382. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, September 21, 19561


  • Current Political Situation in Laos


  • His Royal Highness Savang Vathana, Crown Prince of Laos
  • His Excellency Ourot Souvannavong, Ambassador of Laos
  • Walter S. Robertson, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Kenneth T. Young, Jr., Director, Office of Southeast Asian Affairs
  • Patricia M. Byrne, FE/SEA
[Page 814]

At his own request, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Laos, accompanied by the Lao Ambassador, called on Mr. Robertson at 11:15 a.m.

After welcoming the Crown Prince, Mr. Robertson said that we were frankly concerned at developments in Laos and would appreciate his clarifying, insofar as he was at liberty to do so, the current situation.

Savang said that, following the Royal Lao Government’s, and particularly the Prime Minister’s, decision to go to Communist China on a courtesy visit at the express invitation of Chou En-lai, he considered it his duty as representative of the Court and co-chairman of the councils of Laos to come here not to justify the Lao attitude but simply to show that Laos maintained its gratitude and would maintain its friendship and correct attitude toward the United States. He had informed Souvanna Phouma of this intention when the Prime Minister came to see him in France.

Mr. Robertson stated that he had not meant to intimate that Laos needed to justify its actions. Lao affairs were matters for decision of the Lao Government in its own national interests. We were nevertheless concerned at Communist “friendliness” toward Laos since our experience showed that Communist agreements were of little value. In the last 20 years the Soviet Union had broken no fewer than 25 major agreements with us. For example, in 1933 we had recognized the Soviet Union, 16 years after the revolution, on the written assurances of Litvinov that the USSR would cease its subversive activity here and throughout the world. The year was not out before we were threatening to break off relations owing to the complete and careless Soviet violation of those assurances. This was true of all agreements made by the Soviet Union since World War II. It had promised free elections in Eastern Europe; there had been none.

We well knew that the so-called technicians which the Communists sent to other countries to implement their economic programs were carefully trained and experienced subversive agents. We were concerned, therefore, as members of the Free World that Laos’ arrangements with Red China would give the Communists the opportunity to send such agents to the Crown Prince’s country to subvert its independence.

Mr. Robertson wished to emphasize that the United States had only one objective in Asia, as it had all over the world. Its one desire was to see a community of free nations enjoying the opportunity to work out their own national destinies in their own way, unthreatened by the alien domination of any outside power.

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The Crown Prince replied that he had entirely seized the profound meaning of Mr. Robertson’s words. When the RLG delegation, headed by Souvanna Phouma, went to Communist China, he was in Europe. He had been told by telegram that the RLG mission would journey to Peiping only after the settlement of internal Lao problems. These problems were 1) an agreement with the Pathet Lao and 2) revision of the Constitution. This condition seemed to indicate that there would be a three- to four-month delay before the proposed trip. Savang had therefore been surprised at the mission’s precipitate departure, since internal Lao problems had patently not been settled. The two RLG-PL communiqués of August were not synonymous with a solution, nor had the practical methods of executing the two communiqués been worked out. Proof was that since September 17 the two joint committees had been sitting but no news was forthcoming.

Before his departure for France, Savang had presided over a Cabinet session at which Souvanna had pledged not to accept anything from Communist China. Refusal of Chou’s invitation would have appeared a hostile act, the Lao (including Savang) believed, but it was agreed that no engagement whatsoever would be undertaken in Peiping. Consequently, when Savang read the joint Sino-Lao declaration announcing that Communist China might possibly aid Laos, it was clear to him that this commitment had been made at the last minute on the spot. This engagement might be a surprise for people interested in Laos, as it was for the Lao people.

Savang went on to say that his visit to the United States had been decided long ago, but had been delayed because he could not talk to us without the facts. When Souvanna came to France to give the Crown Prince these facts, he contended that no engagement had been made in Peiping, a statement with which the Crown Prince had disagreed. Savang considered that even though the commitment was vague, it could not be approved by all Lao and could not be implemented without danger to the integrity of Laos.

Reverting to Mr. Robertson’s discussion, Savang said Laos was aware of the dangers of Communism, since it had already experienced the misery of invasion and subversion. Many Lao had also followed the history of Soviet policy in the rest of the world and knew of Communist pressures in the Satellites and on public opinion. The United States must not think that the Lao were absolutely unaware of all this.

But the battle was too close. The United States must remember that the enormous mass of Communist China was on Laos’ frontier. Laos sought the most effective means of combatting the Chinese Communist “human and ideological tide” the objective of which was revealed in all its acts. The drama for Laos was that it did not itself [Page 816] possess sufficient effective means to push back the constant Communist effort to absorb it. If there had been some weakness in his Government, it must redress and stand more firmly.

Some of the 30 members of the delegation to Peiping had had their eyes opened and now understood that aid and well-being for Laos could not emanate from Communist China. These delegates had seen the misery and backward economy of Communist China and the necessity to satisfy its own needs. Since the poor could not help the poor, it would be “immoral” to accept Chinese Communist aid.

Therefore, despite what had been said or done by the Lao Government, nothing was an accomplished fact either in Laos or in Laos’ relations abroad. His country must continue the fight.

In response Mr. Robertson said that the Crown Prince had given us a very clear and reassuring statement. We were not insensitive to the problem of a little state situated in the shadow of Communist military might. But it was also necessary to point out that one of the reasons for the constant Communist attacks upon SEATO was that this organization had put the Communists on notice that overt aggression against any territory included in the Treaty area would not be tolerated. In other words, if the Communists risked open aggression against any area protected by SEATO, they must do so in the full knowledge that they would have as their enemy not the individual country attacked but the combined forces of the members of the Treaty organization.

Mr. Robertson concluded by saying that he had more to say to the Crown Prince but it was now time to call on the Acting Secretary.

The conversation ended at 12:00 noon.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–2156. Secret. Drafted by Byrne and cleared by Kocher on September 27; approved by Robertson on October 2. A briefing memorandum from Young to Robertson, September 21, for use in preparation for this meeting is ibid., 751J.11/9–2156.