THE Communist triumph at Geneva--for I think we should frankly face the unpalatable fact that it was indeed a major triumph for the Communists--turns the spotlight on the rest of Southeast Asia and in particular upon Thailand. Because of her geographical and strategical location Thailand, or Land of the Free (still known to many Westerners as Siam), is the heart and citadel of the region. It is the oldest independent country in South Asia. For centuries the Thai have cherished their freedom, and, from the time of their sojourn in China in the early part of the Christian era down to modern days, have repeatedly fought to preserve their independence.

Thailand is a lush tropical country of some 200,000 square miles. The mountains to the north and along the western frontier bordering on Burma are thick with jungle, majestic teak trees, wild orchids and wild beasts. The capital city of Bangkok is located in the broad central plain, an emerald green carpet of rice fields nourished by the Mother of Waters, as the Chao Phya River is respectfully called by the Thai. Delicious fruits, coconuts, sugar cane, peanuts and other agricultural products, together with an abundance of fish in the seas off her shores, make her a land of plenty. She is the rice bowl of South Asia; the countries of the region, including Japan, which are short of food, count heavily on her surplus of 1,500,000 tons of rice. Her rubber, tin and tungsten find ready markets in the United States and Europe.

The last census, taken in 1950, showed Thailand to have a population of 18,600,000. There are sizeable minority groups--3,000,000 Chinese, who reside principally in Bangkok and the larger towns and cities, 600,000 Malays in southern Thailand bordering Malaya, and 50,000 Vietnamese along the Mekong River, Thailand's eastern frontier with Laos and Cambodia. The Thai are noted for their friendliness, hospitality and tolerance. They are farmers and the rulers, but the Chinese, who are the traders, control much of the country's wealth. The Thai rather resent Chinese dominance in matters of trade, and the fact that the Chinese resist assimilation, even though the majority of them have prospered greatly in Thailand, causes them to be looked upon with suspicion. On the other hand, there has been considerable intermarriage, and the Thai realize that the Chinese flair for trade has contributed notably to the development and prosperity of the country.

The culture, art and literature of the Thai are an interesting blend of Indian and Chinese influences out of which a distinctly Thai culture is emerging. The Thai wisely seek to preserve their traditions and way of life. They are strongly Buddhist and their temples, or wats, are graceful in design and splendidly ornamented; the glittering spires of thousands of temples reach into the blue of the sky, and the brilliant yellow of the robes of the priests who seek to follow the precepts of Buddha are a no less memorable sight for the visitor.

For many centuries the Thai people were ruled by absolute, yet often benevolent, monarchs. There was the great King Ramkemhaeng of the thirteenth century, for example, who caused a large gong to be suspended outside his palace gate so that his subjects might call him day or night and seek justice or comfort. In the nineteenth century King Mongkut, who has been so burlesqued in the Broadway extravaganza, "The King and I," saw the need for Western technology. He and his son, King Chulalongkorn, encouraged the establishment of modern means of communication, improved methods of irrigating the land, modern education and medicine. Under such enlightened rulers, many young Siamese were sent abroad to study, and some drank deeply not only of the wine of technology, but of other bottles labeled "nationalism" and "Socialism."

On June 24, 1932, some of these young men carried out a bloodless coup d'état and established a constitutional monarchy, a form of government that has prevailed ever since. The King's powers are limited, but he enjoys the reverence and respect of his people. King Phumiphon Adundet, the present monarch, is keenly interested in the welfare of his people and the problems facing the country. The government of Field Marshal P. Pibul Songgram, the Prime Minister, has been in office since 1948. Prime Minister Pibul has given unswerving support to the United Nations (Bangkok is the regional center for half a dozen important U.N. agencies) and Thailand was the first Asian nation to send a contingent of troops to Korea. They acquitted themselves splendidly and earned the nickname "Little Tigers."

But today the happy Kingdom of Thailand, with its rich natural resources and its sturdy farmers ploughing their rice fields behind their slow-moving water buffaloes, is in danger. Communist pressures both from within the country and along its frontiers have been steadily mounting, and the Geneva agreements have increased the danger. Laos and Cambodia, stretching along Thailand's long eastern border, lie defenseless and easy prey to further penetration and political subversion by the Communists. The statement made by Ho Chi Minh on the day following the termination of the Geneva Conference, calling for a continuation of the struggle, can permit no illusions: as Foreign Minister Prince Wan Waithayakon said recently, Geneva has left Thailand "uneasy."

