473. Despatch From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State 1
- Visit of Baldwin Rice Mission2
The very considerable contribution which the US Delegation headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charles F. Baldwin made towards clarification of US agricultural surplus disposal policies and a better understanding between the US and Thailand in a most sensitive field is very clearly reflected in the chronology of the press treatment of this Mission’s visit, May 27 to June 4.
In substance this record indicates that prior to this visit the Communists were beginning successfully to exploit Thai fears of inundations of their traditional markets by American rice. Considerable public interest therefore was aroused as to the purpose of the visit, with frequent deliberate distortions. Some papers anticipated the Mission would engage in purchases of Thai rice for dollars to meet relief requirements in Southeast Asia, notably Laos and Cambodia; whereas others intimated that the Mission’s primary objective would be to threaten Thai Government officials with termination of American aid if they were to offer any resistance to increased disposals of American rice in the area. The press statements issued by the Baldwin Mission on its arrival and departure from Rangoon3 were therefore widely reported in the Thai press and thus prepared the turning of public opinion. The emphasis in these communiqués, repeated by the Mission on its arrival in Bangkok, was on the sympathetic understanding of the US as to the significance of rice in the Thai economy and the US resolve to seek through mutual consultation to encourage an increase in consumption of rice throughout the world. This contributed much to allay Thai fears. Finally, but most importantly, as a result of the frankness of the discussions between the Mission and the Thai Government officials, the latter were persuaded of the sincerity of the US concern with the well-being and future of the Thai [Page 824] economy. Of their own initiative, these Thai officials took positive steps publicly to reaffirm and underscore the salient points made in the Mission’s press statements. In consequence, at least for the nonce, the Communists’ ability to use rice as a symbol of conflict between Thailand and the US has been substantially reduced. Fortunately, market conditions for Thai rice simultaneously have improved and the immediate impact of any sales of US rice in Asia diminished. This happenstance may not be relied upon to recur.
The extensiveness of the press treatment given the Mission’s visit, therefore, underscores the importance which Thailand attaches to US agricultural surplus disposal policy and the imperative need for the US steadfastly to adhere to the precepts for such disposal enunciated by the Dodge Council4 and so effectively communicated and expounded by the Baldwin Mission. It also demonstrates the political wisdom, in the US interest, of consulting periodically with Thailand on such policies.
[Here follow a chronology and discussion of the coverage accorded the visit of the Baldwin mission by the Thai press.]
The consultations clearly served manifold purposes. In addition to confirming to the Thai Government the awareness on the part of the US of the importance of the latter’s agricultural trade policies on Southeast Asian economies, the very presence of a mission despatched from Washington and headed by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State underscored the sincerity of this US awareness and concern. This was most reassuring to the Thai officials. Moreover, through the medium of direct consultations by experts of the two Governments, a better understanding of the problems peculiar to each was reached. Finally, the Thai officials were enabled more clearly to place in perspective the significance of US programs and to speak with greater assurance to their compatriots and the press.
The importance of the precedent established by the Baldwin Mission cannot be underestimated. It would of course be premature and Pollyannish to anticipate that Thai fears have definitely been laid at rest. On the contrary, Thai Government officials will continue critically to examine particular surplus disposals made by the US, henceforth in light of the criteria and precepts of the Dodge Commission which Mr. Baldwin outlined to them. Any deviations from these principles may well provoke cynicism and mistrust greater than that which preceded the Mission. Moreover, anti-American and anti- [Page 825] Thai Government papers may be relied upon to continue their efforts to exaggerate and distort the issues.5 But these efforts have been made more difficult and the favorable impression left by the Mission is likely long to remain.
Counselor of Embassy for Economic Affairs
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 411.9241/6–855. Official Use Only.↩
- A delegation headed by Charles F. Baldwin visited Rangoon in May and Bangkok during the first week in June for consultations with Burmese and Thai officials concerning the world rice surplus. A letter to Baldwin from Murphy, May 14, instructed him to explain that the United States wished to dispose of up to 230,000 tons of surplus rice in Asian markets during the current rice-marketing year and to offer assurances that precautions would be taken to avoid harming Burmese and Thai interests. (Ibid., 411.90B41/5–1455) Regarding the visit by the Baldwin mission to Rangoon, see Document 8.↩
- Not found in Department of State files.↩
- On April 29, the Council on Foreign Economic Policy, chaired by Joseph M. Dodge, established precepts to govern U.S. rice sales to Asia. The Dodge Council precepts were outlined in Murphy’s letter to Baldwin cited in footnote 2 above.↩
- Indeed, as evidenced in three press commentaries which have accumulated in the course of the preparation of this despatch and which are transmitted as Enclosures 10 and 11, this effort has been resumed. [Footnote in the source text. The 11 enclosures, attached to the source text but not printed, were excerpts from the Thai press relating to the Baldwin rice mission. Enclosures 10 and 11 concerned editorial comment by the Sathiraphap and Phim Thai newspapers expressing doubt about the promises made by the Baldwin mission.]↩