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South Vietnam

Volume 654: debated on Monday 19 February 1962

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Whitelaw.]

9.59 p.m.

I want to take the House a long way from London tonight, because unless we can solve some of the problems which trouble other parts of the world, we shall, perhaps without knowing what is taking place, be involved in such a situation that London will not exist.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Whitelaw.]

10.0 p.m.

I want to raise tonight with the Government in about fifteen minutes, as far as I can concertina it into a few notes and headings, the entire question of British policy in South Vietnam. There is not the slightest doubt that the British people as a whole have no idea what is taking place there and that the British Government are either giving very little information to the House or, in some cases, are giving information which is not quite accurate. In some cases it is far from accurate. In every other country in the world the newspapers make the population aware of the type of situation now existing in South-East Asia. For example, one can pick up French or American newspapers and international magazines and read about it.

The situation is, in a way, more dangerous than Berlin. Yet, nothing much is done about it and the House of Commons gets very little opportunity of debating it in full. The British people might be committed to another Korea and British boys might have to die there because of an American policy which—I weigh my words carefully—this Government have not the courage to check. Only this weekend President Kennedy's brother, the United States Attorney-General, made a speech at Bandung University. Some years ago I mentioned another famous speech delivered at this University. Mr. Kennedy said this to the students:
"The U.S.A. will not side with Indonesia You are crazy to think America might oppose the Dutch."
I point out that the Indonesians do not want the Americans to oppose the Dutch. What the Indonesians need is justice and the possibility of the Dutch and the Indonesians co-operating—

Order. I do not understand the Ministerial responsibility for the activities of the Americans or the Dutch, or the Indonesians.

The responsibility arises because we are co-Chainman of the International Supervisory Commission which is responsible for Indo-China, I was only giving an example of the American policy in the area. I will now apply it to South Vietnam. We are not asking—nor are the Indonesians—that the Americans should interfere in South Vietnam or elswhere. We have the responsibility under the 1954 Geneva Agreement as co-Chairman to try to maintain peace in this area. The Government have a responsibility as co-chairman of the International Supervisory Commission.

What do the Government consider their responsibility is? Is it only to receive reports of the Commission? What action do the Government take upon the reports of the Commission? Since 1954 the House has been presented with eleven Reports of the Commission. In this period I have had the good fortune to visit all round this area at least three times. Each time I have been to this part of South-East Asia, from Laos right down to the arc of South-East Asia, I have found that "the position has deteriorated and within the Vietnam area nothing seems to have been done under the 1954 Agreement to try to bring about peace and understanding.

Far from bringing peace, I draw attention to the comments in the Eleventh Report of the Commission, which is now in the Vote Office, which the Foreign Office possesses and which the Minister's advisers have studied. The Report talks continuously of American intervention in South Vietnam and about the American Aircraft Carrier "Core" bringing war materials to the Saigon River, lying alongside the Rue Catinat almost opposite the Majestic Hotel. Yet the International Supervisory Commission was not given an opportunity to go in to investigate. The trouble with this Commission's Reports is that we receive them twelve months late and it often happens that the deterioration which has taken place in the interim makes it too late for the House of Commons to be made aware of the full facts.

When Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, was in the House of Commons, he did a magnificent job of work to obtain the 1954 Geneva Agreement, and hon. Members on both sides who understood the problems appreciated the strength with which he carried out that task in an endeavour to secure world peace. In his book, he asked the Americans not to be too emotional about the position. On page 113 of his book, Full Circle, he refers to the problem of South-East Asia and Vietnam and, after speaking of the great efforts of the then Foreign Secretary to bring the people together in that area, he wrote:
"Meanwhile Mr. Robertson (U.S. Assistant Secretary of State) whose approach to these questions is so emotional as to be impervious to argument or indeed facts, was keeping up a sort of 'theme song' to the effect that there were in Indo-China some three hundred thousand men who were anxious to fight against Vietminh and were looking to us for support and encouragement. I said that if they were so anxious to fight I could not understand why they did not do so. The Americans had put in nine times more supplies of material than the Chinese and plenty must be available for their use. I had no faith in this eagerness for the Vietnamese to fight for Bao Dai."
Yes, their recognition for Bao Dai was forced through the House of Commons and some hon. Members fought hard against it. Some of us pointed out that he was another puppet in South-East Asia, and, of course, we were later proved right—but at the cost of many lives.