II

It is not difficult to understand why. The gallant defense of Dien Bien Phu, an epic of French valor against great odds, was a serious military defeat, and a political and psychological reverse of the gravest character. It dealt the final blow to French will to continue the struggle and led swiftly to the events of the Geneva Conference. It is well to recall that twice within a period of a year Viet Minh forces surged into Laos with startling speed. In the spring of 1953, Viet Minh divisions led by a Vietnamese trained in Moscow raced to within 12 miles of Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of that kingdom. With the commencement of the heavy monsoon rains the Communists seemingly vanished, and the world breathed a sigh of relief.

I was in Bangkok at the time, and from there it was apparent that this well-organized operation was part of a strategy planned to infiltrate Laos and ultimately seize it. When the Viet Minh withdrew they left behind them several thousand political and military agents. These have not been idle. They are training and organizing Laos peasants into guerrilla units which operate nominally under the so-called "Free Laos Government," the titular head of which is a brother of the present Prime Minister of the French-supported Royal Laos Government. Furthermore, the Communists' position in Laos has been strengthened, and given some legal sanction, by the Geneva agreements. Significantly, both the representatives of Ho Chi Minh and the Chinese Communists at Geneva were very insistent upon the retention of enclaves in Laos comprising virtually all of the northeastern region up to the Chinese frontier. These most advantageous terms will enable the Communists to intensify the political conquest of Laos, and the increased vulnerability of Laos will inevitably result in intensifying Communist pressure against adjoining Thailand.

It is perhaps not generally realized that 50,000 Vietnamese reside on the Thai side of the Mekong River directly across from Laos. These people fled from Indo-China and the Japanese during World War II, and many of them--particularly those living along the river--have been forced to join secret Viet Minh Communist organizations. They engage in political activities in support of Ho Chi Minh's Government, and smuggle supplies across the Mekong. During the first attack upon Laos, early in 1953, the Thai authorities closed the border, strengthened the police patrols along the river, made a careful registration of all Vietnamese, and moved some 1,500 to the interior of the country. Because of the length of the frontier, these efforts to stop Communist infiltration and smuggling were not wholly successful, but they were sensible and were energetically pressed. Since then the Thai Government has tightened its security measures. The Viet Minh thrust to Thakhek on the Mekong River early this year strengthened Communist links with Vietnamese residents on the Thai side of the river; some 98 of them were recently arrested on charges of espionage and inciting rebellion. Nine provinces bordering the Mekong have been placed in a state of emergency and the frontiers closed; and the Thai Government is considering the removal of other Vietnamese from this sensitive area. Not all can be moved, however, for fear of stimulating open rebellion. The Viet Minh dagger is at Thailand's throat.

Viet Minh forces, after racing to the Mekong River this spring, swung south and invaded the Kingdom of Cambodia. The Geneva agreements call for the withdrawal of Viet Minh forces from Cambodia, and that country's representatives at Geneva successfully resisted Red demands for an enclave in their country. Nevertheless, young King Norodom, who has won important concessions from the French in his dramatic effort to gain complete independence for his country, is faced with grave problems. Several thousand "Free Cambodian" guerrillas remain in northern, western and southwestern Cambodia; in sizeable areas the population has been under Communist influence and control for several years. As in the Kingdom of Laos, agents of the Viet Minh are exceedingly active, particularly along Cambodia's common frontier with Thailand, and their task has now been facilitated.

The Red tentacles grasping for the riches of Southeast Asia are not only clutching at the eastern frontiers of Thailand. Within the steaming green jungles of Malaya lying along the southern frontiers of Thailand, Chinese Communist guerrillas raid from well-concealed camps. These are shadowy bands operating in small groups, who have for the past four years made use of two sparsely inhabited areas of Thai territory known respectively as Betong and Sadao. They contain large rubber plantations owned by wealthy Chinese and are worked by rubber tappers who are also Chinese. These circumstances and the fact that the plantations have long frontage on the Malaya border and are surrounded by thick jungles make them ideal for the location of hidden rest camps and bases.

