181. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (Trueheart) to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Some Possible Effects of Cambodian Recognition of DRV Political Representation

1. The April 11 decision of the Cambodian and North Vietnamese governments to elevate the level of DRV mission in Phnom Penh from a commercial representation to “the rank of Representation of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” presumably places the latter on the same footing as the GVN “Representation” before the rupture of political relations in 1963. The West German “Representation” in Phnom Penh is the only mission with similar status there today. In Cambodian precedence lists, a “Representation” follows diplomatic missions but precedes the ICC and UN representations and the consulates general.

Sihanoukʼs Attitude Unchanged

2. The RKG decision clearly shows that Sihanouk has not changed his assessment of the final outcome of the struggle in South Vietnam. Apparently the increased U.S. commitment there and the consequent reports of belief among many Cambodian leaders that it may mean that the Viet Cong will not win in South Vietnam have not affected Sihanoukʼs attitude significantly. The DRV may have been able to capitalize on the current political turmoil there to pressure him into this latest concession.

Exact Status of “Representation” Unclear

3. The legal consequences of the Cambodian action depend upon the interpretation placed on it by the RKG. Theoretically, Sihanouk could be (1) establishing only de facto relations with the government administering the Northern Zone of Vietnam; (2) recognizing the existence of two separate Vietnamese states, while maintaining political relations with only one; or (3) recognizing the DRV as the sole government of the state of Vietnam. The language of the RKG announcement suggests that Sihanouk is moving beyond de facto relations with the government of a Zone in Vietnam but the fact that the “Representation” formula has been used in lieu of diplomatic relations leaves this possibility open. Sihanouk is [Page 393] likely to preserve the ambiguity in order to retain maximum flexibility. However, attributes of diplomatic status may be accorded the DRV representatives in the future, if the GVNʼs position deteriorates further. GVN/USG interpretation of the current Cambodian action as diplomatic recognition might clarify the situation to our overall disadvantage by pushing Sihanouk closer to the DRV than he wants to go at this time.

Effect on the 1954 Geneva Agreements

4. Signatories to the 1954 Geneva Agreements recognized that there was a single nation of Vietnam temporarily divided into two regrouping Zones subject to separate administration pending reunification. The Final Declaration of the 1954 Geneva Conference states: “The military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary.” Thus, the Cambodian action would be inconsistent with the 1954 Geneva Agreements if it means Cambodia recognizes the existence of two states on the territory of the former single state of Vietnam. In this connection, however, it should be noted that the RLG maintains full diplomatic relations with both North and South Vietnam.

Mekong River Convention

5. The 1955 Mekong River Convention guarantees freedom of navigation on the river to the three contracting parties—Laos, Cambodia, and the Republic of Vietnam. It also extends this right to states which recognize the contracting states and which adhere to the terms of the Protocol. Other states may also adhere to the Protocol with the approval of the contracting parties. General principles of international law hold that treaties are made between states not governments. Thus the rights and obligations of states are not affected by non-recognition of governments except insofar as the absence of diplomatic relations prevents the operation of treaty machinery or the vindication of treaty rights. If Cambodia does not recognize the authority of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, it could not call upon those authorities to implement its rights. Nevertheless, the GVN could not lawfully close the river to Cambodian shipping.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL CAMB–VIET N. Confidential. Drafted by John M. Kane of FE/SEA and Meyer Feldman of L/FE. A note on the source text indicates that Bundy saw it.