The British Government, as co-Chairman—as I have said—have received notes. So have the Soviet Government. They were sent from North Vietnam and, prior to the latest Note, earlier ones were received. I claim that quietly, sometimes by inspired Questions by hon. Gentlemen opposite, references to these Notes have been made in Written Answers, in passing, so that the Notes would be on the record. I have taken the trouble to read these Notes that were sent to the Soviet Government and ourselves, as co-Chairmen, and I learn that it was suggested that the Soviet Union should write a letter to North Vietnam, to General Giap, saying that the entire blame for the position in South Vietnam could be placed with them.

What is the truth about this? I have looked into masses of newspaper and magazine reports from all over the world, and I have with me the Economist, the United States News and World Report and the Scotsman. Last week, the Scotsman ran an article which stated:
"Washington. Tuesday. The Republican Party's National Committee to-day accused President Kennedy of being 'less than candid' about American military involvement in South Viet-nam."
It goes on to state that there are 4,000 United States troops in the area engaged in fighting against guerillas.

Today the United States News and World Report states:
"The U.S. is stepping up the tempo of the war against the Communists in South-East Asia. Men in battle-gear are being employed in South Vietnam in increasing numbers. Other Americans in uniform are up front in Laos, but U.S. participation so far may be only the beginning. American soldiers are being shot at and are shooting back. All the ingredients are there for another Korea. Robert P. Martin, of the staff of the U.S. News and World Report, flew into these Saigon headquarters of this embattled country and sent this dispatch. He says: 'The curtain of secrecy and restriction imposed by the U.S. Embassy makes it impossible to report fully on the extent of U.S. interference'."
There is a report in this week's Economist. I do not know what kind of head this correspondent from Saigon has, or whether he has failed to learn from the facts of life in the Far East, but on page 625 of the issue of 17th February we find:
"In South Vietnam, a country of perhaps 2,500 villages and about 1,200 hamlets, the country must be reconquered hamlet by hamlet, village by village, area by area. It cannot, at best, be done under five years, but it is possible, and a start has already been made simply because there is no social reason why the villager should prefer the Viet Cong."
The Viet Cong is more or less the liberation front that is fighting for independence.

The Minister was kind enough to send me a copy of the aide-mémoire given to the Russian authorities last Friday, and I am grateful to him. It states:
"Her Majesty's Government reject the Soviet contention that the United States military assistance to South Vietnam is aimed at turning South Vietnam into a strategic bridgehead."
What are the figures. It is almost impossible to count the military equipment there. The U.S. is taking no chances. It now has in that area between four thousand and five thousand uniformed Americans, and the number may reach 7,000 by the summer. Yet the aide-mémoire to the Soviet Union seems to say that there is none there. Whoever is giving this information to the Foreign Secretary knows that it is not true, and those of us who have seen the area know that it is not the truth and that it is misleading the British public. The Government should tell the United States of America that the British people will not have another Korea on their hands in this area.

I wrote about, and voted against, the establishment of S.E.A.T.O., and I was right. On 17th September, 1954, Walter Lippmann wrote in the New York Herald-Tribune
"Our latest treaty,"—
that was S.E.A.T.O.—
"which was signed in Manila last week is not just one more in a series of collective pacts. It marks a new venture. It is the first formal instrument in modern times which is designed to license international intervention in internal affairs."
The British Government know full well that what is taking place at the moment in South-East Asia and Saigon—and even in Laos—is intervention in those internal affairs. Will Western man never learn?

The British diplomatic service has much more knowledge of this state of affairs. It has much more knowledge in its thumb about Oriental affairs than there seems to be in the entire head of American Intelligence. There is a duty to speak up and let the British people know the truth. I believe that as soon as possible they should try to recall the Geneva Conference so that we may know fully what is taking place.