Intimidation of Chinese plantation owners and rubber tappers has been fairly successful and both are subject to levies of money and supplies. Communist agents have quietly organized many of the Chinese of the southern provinces of Thailand into "Min Yuen" groups who furnish intelligence, food, collect cash and carry on political activities. The British authorities in Malaya have been disturbed about this situation for some time, having learned by bitter experience how deadly can be the stealthy operations of a few thousand Communist guerrillas. They have obtained the agreement of the Thai Government to coöperate in security measures, including the formation of joint border patrols and the exchange of intelligence. More recently, joint operations have flushed Communist camps and resulted in the killing and capture of a number of guerrillas. These coöperative efforts are likely to have increasing significance in the maintenance of greater security along the Thailand-Malaya border and in the defense of the vital Kra Isthmus, that narrow neck of land joining the rich lands of Thailand and Malaya. But the danger from the south is causing the Thai authorities much concern, the more so because the enemy is elusive and the Chinese of southern Thailand are reluctant to give information for fear of reprisals.

III

Recent developments to the north of Thailand constitute an even greater threat to the country's freedom and indeed to the whole of Southeast Asia. The Chinese Communists have formed a so-called "Thai Autonomous People's Government" in the southern part of the Chinese province of Yunnan in an area which borders on Burma, Thailand and Indo-China. This was the original home of the Thai people from about the seventh to the twelfth centuries. Here the Thai, who had gradually been pushed south from the Yangtze River in central China, set up their kingdom which they fiercely defended against repeated expeditions sent against them by various Chinese emperors. When the hordes of Kublai Khan swept through south China in 1250 A.D., the Thai in Yunnan were scattered and made their way into present-day Burma, Thailand and Laos.

The Thai call their homeland in southern Yunnan "Sibsongpanna." This is the area which the Chinese Communists announced on January 31, 1953, had been formed into a "Thai Autonomous People's Government." It is a fertile region of about 20,000 square kilometers producing rice, fruits and timber, and comprising the present Yunnan provincial districts of Cheli, Fuhai, Nanchiao and Chenyueh and parts of the districts of Chiangcheng, Szumao, Ningkiang and Liushun. The great Mekong River flows through it and then south to form the boundary between Thailand and Indo-China. The present population of Sibsongpanna numbers roughly 200,000 persons comprising about 45 tribes, the majority of which are of the Thai race.

The Chinese Communist announcement referred to above ran in part as follows:

The first session of the First All-Nationality and All-Circle People's Representative Conference of the Thai Nationality Autonomous Area in Hsishuang-pan-na [the Chinese equivalent of the Thai term "Sibsongpanna"] in Yunnan province was held in Cheli on January 17-23. The conference formally announced the inauguration of the Thai Autonomous People's Government. Attending this meeting were 146 representatives of the Thai, Aini, Han Chinese, P'uman, Lohei, Yao and Yulo nationalities as well as Wang Lien-fang, Vice Chairman of the Committee of Nationalities Affairs of the Yunnan Provincial People's Government. The conference, exercising the power and functions of the People's Congress, elected Chao Ts'un-hsin [Thai nationality] as Chairman of the Thai Autonomous People's Government, Tao Ch'eng-tsung [Thai nationality], Tao Hsueh-lin [Thai nationality], Che Lo [Aini nationality], Lieu Yen [Chinese nationality] and Tao Yuliang [Thai nationality] as vice chairmen, together with 31 government council members. At the meeting, Chairman Chao Ts'un-hsin [previously deputy director of the Puerh Special District Administrative Office in Yunnan province] reported on the work in Hsi-shuang-pan-na in the past three years. The conference passed the drafts of the Organic Regulations of the Thai Autonomous People's Government. At the inaugural ceremony the Chairman and council members pledged that they would learn from the Han Chinese and the example of the Han Chinese cadres to guide the Thai people to help other national minorities to implement area autonomy, make concerted efforts to smash the sabotage activities of the American imperialists and special agents of Chiang Kai-shek's bandit gang and struggle to strengthen national defense of the fatherland and construct a new Hsishuang-pan-na area under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, Chairman Mao Tse-tung and the Central People's Government. Wan Lienfang, representing the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, offered greetings and emphatically pointed out that the Thai and members of Thai nationality in the People's Government should henceforth conscientiously assume responsibility to help other national minorities develop political, economic and cultural enterprises thereby further strengthening the unity of various nationalities. Finally the conference passed telegrams to pay respect to Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

