474. Letter From the Acting Officer in Charge of Thai and Malayan Affairs (Foster) to the Ambassador in Thailand (Peurifoy)1

Dear Mr. Ambassador: [Here follows a description of a mock evacuation exercise undertaken by the Department of State earlier in June.]

In between test exercises I had a chance to do some thinking and one thing began to bother me somewhat. I do not wish at this time to put the matter into an official telegram because of the wide distribution it would get, and the resultant hysteria which matters such as this sometimes invoke. I would, however, like your informal views.

I have noticed signs that the Thai Government, ever since the Bandung Conference, has apparently initiated an international political hedging operation in its relations with us and our friends.

While Phibun is issuing a steady stream of militantly anti-Communist statements at the various capitals he is visiting, Prince Wan is sedulously spreading the impression that he has been softened personally by Communist professions of good faith and is generally assuming a weak-kneed role. General Romulo has particularly noticed [Page 826] this, and warned the Secretary about Wan’s attitude in his usually forthright way. Your recent letter to KEN voices the same warning.2

The latest and most interesting move in this business is your 3134,3 where Phao apparently went out of his way to give you the same warning, while at the same time showing you where he stood by revealing in confidence the details of his alleged end run around Wan to the Prime Minister.

I think it highly unlikely that Wan with his long experience in diplomacy would be personally beguiled to this extent by Chou En-lai’s personal charm in one meeting. Wan’s previous devious history, his uncanny facility for sensing the domestic political winds, and his incredible ability to survive for almost twenty years under varying Thai foreign policies leads me to suspect his present behaviour not only is carefully deliberate but with the tacit consent of the cabinet. He would make the logical counterfoil to offset the public pro-Americanism of Phao and Phibun.

Assuming for the moment that the above thesis is correct, what has caused the Thai to begin reverting to their historic policy of having at least a toe in either camp? I would guess a combination of circumstances ranging from, the expected emasculation of FOA, disappointment at the lack of teeth in SEATO (Wan was instructed to obtain a NATO at Manila and failed), evidence of Chou’s supremacy over Nehru at Bandung, Quemoy and Matsu, the alarming weakness of Japan, and the sweet reasonableness prevading the air in expectation of the forthcoming Summit talks.4 Phao’s suggested visit to Washington may also be a wind sniffing operation on the Hill with his contacts greased by his counsel. Incidentally, I should think you could grease these pretty well yourself for him and gain merit there-by.

I do not at present see any opportunity to reverse this drift although it may be decelerated somewhat by personal suasion. Our policy of appearing more peaceful than the Communists perforce precludes for the moment any diplomatic or military muscle-flexing of a nature calculated to impress the Thai. Such a show of strength may now only be effective with the Thai in connection with problems other than those within Thailand. The Thai are scared of the Chinese and dislike them thoroughly, but as long as Burma, Laos, [Page 827] Cambodia, and Vietnam give Thailand as little protection as they do now, the Thai, having flyspecked the Manila Pact commitments, realize that diplomatic realities must prevail over abstract principles. I am afraid the Thai have decided that we cannot now be entirely trusted to defend them as we were at the time of Korea.

This letter is entirely too long for a busy Ambassador, but your considered opinion on this business will help me to stack the deck in our direction for the next deal. Needless to say any additional evidence proving me right or wrong will be very useful.

[Here follow personal remarks.]

With best regards to you and yours,

Sincerely,

Rockwood H. Foster 5
  1. Source: Department of State, SEA Files: Lot 58 D 207, Thailand (Bangkok) Correspondence (1955). Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. An apparent reference to Kenneth T. Young. The letter has not been found in Department of State files.
  3. In telegram 3134 from Bangkok, June 21, Ambassador Peurifoy reported on a conversation with General Phao Sriyanon in which Phao expressed his disappointment with Prince Wan’s relations with Chou En-lai at Bandung. Phao claimed to have elicited from Prime Minister Pibulsonggram a warning to the rest of the Thai Government against any contacts with Peking or Hanoi. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/6–2155)
  4. Reference is to the Summit Conference at Geneva, July 18–23.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.