12. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State (Bowles) and the Vietnamese Ambassador (Chuong), Department of State1


  • Viet-Nam

Secretary Bowles recalled that he had visited Viet-Nam six or seven years ago. He hoped he would again be able to visit Viet-Nam. He had met the then Prime Minister, Nguyen Van Tham, who had seen the necessity of giving the people of Viet-Nam reforms and more freedom. Ambassador Chuong recalled that Tham had good ideas, but had lacked courage. Secretary Bowles agreed. Ambassador Chuong emphasized that President Diem by contrast, had had [Page 33] enough courage to tell the French that complete independence was necessary for Viet-Nam. Secretary Bowles then mentioned the Communist tactic of distributing land to the landless and emphasized how important it was to provide land for the peasants. Ambassador Chuong mentioned that in some cases where this was done too rapidly the peasants found themselves with insufficient land, livestock and tools. Secretary Bowles agreed that land reform had to be well-planned and then mentioned the success of such programs in Thailand and Japan. He also mentioned the effectiveness of the Indian Civil Service whose people, although not originally trained for agriculture, were such good administrators that they were now able to supply Rural Extension Service to about 70% of India. He then spoke warmly of Wolf Ladejinsky’s role in the land reform program of Japan. Ambassador Chuang recalled that Mr. Ladejinsky was now working for the Government of Viet-Nam.

Secretary Bowles said that in his view, the peasants not only wanted more material things but also a sense of justice and of participation in the government.

Ambassador Chuong asked if the Under Secretary would give him specific comments on the present situation. Secretary Bowles said that it was certainly necessary to be extremely firm with the Russian and Chinese Communists; but at the same time, military power was not enough. Ambassador Chuong commented that French failures had certainly proved that point. Secretary Bowles continued that we wished to bring the people of Southeast Asia together so that they would have a sense of common destiny. This was not easy. They had traditional differences, but our aim was to help these people to be confident in their own future rather than to be grateful to the United States. He cited the analogy of the British who in the 19th century through the protection of their fleet made it possible for the United States to grow into a strong country. It would seem that the main ingredients needed domestically within the countries of Southeast Asia were justice and more equality.

As to our relations with Viet-Nam, the Secretary emphasized we would certainly continue our support and live up to our treaty obligations. It would also be found that there would be a greater emphasis on looking further ahead and on long-range projects such as the Mekong Valley.

Ambassador Chuong agreed on the necessity of closer cooperation among the nations of Southeast Asia, continued cooperation with the United States and a greater sense of participation amongst the Vietnamese people.

Secretary Bowles said that if such a spirit could be built up, there would no longer be the feeling that the Viet Cong were aiming [Page 34] their attacks against the United States, but rather that they were attacking the future of the Vietnamese people themselves.

Ambassador Chuong, referring to Laos and Viet-Nam, said that a war situation existed and that Asia was terribly weak in terms of defending itself. Thus in planning for the future of Asia it should be remembered that free Asia must sail with the wind. Mr. Bowles suggested that it was also possible to tack into the wind.

Ambassador Chuong mentioned the usefulness of the Civil Guard and the fact that the Government of Viet-Nam paid for its support.

Secretary Bowles inquired how much taxes the Vietnamese Government collected. Ambassador Chuong talked rapidly, replying that good taxes required good production.

Mr. Bowles spoke of the importance of strengthening SEATO and said that Secretary Rusk was planning to attend the Council Meeting on March 27. Ambassador Chuong asked if the Secretary might consider stopping off at Saigon. Mr. Bowles made it clear that the Secretary would even have difficulty in finding the time to visit Bangkok.

As the Ambassador took his leave, Mr. Bowles again stated that the United States would continue to support the Government of Viet-Nam.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/2-1361. Confidential. Drafted by Wood on February 15 and approved in U on February 17. A summary of the conversation was transmitted to Saigon in telegram 1088, February 15. (Ibid., 790.00/ 2-1561) A briefing memorandum for the meeting by Parsons, February 13, is ibid., Vietnam Task Force Files: Lot 66 D 193, 16. USA, GVN 1961.