This important development in an obscure part of the world escaped the attention of most Westerners at the time, but we may expect to hear a lot more about it. A careful reading of the communiqué brings out arresting facts: (1) It is obvious that the Chinese Communists have been to some trouble to bring about the establishment of this so-called "Thai Government" for reference is made to the preparatory work undertaken during the past three years; this also indicates a lack of spontaneity on the part of the Thai inhabitants of Sibsongpanna. (2) The designation of this "autonomous" government as "Thai" unquestionably indicates the existence of plans aimed at other Thai in Southeast Asia. (3) It is made abundantly clear that this new "Thai" régime derives its inspiration and direction from the Chinese Communists. There is the pledge of Chairman Chao Ts'un-hsin to learn from the "Han Chinese," to make concerted efforts to smash the "sabotage activities of the American imperialists" and to strengthen the new Sibsongpanna area under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communist Party. In conjunction with this forecast of Communist plans for further expansion in Southeast Asia, Communist insistence at Geneva upon the retention of an area in Laos which directly adjoins the eastern frontier of Sibsongpanna is of great significance. I expect we shall presently see this area linked up with if not absorbed by the bogus "Thai" régime in southern Yunnan.

The Viet Minh are being used as the instrument of penetration in Indo-China, the Burmese in Burma, the Chinese in Malaya. The "Thai Autonomous People's Government" has been created, I believe, to facilitate expansion into Thailand and Laos. The Communists realize that there are about 15,000,000 Thai in present-day Thailand and an additional 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 persons of the Thai race partly in the Kingdom of Laos, partly in the Thai territory of northwestern Indo-China where the now famous little village of Dien Bien Phu is located, and also in the Shan states of northern Burma. Not only do these Thai constitute a sizeable percentage of the total population of Southeast Asia, but, even more importantly from the Communist point of view, they live in four different countries, namely Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. Furthermore, the "Thai" creation in Yunnan borders on three of these countries and is very close to Thailand. Therefore, from the relatively safe and secure sanctuary of Yunnan province in southern China, and from the enclave in northeastern Laos won at the conference table in Geneva, it is possible for the Communists to operate directly into all those contiguous countries.

IV

Will the Communists succeed in winning over the Thai of Southeast Asia by this new stratagem? I know from close association with Thai Government and other leaders that the creation by the Chinese Communists of this bogus "Thai" régime in Yunnan has seriously disturbed them. They have no doubt that it is a calculated move not only to foster a rival Thai state, but also to seduce the Thai of Thailand and adjoining areas. They believe that former Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong is closely associated with this régime and have noted with concern his recent fulminations over the Peking radio calling upon the Thai people to overthrow the Government and drive out the "American imperialists." They feel Sibsongpanna will be the focal point to which disaffected and pro-Communist Thai within Thailand will gravitate, and from which agents will be sent on missions of propaganda and intrigue. In fact, these activities have already commenced. Here is a shrewd move to enmesh the Thai of Thailand, through the undeniably attractive concept of a mighty federation of Thai peoples in Southeast Asia. The Prime Minister of Thailand said recently that the "Free Thai" movement in Yunnan has aggressive objectives. These developments indicate that the coils are being tightened around Thailand.

It was in 1926 that Ho Chi Minh established the first small underground Communist group in Thailand. He had been working in Canton with the Soviet General "Borodin" but was forced to flee and took refuge in Bangkok. From this vantage point he carried on secret activities against the French in Indo-China. This Communist cell was originally composed almost entirely of Vietnamese and Chinese, with Thai students and laborers used as "fronts" for occasional demonstrations against the monarchy; it was useful for the conduct of activities not only in Indo-China, Malaya, Burma, but to some extent in Indonesia.

