481. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Ambassador in Thailand (Johnson)1
Dear Alex: The Sarit visit is now drawing to a close, and during the past weeks I have had a number of contacts both with the Field Marshal and the Thai Ambassador, Thanat Khoman.
You may be interested in the following impressions I received from these conversations which are not covered in our telegrams:
- I am disturbed by the continued inability or unwillingness of the Thai to comprehend our cautions on aid, and their inflation, purposely or otherwise, of our words of friendship for Thailand. I think the Thai Ambassador [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] may have had the impression that the Sarit visit could be used as a mechanism for obtaining additional U.S. aid, and that his prestige has unfortunately become associated with success in achieving this end. Now that additional aid is not being obtained, the Thai Ambassador feels somewhat bitter. I am not sure how Sarit feels in this respect, but my impression is that he is less emotionally involved in these talks, the recovery of his health taking precedence over other considerations. All I can say is that I was glad to get your expressions of concern on this [Page 1014] subject and we are doing everything possible to emphasize the realism of the situation to the Thai as well as disabuse them of incorrect impressions and conclusions they may have drawn from any of the Washington talks.
- The Field Marshal maintained an impassive appearance during the talks. From his prompt reaction to some remarks, however, we assume that he comprehended more than we had expected. While he nearly always spoke in Thai, he frequently indicated that it was unnecessary for Ambassador Thanat to translate from the English. He was articulate and expressive when outlining Thai needs and discussing the Thai political situation.
- He seemed to desire to discuss principles only, and left the talks on private investment (as well as specific economic projects) to a meeting between two of his assistants and the Ambassador on the one hand and Gardner Palmer and ICA representatives on the other.
- In discussing the Thai political situation with the Secretary, Sarit dwelt at length on the activities of Thep Chotenuchit2 and his receipt of substantial aid from outside Thailand through the sale of imported goods. As evidence that Thep and his group are not free agents, he mentioned their attacks on “Thai policies which are favorable to foreigners.” He added that Thep and his group may be cooperating with Thai political refugees in Communist China such as Pridi.
- He discussed the Chinese minority in Thailand in terms of the relative strength of Communist China in Asia. He stated that young Chinese are taken from Thailand to Kunming for training and indoctrination. In speaking of minorities he recommended repatriation of Vietnamese who entered the country after World War II.
- He named the Siam Nikorn, Khao Phap, Prachatipatai, and Seri Prachatipatai as newspapers which he said were even worse than Sarn Sen or Thai Raiwan. However, the only anti-Communist newspapers he could name were Siamrat and Daily Mail (sic)3 which he described as first taking one side and then another. These comments suggest that he may not know what line various newspapers take.
- While on the subject of the Thai press, the Ambassador interpolated his view that the whole difficulty in Thailand began with a series of items in the New York press several years ago blasting Thailand on every occasion. He mentioned an item in the Christian Science Monitor in 1951 which allegedly asserted that it was “contemptible for such a contemptible country as Thailand to offer troops for service in Korea”. He observed that these items are printed in Thailand and asked why the Thai must endure continued U.S. press attacks.
- In discussing the difficulty of informing the Thai people of realities by statements to the press, Sarit said that he is consulting with the government regarding a possible revision of the press law to permit the development of a better press in Thailand. He also made several suggestions about U.S. information programs, proposing that whenever an aid project is established the U.S. should “gain the people’s confidence” by explaining that “this year a road (for example) will be built so many miles, and next year so many miles”. He recommended that the U.S. put up near U.S. aided highway projects a map or chart providing similar information. As an example of inadequate attention to publicity, he stated that once, while inspecting a hospital, he asked the technician in charge regarding the source of a row of microscopes in the laboratory and found that he did not know that these microscopes had been presented by USOM.
I hope these additional details may be of some help in interpreting the memoranda of conversation we have provided you.
On our part we would welcome some indication of the political reaction in Thailand to the results of Sarit’s talks. We wonder if he will suffer a loss of prestige in the absence of any dramatic outcome, and if this would affect the nature or direction of his foreign policy views.
All the best to you and Pat.