132. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

10112. VIPTO 51. Subj: Vice President’s Meeting with Prime Minister of Korea.2

After an exchange of greetings, the Prime Minister stated that during his recent visit to Washington President Johnson had voiced concern about North Korean infiltration into South Korea. At that time the Prime Minister understood that a Bill authorizing three destroyers for Korea had passed the House of Representatives, and been forwarded to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He has recently learned that the request for two of these destroyers was cancelled by the Armed Services Committee of the Senate. This will have unfortunate political repercussions in Korea as these three destroyers are badly needed to patrol their 600-mile coastal area. In view of the relationship of Korean public opinion to the Vietnamese war, the loss of the two destroyers is actually less important than the decline in the morale of the Korean people. If the Korean Government should in the future attempt to [Page 285] increase its troop strength in Vietnam, the opposition can effectively use this destroyer issue to criticize the government and weaken its position.
The Vice President stated that he would check into this matter of destroyers carefully. The U.S. has received a number of requests for destroyers and for modern jet airplanes recently, including requests from a number of South American countries. There has been a general reaction in the Congress against excessive military assistance in the past, and this has resulted in a tendency to refuse all requests. The Vice President counseled patience and stated that he believed the matter could be worked out.3
The Prime Minister stated that he hoped so as this had become a matter of great urgency in Korea during the past year. 450 South Koreans had been killed during the past year. The Korean Government is incapable of countering espionage activities along the sea coast because when they detect North Korean attempts, they cannot catch them because they do not have the fast boats required. They anticipate that North Korea will accelerate its attempts to disrupt the internal security, the political stability and economic growth of South Korea in the next several years. Whereas the North Koreans trained 900 guerrillas this year, they are planning to train 2,500 next year for the purpose of sabotage in South Korea.
The Prime Minister confirmed that Korea had received the communications equipment and radar requested earlier. General Westmoreland assured the Vice President that Korean forces in South Vietnam received the same equipment as American forces. The Vice President asked the Prime Minister directly if the U.S. is failing to provide anything the Koreans expected. Is the U.S. keeping up with shipments of equipment to the regular forces in Korea?
The Prime Minister expressed appreciation for the continued presence of U.S. forces in Korea, and expressed the hope that deliveries on the equipment promised—such as trucks and jeeps could be speeded [up].
As of this date only 30 percent of the total commitment has been fulfilled. Also the Korean troops are using outmoded weapons [Page 286] and hope to be able to obtain modern weapons soon. In response to the Vice President’s question he stated that he was talking about M16 rifles. The Vice President said that although we have had a supply line problem on rifles, we intend to keep our word on this. In response to the Prime Minister’s specific expression of their interest in helicopters, the Vice President said that we would review this but that the Prime Minister should understand that General Westmoreland has first priority on helicopters. The Prime Minister said he hoped that Korea would have second priority. He stated that he would be happy to pass the word to President Park that Vice President Humphrey “would take care of this matter.” The Vice President said it would be more accurate to say that “he would look into it.”
[sic] The Vice President expressed the gratitude of American Government and the American people for the Korean participation in the Vietnam war. He is aware that Ambassador Porter has been talking to President Park about the possibility of additional troops for Vietnam. He knows of the political problems that this might cause and has not been sent by President Johnson to make any request for additional troops. But Korea is among the few close and trusted allies the U.S. has in Asia, and Korea is among those countries that will benefit from the increased commitment which the U.S. has made to Asia. We have no desire to tell Asians how to run their lives, but we both need each other. In such a situation there is no doubt that we will need more help in Vietnam. The details of this subject can be discussed in Seoul. When the world knows that we all stand together in Asia, the Communist forces will draw the appropriate conclusion. The Prime Minister should know that President Johnson stands by his friends and helps those who help us.
The Prime Minister stated that Korea is not afraid of any sacrifices that are required. Korea will stay with the U.S. till the final victory in Vietnam and this is important not only for Vietnam but for Korea and the United States.
The Prime Minister referring to the recent demonstrations in Washington against the war, stated that we might want to send those demonstrators to Korea and have them brainwashed there. Perhaps at the next Seven Nation Conference it would be well to mobilize 200,000 people in all the nations in support of the war to offset the demonstrations against the war.
