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258 Memorandum from Quinn to Watt

Saigon, 25 August 1953

CONFIDENTIAL

Colombo Plan Aid — Associated States

Thank you for your memorandum No. 2071 of 10th August (your file No. 2066/5).

2. Before making the offer of �100,000 worth of public works equipment to the Government of Viet-Nam, I should like to have your comments on the following points:—

(a) The Cambodians have now submitted a list of their requirements which are broadly similar to those of the Viet-Namese. A translation of their list is attached. In view of the strained relations between Viet-Nam and Cambodia it would perhaps be invidious for us not to make any gesture towards Cambodia and Laos, all the more as both of these countries appear to consider Viet-Nam to be somewhat 'spoiled' by American aid.

(b) While the Viet-Namese authorities for their part, may be expected to make a polite reference to the aid offered, they are likely to be disappointed at its extent. The tractors and road rollers offered would in fact be used by one department, the Ministry of Public Works. The Minister of Agriculture, despite the slowness of his Department in reacting to our request for information, obviously expects some animals to be made available. When he returned to Indo-China from his visit to Australia, the then Minister for the Associated States, Monsieur Letourneau, mentioned the sum of �300,000 as being available for use before the end of the last financial year and referred to this figure in his discussions with the Viet-Namese authorities. While it appears now that his use of this figure was due to a misunderstanding, we did not have at the time any information enabling us to question it. In addition, we know that the French High Commission circulated a French translation of the attachment to your memorandum No. 61 of 12th March to the Viet-Namese Government and we think it is likely that the latter were given a false idea of the possible scale of aid by this.

(c) In various references to Colombo Plan aid, we have been careful to stress that it will not be remotely comparable in extent or diversity with American aid. We think, however, that from the point of view of publicity you might wish to consider (i) a token grant to Cambodia and Laos (ii) the offer of a small number of animals to Viet-Nam if necessary at the expense of Public Works allocation.

(d) In this country, American aid is now taken for granted, so far as Colombo Plan aid is concerned the only wide publicity it is likely to get is when the first offer is made.

We are therefore anxious that the original announcement should be in terms as favourable as possible and think that to produce a proper impact it should refer to more than the grant of �100,000 worth of road rollers and tractors and might, for example, mention the type, if not the extent, of future aid programmes. Incidentally �A 100,000 converts as 7 � million piastres, in round figures.

3. I need hardly add that the purpose of the memorandum is not to criticise the decision made in regard to the amount of aid, but merely to point out that it does not correspond to the atmosphere created by Monsieur Letourneau on his return from Australia. We ourselves are sceptical, as you will have observed from our previous communications, concerning the value of providing large quantities of mechanical equipment, not so much because the need does not exist for it, but because the maintenance facilities away from the large centres are so poor and the number of skilled operators is so small. What we primarily should like to know before we make the offer mentioned in the submission approved by the Minister is what comments we should make to the local authorities about future aid, so that the risk of any further false impressions can be avoided. This mission has never at any time mentioned a figure and in all discussions has adopted the formula: 'list what you need, and we shall see what we can supply.'

[NAA: A4529, 65/1/1/1953]

1 The memorandum authorised the Legation in Saigon to make an immediate offer of �100,000 to the Vietnamese Government. It suggested that the allocation would most appropriately be spent on tractors and steam-rollers, which could be supplied without delay.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017

Category: International relations

Topic: History