area contiguous 17th Parallel?6

4. Paracel–Spratley problem seems to Department to illustrate weakness resulting from lack adequate contacts between GRC and GVN. Saigon and Taipei instructed inform respective Governments that US considers it matter of highest priority GRC and GVN relations be solidified soonest by exchange high-level representatives.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790.022/6–1856. Top Secret. Drafted in SEA by Kattenburg and approved by Robertson. Cleared in SEA by Young, in CA by McConaughy, in SPA by Cuthell, and in FE by Jones. Also sent to Taipei, Bangkok, Vientiane, and Manila. Repeated for information to Paris, London, and Hong Kong.
  2. In telegram 1115 from Taipei, June 15, Ambassador Rankin summarized a telegram sent by Admiral Ingersoll to CINCPAC on June 14. Rankin noted that he had concurred in the telegram. In his assessment, Ingersoll observed that “only change in Paracels past several months is some increase in Communist personnel and buildings on Woody. No troops or armament observed.” Chinese activity in the Paracels was “apparently limited to guano collection on Woody with occasional visits to Robert, North and Lincoln Islands”. Ingersoll concluded “under above circumstances now is not time for US to clean out Communists from Woody Island unilaterally”. He added that a joint Chinese-Vietnamese effort was impracticable due to conflicting claims to the Paracels. (Ibid., 793.022/6–1556)
  3. In telegram 1122 from Taipei, June 19, Rankin reiterated the conclusion that no case had been made for military action to clear Woody island. He added that encouraging the Republic of China to act unilaterally to clear the Paracels “would in effect be rather more than equivalent to US statement it would oppose further Red expansion in that area”. (Ibid., 790.022/6–1956)
  4. In telegram 4897 from Saigon, June 18, Ambassador Reinhardt concurred in Admiral Ingersoll’s analysis of the situation in the Paracel Islands, as outlined in telegram 1115 from Taipei. Reinhardt added that unilateral action by the Republic of China to clear Woody Island would seriously strain relations between the Republic of China and the Republic of Vietnam. (Ibid., 790.022/6–1856)
  5. Vu Van Mau, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Vietnam.
  6. The Embassy assessment, conveyed to the Department in telegram 4970 from Saigon, June 23, was that the Vietnamese Government accepted at face value the eyewitness reports from its garrison on Pattle Island, and did not make “deliberate use of unconfirmed reports” to test the U.S. and SEATO reactions to an emergency. (Department of State, Central Files, 790.022/6–2356)