71. Letter From the Presidentʼs Special Adviser on Southeast Asia (Black) to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President,

Arrangements are being made for my departure April 27 for a monthʼs trip that will take me to some ten Far Eastern countries.

During the course of the trip I plan to have unhurried discussions with a number of key figures in Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, South Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan. I may go to Burma. Dean Rusk has asked me to be prepared to visit Indonesia if that seems warranted at the time.

In addition to the special assignment which you have given me, I will try to obtain a clearer picture from the Asian leaders themselves of what they think and propose that be done to bring about a stepping up to economic and social development programs in Southeast Asia. My point of departure will be now that the specific requests to us from U Thant following your April 7 speech2 have been met in full—establishment of the Asian Development Bank and financing for the Nam Ngum Dam in Laos—you desire to know what other possibilities should now be explored. In the Mekong countries I will give particular attention to the future of the river basin development program—including the possibility of strengthening the existing institutional machinery of the Mekong Committee and national agencies to plan and carry out a sound and more vigorous program.

I also plan to follow up on some promising proposals for regional cooperation in the fields of education, health and agriculture. I have invited Henry Heald, former President of the Ford Foundation, to accompany me. Several days ago I met with U Thant and invited his suggestions for the trip. He and his staff were most cordial as they have been to me since my first visit on Southeast Asia affairs a year ago.

There is attached a report and evaluation3 of our efforts over the past year to follow through on your April 7 address at Johns Hopkins. The first ten pages contain my own summary.

Since this report was prepared, I was pleased to learn that Cambodia has asked the UN Secretary-General to raise funds for an important tributary [Page 180] project in that country. Prior to this, Cambodiaʼs participation in the Mekong scheme was tenuous. While I do not believe it would be appropriate for the United States to take the lead in a project for Cambodia—as we did with Nam Ngum—I think we should be willing to be a minority contributor to a UN consortium, provided the Asian Development Bank manages the funds.

I have read the first reports in from Ambassador Reischauer on the Japanese-sponsored Southeast Asian Ministerial Conference on Economic Development held in Tokyo April 6–7. While I agree with the Ambassador that we should avoid the suggestion that we stimulated this important and successful conference, I wanted you to know that in my opinion it was the incentive provided by your Johns Hopkins speech last year that encouraged Japan to call the meeting. Japanese officials leaked plans for the conference to the press the day prior to my arrival in Tokyo last July. Obviously, they did not then nor do they now wish to portray their conference as a direct response to us. At Reischauerʼs suggestion I am making my visit to Japan later than originally planned to allow a longer interval between my visit and the Japanese meeting.

The press in Japan notes with pride that this is the first major international conference hosted by Japan and hails the conference as a major diplomatic achievement. Reischauer agrees. Significantly, Indonesia and Cambodia sent observers who participated in the meetings.

I am satisfied, Mr. President, that we have succeeded in bringing the Japanese to the point where they are prepared to do more in the aid field in Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Sato informed in Conference on Wednesday that it is Japanʼs goal to reach a level of aid equal to one percent of GNP and to soften its loan terms. In its final communiqué the Conference, recognizing publicly the importance of such meetings in promoting economic development and stability in Asia, agreed to meet again next year in Manila and to sponsor a special meeting on agricultural development. The Prime Ministerʼs promise to significantly expand its aid to Southeast Asia will, of course, involve the Japanese more deeply in Southeast Asia affairs.

I was also gratified by the Singapore Foreign Ministerʼs rather surprisingly warm reactions to my offer to visit there and discuss regional economic and social development.

These developments climax—to the day—what I believe has been a fruitful and very promising first year since your Johns Hopkins speech.

I look forward to giving you a full report on my return.


Eugene R. Black
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, SEA Development Program, Vol. II, 1966. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that it was received at the Johnson Ranch in Texas at 3:10 p.m. on April 10.
  2. For text of the speech, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 848–852.
  3. Attached, but not printed.