I would point out that we have heard very little of Mr. R. G. K. Thompson's mission to South Vietnam. It was to cost £116,000, but when I looked at the Supplementary Estimates I found that £30,000 had been spent in two months on the Thompson mission. What is its purpose? Is it not breaking the 1954 Geneva Agreement? It is even being said that this is an annual commitment. Does that mean that we are keeping the Thompson mission there for years and years. In the Eleventh Report, it is stated that there have been 37 contraventions of Articles 16 and 17 by South Vietnam. I have read of the transfer of three minesweepers of the U.S. Navy to South Vietnam and considerable quantities of war material from the Federation of Malaya Which have taken place, but that there was no opportunity to investigate this. I understand that there are four newly-constructed airfields there at Ban Don, Madrak, Gia Vuc and Choudron.

Britain will not tolerate another Korea. We owe it to the British people that we get ourselves clear of trying to set up any more patterns of imperialism. Western or any other kind, and I hope that this Government will do its best to allow these people to fashion out their own kind of democracy and not interfere in their internal affairs. The South Vietnam régime would not be able to keep going were it not for the military and economic aid given to it. Our boys lost their lives for Syngmam Rhee and other puppets in South-East Asia. Let no British lives be lost in this intervention here. Let the British Government speak up and stop it.

10.18 p.m.

First, I should like to agree with the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) on the gravity of the situation in South Vietnam. Of course, it is a dangerous and grave situation, and we have never tried to conceal the fact. What I do suggest is that the hon. Gentleman in his speech has concealed the real reasons why this danger has arisen.

Since the division of Vietnam into two halves by the 1954 agreement, two totally different and irreconcilable régimes have grown up in the North and the South. These two halves are mutually antagonistic, and the danger that exists is exactly what one would expect to exist when a Communist State deliberately embarks on a policy of trying to seize a non-Communist State by subversion, intimidation and force. And that is exactly what North Vietnam is trying to do. The rebellion in South Vietnam is by no means just a spontaneous, popular uprising against an unpopular Government, as the hon. Gentleman and others of his hon. Friends have tried to suggest. It is, in fact, a carefully engineered Communist takeover bid.

Over a long period, there has been a steady infiltration of trained military and political organisers from North Vietnam into the South. In the main, they come through Laos and they come by sea. An organisation known as "The National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam" has ben set up by the North in South Vietnam. Captured documents show that this has at its disposal an elaborate military and political machine whose avowed purpose is to set up a provisional Government in the South which would lead to the reunification of Vietnam under Communist domination. There is abundant evidence that the rebellion has been fomented, organised, in part supplied and wholly directed from the north. The principal weapons of this movement are terror and intimidation.

During 1961, about 2,000 village officials were assassinated by the Viet Cong, to which the hon. Member has referred as "more or less a liberation front". Others have been tortured. The terrorists raid and carry out propaganda in villages and threaten the inhabitants with brutal reprisals if they cooperate in any way with the Government. They carry off young men for training as guerillas, and they have smothered the whole countryside with a blanket of fear and murder. Is it, therefore, surprising that, in these circumstances, the South Vietnamese should have appealed to their friends for assistance?

The United States, as we all know, has responded with a substantial programme of military aid. In conse-uence, the hon. Member accuses America of responsibility for the increase in tension. In our view, United States aid is not the cause of tension, but a reaction to it. The threat to peace in Vietnam arises from the North Vietnamese campaign of terror and insurgency. It must be absolutely clear that before there can be any settlement in Vietnam, this kind of thing must be stopped.

The hon. Member apparently accuses the United States of upsetting the Geneva Agreement and said that our responsibility is, therefore, linked. I remind the hon. Member that at the time of the settlement, the United States, although not a party to the agreement, said in its unilateral declaration that it would view any renewal of aggression in violation of the agreements with grave concern and as seriously threatening international peace and security. In his letter to President Diem of 14th December, President Kennedy made it clear that if the Communist authorities in North Vietnam would stop their campaign to destroy the Republic of Vietnam, the steps that the United States was taking to assist the South Vietnamese in their defence efforts would no longer be necessary.

As regards United States military measures, the United States Government have announced that their miltary personnel in South Vietnam do not include combat forces. They are there to train and advise the South Vietnamese forces and to assist them with specialists and equipment.

If the hon. Member believes that, he will believe anything. Already, eight have lost their lives there, two of them leading Commando raids. The tenth report and the ninth and eighth reports of the International Supervisory Commission made these accusations long before this position developed.

