84. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, September 30, 1958, 4:15 p.m.1


  • Prince Sihanouk’s Call on the Secretary


  • His Royal Highness, Prince Sihanouk, Prime Minister of Cambodia
  • The Honorable Nong Kimny, Ambassador of Cambodia
  • John Foster Dulles—The Secretary of State
  • Walter S. Robertson—Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Eric Kocher—Director, Office of Southeast Asian Affairs
  • Joseph A. Mendenhall—Acting Officer in Charge, Cambodian Affairs

The Secretary asked Prince Sihanouk what matters he wished to discuss. The Prince said that the only purpose of his visit is to pay homage to the U.S. Government and to express gratitude for its friendship and aid to Cambodia. He expressed the hope that Cambodia would have stronger links with the U.S. and his thanks for our understanding of Cambodian policy which is necessitated by his country’s special situation. He said he had no problems to present.

The Secretary said that we have had sympathy for Cambodia and its aspirations for some time. He recalled the Prince’s previous visit to Washington when there were discussions about Cambodia’s getting its independence. At that time the French wanted us to inject ourselves into the war in Indochina, but we took the position that we would do so only if the French would grant independence to the three Indochina [Page 254] states. The French were unwilling to do that, but Cambodia achieved its independence anyway. Our desire now is that Cambodia keep that independence.

The Secretary said he would not be frank if he did not say that we have some concern over the motives and ambitions of the Chinese Communists in Southeast Asia. We believe they as Communists desire to bring all governments everywhere under the control of the Communist party. The Communist creed of peace, order, and maximum productivity is aimed at bringing everything into conformity and having it run by the Communist party. The Communists thus take a mechanistic view of the world. We, on the other hand, do not believe that human beings can be brought into that kind of mechanistic order. As human beings differ from each other, a world program of trying to make them act and think alike is not possible. We believe that the best society admits of diversity. It must permit differences, but at the same time make sure that those differences do not lead to war.

The Secretary cited a recent speech by Mr. Spaak, Secretary General of NATO, in which he said that we must assess the magnitude of the challenge thrown out to us: it is not a challenge of the Soviet Union to the U.S., but of the Communist world to the free world. The Secretary said that, as we were once a colony, we always have sympathy for the aspirations of nations. We believe in real independence, and not in subserviency as displayed by governments under the control of the Communist party, such as the European and Asian satellites. Those who really believe in independence need to stand together. That is the reason that we are helping Cambodia: we want to help it to stay independent. He implored the Prince not to underestimate the Communist danger.

The Prince expressed agreement with the Secretary on Communism as a regime, and mentioned the fact that electoral propaganda in Cambodia had been directed against Communism. He stated that it is in the interest of the U.S. for Cambodia to be neutral because neutrality, by uniting the whole Cambodian nation behind the monarchy, is the best defense against Communism. If another policy were followed, there would be serious division within the country. He said that the best proof that neutrality has prevented Communist success in Cambodia is the results of the general elections in his country. In 1955 the Communist party in Cambodia (which the Prince characterized as a “gift of the Viet Minh”) got 3 percent of the votes. During the intervening period before the next election, the Prince worked hard on a program to raise the standard of living and, therefore, in the 1958 election, the Communists got less than 1 percent of the votes and no seats in the parliament. The Prince doubted that better results could be obtained in other countries under free elections.

[Page 255]

The Secretary commented that he did not mean to imply any criticism of Cambodian policy. We are not asking Cambodia to depart from its neutrality policy as that is for the Cambodian Government to decide. We only hope that the independence of Cambodia will not be lost through accident or carelessness. We in the U.S. have perhaps a broader experience, and he, therefore, wished only to emphasize the insidiousness of the Communist conspiracy. We do not question the fact that Communists obtain material accomplishments through hard work, discipline and austerity, but material results are not the only thing that matters.

The Prince expressed agreement with the Secretary’s view. The Secretary added that no personality demonstrates better than the Prince what a free individual can achieve in obtaining independence. The Secretary said that the Communists would stamp out the Prince’s buoyancy, just as Mao Tse-tung stamped out the “hundred flowers” as soon as they stuck their heads up. Mr. Robertson said that, according to the Yugoslav Ambassador in Peiping, 330,000 rightists have been liquidated since that time. He added that liquidations have totaled about 15,000,000 in the USSR and 15–20,000,000 in China.

The Prince expressed awareness that the internal policy of the Communists is not soft. However, he said that the Chiang Kai-shek regime, though liberal, had been corrupt and inattentive to the basic needs of the people, and it was, therefore, possible for the Communist regime to establish itself in China. The question now is whether it will be possible to change that regime one day. The Secretary replied that he thought eventually there would be a change to something more independent and less monolithic in view of the individualistic nature of the Chinese.

The Secretary inquired regarding Cambodian relations with Viet-Nam. The Prince characterized the situation as “still delicate”. He briefly recounted the history of the Stung Treng border incident, saying that the Vietnamese had placed a new border marker 2 kilometers inside Cambodia. When President Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, visited Phnom Penh, he promised to do his best to arrive at a settlement. A few days later the King received a letter from Nhu in which the Vietnamese Government agreed to remove the new border marker. The Prince characterized this as recognition by Viet-Nam of the fact that it had committed a wrong. He said that he had asked the Vietnamese to place a new marker where the old one which they had destroyed had been, because he could not accept the existence of a no-man’s land.

The Secretary said that we try not to become mixed up in boundary disputes of this sort. We do, however, try to be helpful by urging both sides to reach a settlement. Mr. Robertson indicated we had felt we had no competence to settle the border marker dispute between [Page 256] Cambodia and Viet-Nam, but had followed a policy of urging both governments to get together to settle it. The Prince said that Cambodia is ready to send negotiators to Saigon, but that it is still awaiting an answer from the Vietnamese Government. He said that he was personally prepared to go at any time and discuss matters with President Diem, but had received an answer prior to coming to the U.S. that Diem was too busy and not able to receive him at that time. He said that he would like to have the relations of a good neighbor with Viet-Nam, and that the only thing that he asks of the U.S. is that it tell Viet-Nam that it would be good for Cambodia and Viet-Nam to negotiate their problems. He referred in favorable terms to the willingness of the Thai Government to negotiate with Cambodia and indicated that, even though no results had been achieved, this willingness to negotiate satisfied Cambodia. Mr. Robertson said that he would further discuss relations between Cambodia and Viet-Nam in his subsequent meeting with the Prince on October 2.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.11/9–3058. Confidential. Drafted by Mendenhall and cleared by Kocher and Robertson. A briefing memorandum from Robertson to Dulles, September 29, is ibid., FE/SEA (Cambodia) Files: Lot 63 D 73, Sihanouk 1958 Visit to U.S. 22.2; included in the microfiche supplement) Earlier in the day, Sihanouk met with Eisenhower from 12:45 to 12:57 p.m. They exchanged gifts and pleasantries. (Eisenhower Library, President’s Daily Appointment Book, and telegram 263 to Phnom Penh, October 1; Department of State, Central Files, 033.51H11/10–158) Briefing material for the President on Sihanouk’s visit is included in the microfiche supplement.
  2. An account of Robertson’s and Sihanouk’s October 2 conversation, which included neutralism, U.S. aid to Cambodia, Cambodia–South Vietnam relations, subversion, and Taiwan, is in telegram 267 to Phnom Penh, October 3. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.51H11/10–358; included in the microfiche supplement)