65. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant for Southeast Asia (Black) to President Johnson1


  • U.S. Initiatives in Southeast Asian Development

Since your April 7 address in Baltimore,2 the Task Force on South-east Asian Economic and Social Development has taken a series of measures [Page 165] to implement your proposal for an expanded cooperative effort for development in Southeast Asia. In keeping with your expressed desire, we are encouraging the Asians and other interested countries and institutions to take the initiative. At the same time, however, the Task Force has taken the necessary steps (a) to assure that the U.S. can respond quickly and effectively to specific Asian proposals, (b) to encourage the Asians to make acceptable proposals, and (c) to initiate programs ourselves where desirable. These steps include:

At the request of the UN/ECAFE I have sent an observer to the Special Mekong Committee meeting on May 10–11. He will:
Encourage building of a regional development agency on the framework of the Mekong Committee and offer tangible support for the Committeeʼs present prime interest, the Nam Ngum multi-purpose dam in Laos; he will state that the U.S. is prepared to contribute half the cost of this project, provided certain economic and political problems are resolved and other donors together match with grants our grant contribution; and
Attempt to reconcile differing approaches suggested by the Japanese and the U.N. as to the scope and organization of the new program. (The Cambodian break with the United States has complicated the problem.)
I have discussed your offer of assistance with U Thant, who is very enthusiastic. Since then the U.N. has been considering various institutional devices to implement the program. In addition, Mr. Rostow and Ambassador Reischauer have discussed your proposal with the Japanese who have shown an active interest and are in the process of developing their own proposals.
We have asked the Japanese, during their on-going conversations with the Soviets, to exchange views with them on your proposal for Southeast Asian development. This would serve as a means of bringing the Soviets into a dialogue on this subject. Hopefully, this exchange would also impress upon the Soviets that your offer is not directed against them and that not all the initiative comes from the U.S.
I discussed the Asian Development Bank with U.N. officials, expressing the U.S. interest in participating in the Bank, provided it is properly organized. Subsequently, I have informed the U.N. that I would be glad to attend an Asian Bank Consultative Committee meeting in June if the dates coincide with my tentative plans to visit the Far East late next month. Meantime, a U.S. inter-departmental group is preparing a detailed position in connection with the Asian Development Bankʼs formation.
Since the cooperation of Western European countries is so important, I hope also to be able to travel there to ascertain their attitudes. Prime Minister Wilson has told Secretary Rusk that he would like to have discussions on the Mekong River project.
Meanwhile A.I.D. and the Department of Agriculture are devising additional assistance projects to reach the needy people of friendly countries in which we have bilateral aid programs. They are taking care to avoid undermining the effort to establish a regional scheme for basic economic (and hopefully) political cooperation.
A tentative, preliminary assessment of the possible size and shape of a multilateral assistance program for Southeast Asian regional development under varying conditions has been prepared by A.I.D. See Tab A,3 Illustrative Program for Accelerated Economic and Social Development in Southeast Asia. An earlier draft was an annex to the Task Forceʼs preliminary report.

Eugene R. Black
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. X, 4/5/65–5/31/65. Confidential. Bundy sent this memorandum to the President under a memorandum of May 11 in which Bundy stated that Tex Goldschmidt had subsequently reported that the Mekong Valley Development meeting in Bangkok was going well and that the Asian Development Bank planned a meeting June 28–29, which Black would attend. Bundy suggested that Goodwin include a sentence or two on the effort in Johnsonʼs speech of May 13. (Ibid.) On another copy of the covering memorandum there is an indication that Johnson saw it. (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, Southeast Asia Development, Vol. I, 1965) For text of the speech, “The Challenge of Human Need in Viet-Nam,” see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, pp. 522–526.
  2. See Document 60.
  3. Tab A, which Bundy characterized in his covering memorandum as an “enormous thick black book,” was removed by McGeorge Bundy and was “staffed out.” It was not sent to the President. (Memorandum from McGeorge Bundy to Johnson, May 11; Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. X, 4/5/65–5/31/65)