The Tenth Report does not refer to American activity in Vietnam. I suggest that the increase in American activity has been brought about by this increase in Viet Cong activity and, therefore, it is a necessary measure. That is why a general was sent to South Vietnam by the Americans. Of course, we deplore the events which made these far-reaching measures necessary, and so just as much does the United States Government. The alternative, however, is a forcible take-over of South Vietnam by the Communists from the North and that simply is not acceptable.

The hon. Member referred to the British Advisory (Thompson) Mission. As the House was informed in October, this was established at the request of the South Vietnamese to provide advice and assistance in respect of administrative and political matters. This is not a military mission. Sometimes one hears Mr. Thompson referred to as a brigadier, but he is not, never has been and is unlikely ever to become a brigadier. All members of the mission are civilians and former members of the Malayan Civil Service. The task of Mr. Thompson, who heads the mission, is to advise the South Vietnamese Government, when asked, on all administrative matters, including those connected with internal security.

In view of the dire circumstances in which the South Vietnamese Government find themselves, it is clearly not unreasonable for us to respond in this way to their appeal for help. Moreover, I assure the hon. Member that there is no question of the existence of the mission violating any of the provisions of the Geneva settlement. As to the financial estimates which the hon. Member mentioned, they contain provision not only for the salaries of the four officers and supporting staff, but also for initial accommodation expenses, fares and an element for the training of police and security personnel.

The hon. Member has charged Her Majesty's Government with deliberately avoiding their responsibilities as co-Chairman in taking no action in respect of North Vietnamese complaints about the South Vietnamese and about alleged American violations of the settlement. This is to misunderstand the rôle of the co-Chairmen and the functions of the Commission. It is the Commission's task to investigate breaches of the agreement. The Commission may, if it wishes, report to the co-Chairmen and seek their advice. So far, it has not done this. It would be improper for the Government to prejudice any actions which the Commission might see fit to take. In any case, the co-Chairmen under the Geneva settlement are not given any specific executive rôle.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that we receive reports. We receive reports purely in order to pass them on to the members of the Conference.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the number of complaints against the South Vietnamese contained in the reports of the Commission. We should not be misled into drawing wrong conclusions because of the number of these complaints from the North against the South. It was only in July, 1961, that the Commission decided that it was competent to deal with complaints about North Vietnamese subversion. This is the nub of the problem. We are still awaiting the Commission's report on this aspect.

Meanwhile, I would suggest, the Government have not been inactive as co-Chairman. We have already expressed our concern about the situation in Vietnam to the Soviet co-Chairman. In a Note of 3rd November we suggested to the Soviet Government that they should join with us in addressing an appeal to the North Vietnamese to call off their campaign in South Vietnam. This appeal went unanswered.

On 10th January, the Soviet Embassy delivered an aide-mémoire at the Foreign Office. It merely repeated Soviet accusations against the United States for their alleged intervention in South Vietnam. The Government replied to this aide-mémoire on 16th February. Copies of this exchange of Notes have been placed in the Library of the House, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, I sent him a copy. I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice in advance of some of the points that he would be making.

We have repeated our appeal for restraint, and it is our hope that those countries or persons who have any influence with the North Vietnamese should warn them of the dangers of the situation and persuade them to desist from their present aggressive policy.

What of the future? The hon. Gentleman, as I understand it, suggests that we should recall the Geneva Powers and that a further international conference should be held, presumably to establish a united and neutral Vietnam, This is at present totally unrealistic. The situation is not like that in Laos. As I said, the two States of Vietnam, born out of the Geneva settlement, have different and irreconcilable régimes. By rights they should have been reunited through free and fair elections, but it is clear that conditions for this do not exist. The North Vietnamese people would certainly not be able to express their will freely.

I am not, of course, suggesting that there could never be a negotiated settlement for Vietnam. We are always prepared to take up any peaceful means of solving a dispute. I think our activities over Laos show that. But, I repeat, terrorism must be stopped before there can be any chance of arriving at an equitable settlement of the problems of this unhappy and divided country.

What we want to see in South Vietnam is the restoration of peaceful conditions as quickly as possible. Communist attempts to reunite the country by force are intolerable, and we believe that the Government and people of South Vietnam should receive all reasonable support in their efforts to defeat such attempts.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.