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China and Southeast Asia: The Revolutionary Perspective, 1951

  • R. B. Smith

Extract

Controversy still surrounds the question whether the communist-led uprisings which developed across Southeast Asia during the months from March to September 1948 were the outcome of a deliberate international communist strategy or merely the product of coincidental decisions by individual communist parties. Equally controversial, although less frequently discussed, is the suggestion that during the early months of 1950 the Chinese Communist Party took on direct responsibility for sustaining those revolutionary armed struggles which were still continuing in Southeast Asia — in Vietnam, Malaya and the Philippines — and even provided material assistance to allow them to expand. The present paper will examine yet a third period at which it is necessary to consider the possibility of coordinated international decision-making on the communist side in Southeast Asia: the second half of 1951.

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1 The possible consequences of a Chinese ‘invasion’ of Indochina were discussed at the Phoenix Park conference of 15–18 May 1951: see FO 371/93085 (FZ1197/102). For a British official's minute on the question, including the possibility of a ‘theatre reserve’ in Southeast Asia, see FO 371/92416 (FF10317). None of the papers on that subject, however, deals with the question of possible links between the communist struggles in Indochina and Malaya.

2 See particularly a Foreign Office paper by P.F. Grey, 29 Sept. 1948: FO 371/69695 (F. 13733/727/61); and one by J.H. Watson, 8 Nov. 1948: FO 371/69695 (F. 17015/727/61).

3 Noted in a chronology of recent events, sent by the Commissioner-General's Office in Singapore to the US Consulate-General in Singapore on 24 November 1948, of which a copy found its way into Foreign Office files: FO 371/69695 (F. 17253/727/61). It will be noted that the most important meeting in Calcutta was that of the Indian Communist Party — not the ‘Calcutta Youth Conference’ held shortly before, which is something of a red herring in this discussion.

4 FO 371/93010 (FZ 1016/82), and The Times (London), 25 09 1951.

5 A copy of this reply (J.D. Higham to Si. Henry Gurney, 20 March 1950) appears in FO 371/84479 (FZ 1018/5). I found no complete copy of Gurney's letter of 25 January 1950; but an extract, including the relevant passage appears in FO 371/84477 (FZ 21016/7). It should be noted in passing that FZ 1018 (in FO 371/84479) originally included four other items on this question, all of which have been ‘retained by the Department’.

6 This despatch is mentioned by Short, Anthony, The Communist Insurrection in Malaya, 1948–60 (London, 1975), p. 227, although he is not inclined to take it seriously. I have not succeeded in locating the despatch in the Colonial Office files (nor in FO 373); but a brief résumé, together with a note of arrangements made with the Thai authorities in consequence, is included in ‘Weekly Report on Malaya’, No. 55, 10–16 February 1950: FO 371/84475 (FZ 1015/9). The subject is not referred to again in subsequent issues of that report.

7 FO 371/84478 (FZ 1017/8); the brief in question was prepared for the Minister of State at the Foreign Office by R.H. Scott, head of the Southeast Asia Department. Unfortunately this file does not contain the views of the Colonial Office.

8 An interesting exception, relating to a somewhat later period, is the almost casual revelation in Hanoi's ‘White Book’ (October 1979) that in September 1963 Zhou Enlai presided over a meeting in Guangzhou of representatives from the communist parties of Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia (SWB/FE/6238/A3/5). It can be confirmed from monitored broadcasts at the time that Zhou Enlai and D.N. Aidit were in fact in Guangzhou at the date in question; we do not know who represented Vietnam or Laos.

9 For a detailed analysis of the changes of line of the Indian Communist Party between 1947 and 1951, see Kautsky, J.H., Moscow and the Communist Party of India (New York and London, 1956). He analyses at length the contrast between the ‘leftist’ line adopted in late 1947 and the different versions of the ‘Maoist’ (or ‘Chinese’) line which evolved during 1950–51.

10 Kautsky, op.cit., pp. 102–104. A possible Yugoslav role in promoting revolution in Asia, suggested by the attendance of three Yugoslavs at the Calcutta Youth Conference in February 1948, was discussed in British Foreign Office telegrams at that time: FO 371/69694: F. 3475/727/61 and F. 3467. See also McLane, C.B., Soviet Strategies in Southeast Asia (Princeton, 1966), p. 375, note 31, for evidence of a Yugoslav role in Burma in 1948.

11 The Times (London), 24 05 1951; the report is attributed merely to ‘our own correspondent’.

12 Van Hoan, Hoang, ‘Distortion of Facts about Militant Friendship between Viet Nam and China is Impermissible’, Renmin Ribao, 27 11 1979; translated in Beijing Review, 7 Dec. 1979, p. 12; Hoan was in exile in Beijing from mid-1979. For the text of the Vietnamese ‘White Book’ of 4 October 1979, to which he was replying, see BBC: Summary of World Broadcasts, Far East: nos. 6238 and 6242. It contained a long series of accusations about Chinese attitudes to Vietnam, going back to 1954, and alleged that China had used the Vietnamese for their own purposes throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

13 Xiuquan, Wu, Eight Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Memoirs of a Diplomat (Beijing, 1985, English-language edition), pp. 19 and 23.

14 For details of that issue, see the Vietnamese ‘White Book’ of 1979, cited in note 12 above.

15 See, for example, cables from US consulates in Saigon and Hanoi to State Department during 1950, cited in Declassified Documents Reference System: Retrospective Collection, pp. 549: A, B, D; 553: G; 554: A. Also British Foreign Office reports, e.g. FO 371/92194: FC1015/43, for Giap's visit to Guangzhou in January 1951.I am grateful to Miss Laura Calkins for drawing my attention to these references. Her doctoral thesis, currently in progress at the School of Oriental and African Studies, will explore more fully this and other aspects of Sino-Vietnamese relations in the 1950s. For an indication of the information on this subject to be gleaned from secret Chinese Nationalist sources, see also Chen, K.C., Vietnam and China 1938–1954 (Princeton, 1969), pp. 254ff.

