191. Telegram From the Consul at Hanoi (Corcoran) to the Department of State1

1312. 1. Sainteny returned Hanoi May 12 and I made courtesy call this morning during which we had one hour general conversation.

2. He was very pessimistic about situation in South Vietnam, expressing opinion that continued support of Diem amounted to “opening door to Communism in south”. Said that intensely nationalistic Phan Ke Toai had been the “Diem” of earlier period and had paved way for Communist victory. Saw great present danger as not that Viet Minh would win eventual elections, but that population of south, contrasting insecurity in that area with tranquillity reigning in north would disregard Communist nature of Viet Minh and welcome them to restore peace and order even at price of Communist oppression.

3. He was not optimistic about situation in north which he said was getting no better (from Western point of view). Remarked “It is Chinese who will replace us here”. I took occasion to say that Chinese Communist penetration seemed so far advanced already, citing particularly railroad construction and airport control, that I was not at all sure Viet Minh had any freedom of choice in formulating policy. Sainteny said he was not sure either, but he felt that Viet Minh were not yet completely under Chinese Communist domination, that they did not want it and that they instinctively resisted it. Partition of Vietnam at 17th parallel would merely encourage Chinese to annex North Vietnam, an ambition they have never abandoned. (As I arrived at Maison de France an automobile flying Chinese Communist flag dropped three Chinese in civilian uniform who disappeared into building presumably to see Billecocq or Arnod.)

4. Sainteny said he had left Paris before conclusion conversations on IC, but understood that French position now called for going ahead with elections under Geneva agreement while giving Diem as much support as possible so that he might make strongest possible showing in election.

5. French interests in North Vietnam just about liquidated except for Hanoi tramway and few buildings. Member of Messageries Maritimes still at Thai Phong for time being. (Sainteny had told British Consul General last week that there was possibility negotiating some sort of Franco-Viet Minh commercial agreement.)

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6. He had recently seen Pham Van Dong who appeared ill and very tired.

7. I said I thought Viet Minh now that they were well installed were showing stern attitude in application Communist doctrine and cited Peoples Court trials, including recent one Hanoi. Sainteny replied that “well installed” was too strong a term and that Viet Minh were still having trouble getting installed. He added, however, that once in possession of Haiphong and the coast, they would feel more secure and would supply more pressure in communization.

8. He believed that not only would fifth month rice harvest be bad because of insufficient rain during growing season, but that results secondary cultivation, despite good sweet potato and maize crops, would not suffice make up shortage.

9. When Sainteny mentioned Ho Chi Minh provisional government of 1945, I took occasion say I had heard rumor (Contel 1303 sent Department May 16, repeated Saigon 1451, Paris 4352) that Catholic member that government had recently visited Hanoi. Sainteny recalled that he had heard some such visit had taken place prior his return, but declined to be drawn out this subject.

10. Said he would return to France for consultation during first ten days June. Remarked that he was surprised US had not closed Consulate here. Predicted that operating conditions would become worse after ICC transfer to Saigon and jokingly remarked that Sainteny mission might leave before Consulate. In discussing various itineraries Hanoi–Paris, he half-jokingly remarked that he could not go via Honolulu and US because “your government would not give me visa”. I replied that I did not think he would have any trouble getting transit visa. Still semi-humorously, he offered to bet me that he would have trouble.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 651.51G/5–1755. Secret. Also sent to Saigon and Paris.
  2. In this telegram dated May 15, the Consulate reported learning from a “Catholic source” that Nguyen Manh Ha, a Catholic layman and Minister of Economy in the Provisional Government of 1945, had visited Hanoi from Paris at the apparent request of Pham Van Dong to consult on what the DRV regarded as the “Catholic problem.” The source believed Ha to be at best a “meddler” and at worst a “peddler” of coexistence, and believed also that the Sainteny Mission was involved in the arrangement of the visit. (Ibid., 751G.00/5–1555)