The majority of the group of young Thai military and civilians who carried out the coup d'état which resulted in the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932 had a strong aversion to Communism, which they felt was inimical to the Thai love of freedom. Legislation was therefore passed in 1933 proscribing Communist activities. This remained the law of the land until November 1946, when, in order to gain admission into the United Nations, the Thai Government was quietly forced to repeal it as the price of averting a Soviet veto in the Security Council.

It was after this that the Communists began to emerge from the underground, slowly and cautiously at first, but in 1950 with a bold propaganda campaign extolling the successes of the Chinese Communists and heralding a new era for all Chinese in Southeast Asia. They promised that the "mighty liberation army" of Red China would support them. The propaganda followed a straight Peking-Moscow line, including much vilification of the United States. The campaign is waged with money and blackmail, and has met with some success. Chinese private schools are also a focus of the effort and many Chinese students are being induced to take ship for Communist China for further training; it is reasonable to suppose that some are being infiltrated back into Thailand where their knowledge of the Thai language will make them especially useful. Chinese laborers in the rice mills, sawmills and other factories have been organized, and a number of Chinese trade guilds brought under Communist control. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce at Bangkok, the largest and most powerful Chinese association in Thailand, and other Chinese organizations, have been penetrated. I would say from my knowledge of the Chinese community that the majority are "fence sitters" with a residue of loyal supporters of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. But there is no denying that the numerous Chinese of Thailand constitute a potential fifth column of serious proportions.

However, within the past two years there have been numerous indications that the Communists are now giving more attention to the subversion of the Thai people than of the Chinese in Thailand--a prerequisite of a successful attempt to overthrow the government. Some success has attended their efforts to influence the news policies of a number of well-known publications in the Thai language, and students in some schools and colleges are being taken in by the Red patter. The Communists in Thailand of course played up the "Stockholm peace appeal," and endeavored to link it with the humanitarian concepts of Buddhism, the predominant religion of the country. This campaign reached crescendo just prior to the much-publicized "peace conference" at Peking in 1952. A number of Thai, well-known in literary and parliamentary circles, not only wrote voluminously about peace but also presided at several public meetings master-minded by the Communists; resolutions were passed and Thai delegates were selected to attend the conference. The Government became seriously concerned and declared that any Thai leaving the country for Communist China would lose his citizenship; nevertheless, a few slipped out and joined the little group of Thai already in Peking.

Of even greater concern to Prime Minister Pibul's Government was the discovery that espionage activities were being carried on by some of the junior officers of the Thai armed forces. The diaries kept by some of these officers (for some unknown reason it seems that all good Communists keep diaries) revealed not only that maps and information concerning military installations were being sold to the Soviet Legation at Bangkok, but also that plans were afoot to depose the King, overthrow the government and to set up a "people's government," with the help of "liberation" forces from within and without. The Thai authorities took action. On November 10, 1952, several hundred Chinese and Thai Communist suspects were rounded up, and the Parliament passed a stiff anti-Communist law. These measures have, to some extent, upset the plans of the Communists, but Thai leaders know that the most important agents remain at large and that efforts at subversion will continue. On June 21 of this year, Prime Minister Pibul said the government was seeking to prevent further infiltration by closing all frontiers, watching all known Communists--totalling "tens of thousands," most of them being Chinese--prosecuting Reds whose activities become dangerous or deporting them if firm evidence is lacking, and removing any economic attraction to Communism by improving living conditions and the general welfare.

There is no doubt that the Thai people and the present Government are anti-Communist. While the people have little knowledge of Communist doctrine, they realize that an alien attempt is being made to seize their country and destroy their freedom. The present government understands clearly that defensive strength is needed to keep Thailand free. I have had many frank and friendly talks with government leaders concerning the urgency of the danger and the need for defensive strength, and in 1950 appropriate agreements were signed for the extension of both economic and military aid to Thailand by the United States. The first shipment of military equipment was delivered in January 1951. Now that Americans are beginning to realize the importance of Thailand in the defense of Southeast Asia, the Thai Government's repeated requests for a further increase in military aid have met a favorable response. This is good, but it is needed at once; because of our preoccupation with Indo-China, assistance has heretofore been delivered all too slowly. It has, however, been of benefit to Thailand; her economy has been strengthened and a small but well-equipped fighting force is being created. I believe it will give just as good an account of itself, if the dark hour comes, as did Thai troops in Korea.