16 For Hoang Van Hoan's article, see note 12 above. For biographical details of the three Chinese figures mentioned here, see Klein, D.W. and Clark, A. B., Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921–1965 (Cambridge, Mass., 1971). Luo Guibo was appointed China's first ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954.

17 See, for example, broadcasts from Beijing around 11–13 April 1950, monitored in SWB/FE/52.

18 Nhan-Dan, 7 June 1951. For text, as broadcast, see SWB/FE/115: p. 75; a copy can also be found in FO 371/92410 (FF 1017/3) at the Public Record Office. For accounts of the Vinh-Yen, Mao-Khe and Day River engagements of 1951, see Fall, B.B., Street Without Joy (Harrisburg, 1962), pp. 2647.

19 Son, Truong, ‘The Growth of the Viet Nam People's Army’, People's China, 16 02 1951. ‘Truong Son’ (the Vietnamese name of the Annamite Chain) is believed to have been the pseudonym either of Nguyen Chi Thanh himself or of someone very close to him; it reappears on articles of the mid-1960s, when Thanh was (from 1964–67) senior Party commissar in South Vietnam. For Thanh's press conference of 20 Jan. 1951, at which he was still optimistic about victory at Vinh-Yen, see SWB/FE/93: p. 68.

20 See comment on his views in a British Foreign Office minute of 1 Aug. 1951: FO 371/92416 (FF 10317/ 64). For a CIA assessment of 7 Aug. 1951 (including the estimate that at that time there were 10,000 Chinese personnel serving with Viet-Minh units), see Foreign Relations of the United States: 1951: Asia and the Pacific, Pt. I, pp. 469–76. The Americans believed large-scale Chinese intervention was unlikely, at least during the rest of 1951.

21 Le Duan's conference was reported briefly by the ‘Vietnam Information Service, Saigon’ on 9 September 1951; fuller information about it seems to have been available to the British representative in Saigon (H.A. Graves) by early September; FO 371/92401 (FF 1013/16). For Giap's article of 18 Sept. 1951, see SWB/FE/128: pp. 73–74.

22 For these two articles, SWB/FE/129: pp. 67, 69.

23 The letter was not reported by VNA until 14 Oct. 1951: SWB/FE/131: p. 62.

24 For a detailed account of the Hoa-Binh campaign, see Fall, B.B., Street without Joy, pp. 4960. Further insight into French thinking can be gained from British reports from Saigon at the time, including one based on a press conference given by General Salan in Tongking on 16 Jan. 1952: see FO 371/101609 (FF 1092/2 and 3).

25 Declining morale in Paris was noted by the British naval attaché there as early as 24 January 1952: FO 371/10169 (FF 1092/5); in marked contrast with reports from Saigon in the latter part of 1951.

26 SWB/FE/140: p. 74; no. 141: p. 67; no. 143: pp. 81–83. The Vietnam Workers' Party had been reestablished, under that name, at a meeting in Tongking in February 1951; the occasion was always referred to as the ‘Second Congress’ of the party, the first having been held in Macau in 1935. The precise status of the ‘second conference’ in Nam-Bo, sometime in the second half of 1951, is not clear.

27 SWB/FE/129: pp. 60–62.

28 SWB/FE/140: p. 76. The fact that both Le Due Tho and Pham Hung were prominent in the South in the latter part of 1951 may indicate a close association between them within the VNWP leadership. It will be recalled that they also cooperated closely during the final phase of the ‘Vietnam War’, which ended with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.

29 SWB/FE/144: p. 85. For the earlier career of Nguyen Binh, see Devillers, P., Histoire du Viet-Nam de 1940 à 1952 (Paris, 1952), p. 247; and La Tribune lndochinoise, 16 July 1930.

30 SWB/FE/132: p. 77; no. 141: p. 66; and no. 143: p. 81.

31 Summarized in A. Short, op. cit., pp. 318ff. The British records so far released do not contain a full version of the deliberations of that plenum; but a political intelligence report for October-November 1951 does indicate awareness of a change in MCP tactics at that time: notably greater efforts to penetrate legal trade unions, to form illegal ones, and to ‘woo’ Indian workers and Malay peasants. See ‘Malaya: Monthly Political Intelligence Report, no. 22’ in CO 537/7343 (1951–55404/5).

32 Short, op. cit., pp. 320–21.

33 McLane, C.B., Soviet Strategies in Southeast Asia (Princeton, 1966), p. 429. The source for this information appears to be the testimony of a ‘Huk’ cadre who surrendered soon after the meeting; and also the text of a ‘political transmission’ issued by the meeting itself.

34 See Chen, op. cit., p. 251. Hoang Quoc Viet arrived in Beijing on 23 July 1951 and held talks during August. He was again in the Chinese capital, on the way back from North Korea, during October. Meanwhile another Vietnamese delegation, headed by Ton Due Thang, attended the Chinese national day celebrations in Beijing on 1 October 1951: SWB/FE/131: p. 62.

35 SWB/FE/143: p. 36.

36 No armistice was concluded within the stated interval, however, and the war in Korea eventually resumed. Nevertheless in the immediate aftermath of the definition of a ceasefire line, most ground fighting appears to have come to a halt: see The Times (London), 27 and 29 11 1951.

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China and Southeast Asia: The Revolutionary Perspective, 1951

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