173. Letter From Thai Prime Minister Kriangsak to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

The deteriorating situation in the Thai-Kampuchean border areas has prompted me to write to you.

Following the armed invasion of Democratic Kampuchea by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam late in December last year, incessant waves of refugees have crossed the border into Thailand. The recent intensification of Vietnamese military operations in the Western and South-Western parts of Kampuchea has caused a sudden and dramatic rise in the influx of these refugees, bringing the number of each wave at times to tens of thousands.

Despite our two-pronged efforts of persuading them to return home or getting third countries to admit them, the total number of refugees in Thailand now approaches 200,000, making it quite unbearable to the economy of the nation. Social problems brought about by their presence are also numerous and grave, let alone the threat to our national security.

What is especially disturbing is that we have reason to believe that the Vietnamese Government has been behind the organizing of the outflow of these refugees, who are mostly of Chinese origin, from both South Vietnam and Kampuchea to serve twofold purpose, namely: getting rid of the undesirable Chinese and at the same time imposing on Thailand onerous economic, social and security burdens. It is also possible that the Vietnamese may have the intention to let the Kampuchean people perish through starvation and to replace them by the Vietnamese emigrants. For our part, even though Thailand continues to be guided by humanitarian consideration in dealing with the refugees, it is now apparent that it is beyond the capability of Thailand to [Page 612] cope with the present refugee problem. Despite a great deal of rhetoric, the appropriate actions of the world community are not forthcoming. It is therefore imperative that Thailand has to take an appropriate step to help solve this problem.

I cannot emphasize too much that the question of refugees is a matter of deep concern to my Government. Hence, I venture to hope that the United States Government will understand how serious the situation is and will again find it possible to widen the scope of its assistance, either through increased admission of refugees to the United States or through more financial aid, or in any other forms deemed appropriate.

I understand that the question of refugees from Indochina may be included as one of the agenda items to be discussed between you, Mr. President, and Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira of Japan at a bilateral talk to be held in Tokyo sometime toward the end of this month.2 It is my earnest hope that the matter will receive your sympathetic attention and consideration leading to a substantial easing of the enormous burden now being shouldered by Thailand and other countries in the region.

Apart from the refugee problem, there are indications that Vietnam may launch an armed incursion into Thailand from across the Thai-Kampuchean border, although initially it may be limited in scope and come under the pretext of a “hot pursuit.” It is noteworthy in this respect that both Phnom Penh and Hanoi have lately become much more vocal and strident in their accusations that Thailand has not been strictly neutral, and that we are still helping Pol Pot forces.

Should such an incursion by Vietnam occur, armed clashes with Thai forces would be inevitable and could lead to uncontrollable escalation. Such an eventuality would not only impair Thailand’s territorial integrity, but also gravely endanger peace and stability of the entire South-East Asian region. Adverse effects on world peace would also be unavoidable.

You will see, Mr. President, that the prevailing highly fluid situation makes it imperative that Thailand’s defence be bolstered as quickly and as effectively as possible. I should be very grateful, therefore, for whatever help you could give to expedite the delivery of arms, ammunition and other military hardware already purchased or committed to Thailand. I hope you will agree with me how urgent and vital, under the present circumstances, this matter has become to the security of my country.

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Before concluding, I must say that I still carry with me happy memories of the pleasant and fruitful visit which I made to your great country early this year.3 I should like once again to convey my grateful thanks to you for making possible that memorable visit.

With warm personal regards and best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Kriangsak Chomanan4
Prime Minister of Thailand
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 19, Thailand, Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan, 12/77–5/80. Confidential; Immediate.
  2. Carter was in Tokyo June 24–29 for a State visit and to participate in the Tokyo Economic Summit.
  3. See Documents 171 and 172.
  4. Kriangsak signed “Kchomanan” above his typed signature.