The Thai people are our best friends in South Asia today. When our Government called in April of this year for "united action" to halt the further march of Communist aggression, Thailand was the only country that responded immediately and without reservation. Our good friends are now in danger. Developments at Geneva have heightened rather than diminished their fears. On June 3, 1954, the Thai Government appealed to the Security Council to send observers to Thailand to watch and report on the worsening situation, hoping that such action by the United Nations might be a deterrent to further aggression. At that time, Thailand's Ambassador to the United States, Pote Sarasin, stated that recent events had made it clear that the Viet Minh have the intention of overthrowing the legal governments of Laos and Cambodia. That this is so can scarcely be doubted. The Soviet delegate vetoed Thailand's request.

V

Let us not forget that Indo-China is not the final Communist objective. There was much talk of peace at Geneva by Messrs. Molotov and Chou En-lai, for they know that the peoples of Asia want peace. All good Communists insist that they want peace, too--but it is always at their own price. The armistice in Indo-China means only a cessation of military operations. Communist political activity will be facilitated by it, since cells remain in all areas occupied by the Viet Minh before the Geneva agreements, and the cease fire will make possible the penetration into districts now in the hands of the French and Vietnamese.

What are the possibilities of saving the rest of Southeast Asia? A defensive alliance supported by an adequate defensive system is a common sense approach to the situation, but realization of this goal presents complex and delicate problems. Secretary Dulles has said that the formation of a Southeast Asian alliance may take a year. Aside from the reluctance of the British and the French to proceed rapidly to the construction of such an alliance, the Asian countries, with the exception of Thailand and the Philippines, prefer the neutralist response to the threat of Communist expansion. Nevertheless, I believe it is of the utmost importance that we should with tact and with understanding of their point of view endeavor to convince them that this restless, pushing Communist force can be held at bay only if the nations that have the same basic ideals regarding liberty and human rights join in firm determination to defend and preserve those ideals.

Such a defensive system for Southeast Asia can best function if it is based on Thailand, which is wholly free from the taint of colonialism. Thailand's assent to that is, of course, absolutely essential; and it is equally necessary for the United States and the members of any Southeast Asian alliance that may be formed to undertake to defend Thailand. Thailand would rightly expect such a guarantee. Prime Minister Pibul has in the past often told me of his hope that a strong and effective Southeast Asian Alliance might be formed under United Nations auspices and with the United States an active participant. On June 21 of this year he stated that Thailand would welcome free world troops on her territory if they were needed to fight Communist aggression against Thailand; and he noted that such action would be similar to the United Nations' military effort in Korea. He declared that his country would be willing to coöperate in any democratic action to stem the Communist tide, and added that Thailand is willing to join the proposed Southeast Asian defense organization.

Perhaps it is not an accident that our best friends in South Asia are also the people of the oldest sovereign and independent country in the region. They wish their country to be a bastion of freedom in Southeast Asia, and I believe are prepared to fight to preserve it. Their armed forces, plus an effective police force, total more than 100,000 men, and are being augmented through a system of military service which has been in effect many years. The United States is training and equipping these forces, and their military capabilities are steadily increasing. There is no doubt of the bravery and stamina of the Thai soldier. If Thailand's freedom and independence can be preserved, the heart and much of the body of Southeast Asia will have been saved.

At this moment that is so fateful for the future of Southeast Asia and the whole free world, we should, I feel, help build up the defensive strength of Thailand as rapidly as possible. Equally important is the formation of an effective Southeast Asian Alliance, preferably under United Nations auspices. Finally, I feel we need to make a fresh, new effort to prove to our friends in the countries of South Asia that the United States is in fact their good friend; is in fact strongly opposed to colonialism; is in fact doing much to further the cause of independence in those countries not yet free from the vestiges of colonialism; is in fact helping and is prepared to continue to help in improving standards of living and the welfare of their people. We might well endeavor to give new life to Emerson's wise proverb that "The only way to have a friend is to be one."

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  • EDWIN F. STANTON, Assistant Chief, Division of Far Eastern Affairs in the Department of State, 1943; Ambassador to Thailand, 1947-53
  • More By Edwin F. Stanton