169. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US-Thailand Relations


  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Robert Gates, NSC Staff
  • Air Marshal Siddhi Sabetsila of Thailand
  • [name not declassified], Chief of the East Asian Division/DDO, Central Intelligence Agency


In response to a question from Mr. Aaron concerning the focus of his visit, Marshal Siddhi said that he was particularly interested in learning about the American intelligence reorganization2 because the Thai services were undergoing the same process. Mr. Aaron said that in some respects our reorganization is continuing. The Executive Branch has largely made its decisions but is still working out legislation with the Congress—and their preconceptions do not necessarily accord with the Administration in some respects. He noted, however, that the atmosphere concerning intelligence was beginning to settle down somewhat. [name not declassified] expressed agreement with this and observed that Thailand faces the same dilemma as we, that is, how to get accurate information together and to the policy makers.

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Situation in Thailand

Marshall Siddhi said that there had not been much change in Bangkok since the Vice President’s visit. A draft constitution is under consideration, internal security is satisfactory, and the investment climate is good. An agreement has been reached with the Union Oil Company for a project in Thailand and the Thai Government hopes this will encourage more investments. There have been some problems with labor, which is seeking civilian pay increases commensurate with recent military pay increases. Marshal Siddhi said that the government will not permit strikes or unrest.

On international affairs, Marshal Siddhi said that relations are working out with Laos and Vietnam, adding that Vietnamese good behavior possibly is due to their problems with China. He said that Vietnam had proposed a trade agreement, which Thailand has signed, and that a Thai trade mission will soon be going to Vietnam. With respect to Cambodia, the Thais have offered to begin bilateral talks. Mr. Aaron observed that with all the countries in the area apparently competing in ways beneficial to Thai interests, Thai influence has been maximized—a healthy development. Marshal Siddhi indicated that the Vietnamese had told the Thais of their interest in a good bilateral relationship despite diplomatic attacks at the Colombo Conference.3 He added that the Vietnamese have now agreed to support Thai peace and neutrality.

The Vice President’s Trip

Mr. Aaron asked whether there were any lasting effects of the Vice President’s trip. Marshal Siddhi said that the trip had a very good effect despite press stories. He then expressed his government’s unhappiness with the press, particularly leftist newspapers that had been attacking Cabinet Ministers. He stated that the government was considering closing such papers. Mr. Aaron said that he too thought the visit had been very successful. He then expressed the hope that the government of Thailand would not take action against its press. In this connection, he noted that moves toward a democratic system in Thailand had been very encouraging to the United States. Marshal Siddhi observed that his Prime Minister had said that it would be good for Thailand to close the leftist newspapers. Mr. Aaron responded that we look forward to the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States, but cautioned Marshal Siddhi that US press coverage of that visit would certainly be affected negatively if Thai papers were closed down by the government.

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Mr. Aaron said that the Administration had finally gotten a commitment for refugee parole authority. He asked whether the current situation in Vietnam had changed the refugee picture. Marshal Siddhi said that Thailand was being “very nearly open-armed” to the refugees and that more were coming. The “Boat people” are now coming in at a rate of about 2,000 per month and there are now more than 100,000 in Thailand. He added that this represents a heavy burden and expressed the hope that the United States would take more refugees and encourage other countries to do likewise. Mr. Aaron responded that the Administration was working on the problem, adding that some progress had been made in Indonesia and Australia during the Vice President’s visit. [name not declassified] commented that many of the “Boat people” are now Chinese, to which Mr. Aaron replied that this makes the problem even more difficult for the US. He asked Marshal Siddhi whether Thailand had talked to the PRC about this. The latter said no.

Brzezinski Trip to China

Mr. Aaron then reviewed briefly the results of Dr. Brzezinski’s trip to the PRC.4 He noted that the PRC is as concerned about Vietnam as it is about the USSR. Peking sees the two countries as allies and feels uncomfortable in this situation. The Chinese leaders clearly were preoccupied with Southeast Asia. They urged the US to take a more constructive attitude towards the Cambodians, and expressed the view that the US human rights campaign on Cambodia had helped Vietnam. Mr. Aaron added that, in departure from the past, the Chinese had dwelt on Soviet shortcomings and weaknesses—a change in the Chinese attitude. They indicated their intention to take a more ambitious diplomatic posture vis-a-vis the Soviets. Normalization was discussed with agreement to go forward with negotiations—amid signs there may be somewhat more flexibility than in the past. Mr. Aaron observed that, indeed, there had been some signs of movement since Dr. Brzezinski’s visit. Mr. Aaron noted the imminent departure of a high-level US science and technology delegation to Peking and considerable activity in the arms area between some West European countries and the Chinese.


Marshal Siddhi noted that a new PRC representative would soon be arriving in the United States. He said they were acquainted and that the Chinese diplomat was a “good man”.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinksi Office File, Subject File, Box 33, Memcons, Aaron, David, 2/77–12/78. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House.
  2. For documentation on U.S. intelligence reorganization, see the chapter on intelligence policy and reform in <ref target="frus1977-80v38"><hi rend="italic">Foreign Relations,</hi> 1977–1980, vol. XXXVIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy</ref>.
  3. Presumably reference is to the 26th meeting of the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee in Kathmandu November 28–December 7, 1977.
  4. For documentation on Brzezinski’s trip to Beijing May 20–23, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China, Documents 108114.