The Vice President stated that the U.S. is aware of the great problem presented by the infiltration from North Korea. But South Korea must not respond unilaterally, must not act without consultations with General Bonesteel or if necessary Ambassador Porter. On this matter, as on all others, we must think and act in concert. We are aware of the pressures to respond to these provocations, but unilateral action [Page 287] can only lead to misunderstanding. He asked the Prime Minister to pass on this message to President Park. The Prime Minister made no response to the Vice President’s remarks on this subject.
The Prime Minister expressed concern about the possibility of restrictions on the importation of Korean goods into the U.S. For the past 18 years, U.S. officials have encouraged Korea to increase its exports. Korea has succeeded in doing this and now its exports total $350 million. They hope to continue increasing their trade so they can eventually end their reliance on U.S. economic assistance. But to be self-sustaining they must have the possibility of increased trade.
The Vice President stated that there is increasing protectionist sentiment in the Congress, from industries such as steel, textiles, glass and others. We have to take a look at our textile situation and possibly we might want to consider discussing extending the present long term agreement on textiles, to permit both nations to share in the growth of the market for man-made fibers. There are strong pressures here, but the U.S. will not act precipitously in this matter.
The Prime Minister also asked why the U.S. is so strict about its Buy America policy. Korea expected to benefit considerably from off-shore procurement but has in fact realized very little. In 1966, offshore procurement for Vietnam amounted to $30 million while for 1967 it has fallen off to $6.5 million.
The Vice President encouraged the Prime Minister to think in terms of competitive trading. The Koreans should have trade missions and not rely wholly on the American market. We hope to maintain the American market as an open market, but nevertheless the Koreans might do well to find new outlets for their production. The Koreans should also use their special position with the U.S. public to explain their problem to the U.S. Congress and Senators. As one who worked hard for the success of the Kennedy Round, the Vice President stated he would do all he could to resist protectionists’ pressures in the U.S. but this would not be easy.
Addressing General Westmoreland, the Prime Minister asked if it might be possible for the American logistics command in Vietnam to hire Koreans for maintenance positions from the groups of Koreans who have completed their military service in South Vietnam. This has now become a problem for Korean veterans returning from Vietnam who do not always have suitable opportunities for employment in Korea.
The Prime Minister stated that he had been told that the U.S. is agreeable but that the GVN is opposed to this. He had discussed this with Prime Minister Ky in Feb. and although he agreed in principle, nothing has happened. This has been discussed many times during the past year but with no results. General Westmoreland responded [Page 288] that he had recently instructed his staff to look into this matter. With a new government coming into power, and a new draft law which would absorb 65,000 more men, he believes that the situation is now more hopeful. He has the matter under detailed study and believes it possible that something can be worked out in the near future.
In conclusion, Westmoreland expressed to the Prime Minister his great admiration for the performance of Korean soldiers in Vietnam and for their leaders. He specifically praised General Chae and presented the Prime Minister with a highly favorable report on the Korean forces which had been prepared by his staff.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 US/HUMPHREY. Secret; Immediate;Exdis.
  2. The Vice President and the Prime Minister were in Saigon to attend inauguration ceremonies for the newly elected Thieu-Ky government. Bundy arranged the meeting at Porter’s request after being advised that Bonesteel had received information indicating that the ROK planned further actions against North Korea. Porter recommended that since Humphrey “enjoys great prestige in Korea” he could caution the Koreans against such actions and demonstrate that the “matter has come to attention of highest levels of USG.” (Telegram 2119 from Seoul, October 27, and telegram 61160 to Seoul, October 27; both ibid.)
  3. The Korean press reported that “Humphrey had agreed in principle that the US will provide two destroyers.” Bundy labeled the statement a “mischaracterization” that was “tantamount to an attempt to blackmail us” and one that could jeopardize Congressional reconsideration of the matter. (Telegram 64926 to Seoul, November 4; ibid.) Noting he would bring the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister as soon as possible, Porter also explained that the “use of press by [Korean] government is most trying aspect of doing business here,” since high-level officials “endeavor to make themselves look good in press by representing statements of Americans and others in manner bearing little resemblance to facts, and designed, as you say, to blackmail us.” (Telegram 2256 from Seoul, November 6; ibid.)