286. Telegram From the Department of State to the Liaison Office in China 1

110673. Subject: Cambodian Seizure of U.S. Merchant Vessel.

Deputy Secretary Ingersoll called in Huang Chen Monday afternoon, May 12, to request PRC assistance in passing message to Cambodian authorities regarding Cambodian seizure of a US merchant ship. Ingersoll first read statement issued today by the White House (see below) and then said we would appreciate it if the Chinese would pass a message to the Cambodian authorities. Before he could read the message, Huang Chen interrupted to say that the GRUNK is an independent sovereign state, that he would not transmit any message for us, that if we have any message for the Cambodians, we should use [Page 986] other channels. He almost belligerently maintained that position, despite our statements that we had no direct channels to the authorities in Cambodia, that matter was urgent, and that we thought USPRC relationship was such that Chinese would be willing to assist in transmitting message. Near end of conversation he said that if this was only subject Ingersoll wished to discuss, he would say goodbye. Ingersoll asked if he would listen to the message we wished to pass to Cambodians and report it to his govt. Huang Chen reiterated that “This is your matter, it has nothing to do with us.”
Huang Chen will of course report to his govt. in Peking, and we assume Chinese will inform Cambodians of our approach and their reaction.
You should urgently deliver message in paragraph 4 to PRC MFA as well as to GRUNK. There should be no personal contact beyond delivery in either case and delivery should be by someone other than Bush. Messages should be written, not delivered orally.

Begin text. The Government of the United States requests that you pass the following message urgently to the authorities in Phnom Penh.

Begin quote.

Naval forces controlled by the Cambodian authorities have seized an American merchant vessel, the SS Mayaguez, this morning in international waters in the Gulf of Thailand. We understand the ship and crew have been taken to the port of Kompong Som.

This is an act of international piracy. The vessel was in international waters and represented no danger to the authorities in Cambodia or to anybody else.

The Government of the United States demands the immediate release of the vessel and of the full crew. If that release does not immediately take place, the authorities in Phnom Penh will be responsible for the consequences. End quote

Statement May 12 by White House Press Secretary. Begin text. We have been informed that a Cambodian naval vessel has seized an American merchant ship on the high seas and forced it to the port of Kompong Som. The President has met with the NSC. He considers this seizure an act of piracy. He has instructed the State Department to demand the immediate release of the ship. Failure to do so would have the most serious consequences. End text.
Although press is beginning to speculate that Huang Chen call was related to ship seizure, we are not confirming that was the subject.
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC East Asian and Pacific Affairs Staff Files, 1973–1976, Box 29, Department of State, Telegrams and Cables (1). Secret; Niact; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Armstrong, EA; approved by Zurhellen, EA, and by Ingersoll.