152. Interagency Intelligence Memorandum1

NI IIM 78–10024


Key Judgments

• Indochina today is divided into two camps, with the USSR backing Vietnam and Laos, and China backing Kampuchea (Cam [Page 591] bodia). This development is largely the result of the conflicting national ambitions of China and Vietnam, each of which wishes to exercise paramount influence in the area. This competition, although muted during the Vietnam war, has deep roots and is likely to intensify.

• The immediate cause of the present Sino-Vietnamese confrontation is the escalating border war between Vietnam and Kampuchea. China believes Vietnam is determined to replace the Pol Pot government with one responsive to Hanoi’s direction. Although China is unhappy with some of the policies of the present Khmer regime, it considers an independent Kampuchea allied with Peking an essential buffer against the expansion of Vietnamese, and by extension Soviet, influence in the area.

—China hopes to thwart Vietnamese ambitions by providing strong support for Kampuchea while undertaking a diplomatic and propaganda campaign to portray Vietnam as a Soviet cat’s-paw and arouse suspicions about Hanoi among non-Communist Southeast Asian states.

—China is the principal source of military and economic aid to Kampuchea. It has several thousand advisers in Kampuchea and has increased military aid since the escalation of the Kampuchean-Vietnamese border war. China’s termination of all aid to Vietnam earlier this year will trouble but not cripple the Vietnamese economy because Chinese aid had already been reduced after the end of the Indochina war. China also supplies economic aid to Laos. Northern Laos has been a Chinese sphere of influence for many years as the result of a roadbuilding project in the area.

—China is trying to encourage the Pol Pot government to moderate its domestic and foreign policies in order to improve its international standing.

• Vietnam over the long term would like to establish a special relationship with Kampuchea similar to the one Hanoi has with Laos. Over the short term, however, Vietnam could tolerate a government in Phnom Penh with close ties to China so long as it ceased provocative actions along the Vietnamese border.

—Vietnam is unlikely to launch an all-out invasion of Kampuchea, although it might be tempted to move if there were an open breakdown of political order in Kampuchea. In the event of such a Vietnamese attack, China would have only limited ability to aid the Phnom Penh regime. Despite the excesses of the Pol Pot government, few Khmer would welcome Vietnamese intervention, and Vietnam would probably become bogged down in a guerrilla war.

—Vietnam is more likely to pursue its present policy of trying to secure its borders against Kampuchean attacks while seeking to raise an antigovernment insurgent movement inside Kampuchea.

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• The USSR is the most likely to benefit, at least over the short term, from the developing situation in Indochina. The Soviets will take advantage of the opportunity to try to make Vietnam dependent on Moscow, thereby establishing a sphere of influence on China’s southern boundary.

—Laos and Vietnam are the only countries in Southeast Asia to allow the Soviets more than a token presence. The Soviets probably hope that their position in Vietnam will aid them in extending their influence elsewhere in the area. If the Southeast Asians believe that Vietnam is acting as a Soviet stalking-horse, however, it will harm rather than help Soviet interests.

—Vietnam has already moved closer to Moscow by signing a friendship and cooperation treaty and joining the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA). The Soviets are the major source of aid to Vietnam, but most of it is still economic. Soviet military shipments do not appear to have increased since the confrontation with China, but this may change in the near future. The Soviets will take over some of the formerly Chinese aid projects.

—The USSR may hope eventually to obtain access to Vietnamese military facilities. Vietnam is unlikely to grant the Soviets formal base rights but might permit the Soviets access to air or naval facilities under certain circumstances.

• The non-Communist states of Southeast Asia are concerned about the consequences of intensified Sino-Soviet competition in the area although they draw comfort from the prospect of Communist countries fighting among themselves. Thus far the main impact on the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been an intensive diplomatic campaign to court their favor by all sides. Since September a top official from each of the four major parties to the dispute has visited Southeast Asia.

• Vietnam’s deteriorating relations with China have increased Hanoi’s interest in establishing diplomatic ties with the United States. Vietnamese leaders believe an American embassy in Hanoi would serve as a symbol of Vietnam’s international acceptance. Vietnam is also seeking aid and foreign investment from the West to help balance aid from the Soviet bloc.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Master File. Secret. A note at the end of the Key Judgements section reads: “This memorandum was drafted by analysts from the Office of Regional and Political Analysis and the Office of Economic Research of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was coordinated at the working level with representatives of the National Foreign Intelligence Board.”