Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Henry Kissinger with Thai Foreign Minister Chatchai - 1975

This conversation is funny in its deadpan tone, astounding in its cavalier scope, and shocking in the themes that were being repeated then just as they are now. Simply, a brilliant read!

The Actors:
"The secretary" - US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
"Foreign Minister" - Thai Foreign Minister Chatchai Chunhawan
"Mr Habib" - Philip Habib, Assistant Secretary East Asia and Pacific Affairs.

December 15 1975

Context: Thailand had just pased the October 14 uprising against the military junta of Thanom Kittikachorn and at the cusp of the brutal right-wing paramilitary attack on students at Thammasat University and the return of the military on October 6, 1976. In addition, the US troops were being withdrawn from military bases in Thailand shortly after their defeat in Vietnam.

Scene opens: The Secretary then arrived. He told Chatchai of the forthcoming Presidential trip to China and asked the Minister about his most recent trip to Peking. Chatchai said he had gone to Kunming, the Thai capital 2,000 years ago.

The Secretary: What is the Cambodian attitude?

Foreign Minister:
The Cambodians want salt and fish. They wanted to barter for these items.

The Secretary: Did Ieng Sary impress you?

Foreign Minister: He is a nice, quiet man.

The Secretary: How many people did he kill? Tens of thousands?

M r . Habib: N i c e and quietly!!

Foreign Minister: Not more than 10,000. That's why they need food. If they had killed everyone, they would not need salt and fish. All the bridges in Cambodia were destroyed. There was no transportation, no gas. Thats why they had to chase the people away from the capital.

The Secretary: But why with only two hours' notice?

Foreign Minister: (Shrugs)

The Secretary: What do the Cambodians think of the United States? You should tell them that we bear no hostility towards them. We would like them to be independent as a counterweight to North Vietnam.

The Secretary: We would prefer t o have Laos and- Cambodia aligned with China rather than with North Vietnam. W e would try t o encourage this if that is what you want.

Foreign Minister: Yes, we would like you t o do that.

The Secretary: And then after we do it you can kick us around. You can c a l l ambassador Anan (Anand Panyarachun) home and thereby keep the students happy.

Foreign Minister: The right wing is what we really have t o worry about, not the left. The Chinese are 100 percent: in support of Cambodia's being friends with Thailand.
Foreign Minister: The South Vietnamese are not at a ll happy with the Northerners.

The Secretary: The North Vietnamese have t o be the meanest people in the world. The North Koreans and Albanians are pretty difficult, but the North Vietnamese are by far the worst. They can lie to you effortlessly.

Foreign Minister: W e talked with Phan Bien and he asked about you.

The Secretary: Who?

M r . Habib: Do you remember Phan Hien? He is the vice Foreign Minister now; he was Chief of their American Division I earlier. He was on the North Vietnamese
delegation to Paris. He was the one with the smooth dark hair.

The Secretary: Oh, that's really helpful. You mean there are some Vietnamese with curly hair?

Mr. Habib: No. He was the one with the really smooth hair. He had it slicked back like Rudolph Valentino.

The Secretary: Are there any blond Vietnamese? Anyway, the Vietnamese in Paris used to make the same speech every morning. They used to say that if we would make a major effort, they would make a major effort. One morning the leader of the Vietnamese delegation said that: if we would make a major effort, they would
make an effort. At the end of the speech, I asked whether I had understood or whether he had in fact dropped an adjective. Be explained that yesterday they had made a major effort, but we had only made a minor effort. So, today we would have to make a major effort and they, in turn, would only make and effort.

Ambassador Anan: That's very interesting.

The Secretary: (To Mr. Habib) At any rate, give the man with the straight hair my affectionate regards.
The Secretary: I like the residence in Bangkok very much. It is a very nice house.

Foreign Minister: The Thai government owns it.

M r . Habib: And we get it for a very low rent.

The Secretary: If you ever want a really tough negotiation with the United States, just mess around with our housing. You can form an alliance with the Soviets, link up with the Vietnamese, or come under Chinese influence and you'll only get a very mild protest. But if you interfere with our housing, then you will really have a problem on your hands.

Foreign Minister: We only. charge you $200 a month for the residence in Bangkok.

The Secretary: I'll go to Bangkok and move in.

Foreign Minister: But we already have enough refugees.

The Secretary: But I can't have it, Perhaps I could go to Thailand when I leave this job and become a cabinet member. I could learn to speak Thai with an accent. After all , I speak English with an accent. What are the problems between the United States and Thailand?

Foreign Minister: There are none. I came just t o reaffirm having friendly negotiations about your withdrawal. There is only one problem. Our armed forces equipment is very old. We have no ammunition plants. We have to reshape and reorganize our armed forces.We want to re-equip 16 battalions. We have no F-5s too oppose the 250 former US aircraft left in Vietnam.
The Secretary: It i s important that we still have a presence in Southeast Asia. We appreciate what you did in Vietmam. I am, personally, embarrassed by the Vietnam
War. I believe that if you go t o war, you go to win and not to lose with moderation.
Foreign Minister: I asked the Chinese to take over in Laos. They mentioned that they had a road building team in northern Laos.

The Secretary: We would support this. You should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won't let that stand in
our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them. Tell them the latter part, but don't tell them what I said before.
The Secretary: Have you an extradition treaty with us? As I told the people in Detroit yesterday, I am going to China because they have no extradition treaty with us, and if Congress does not give us what we need, I won't come home and no one will be able to make me come home. If there is no extradition treaty with Thailand, I may go to Thailand. We will make an effort to help you with your problems. The Bureau of East Asian Affairs will support a modernization program. We want Thailand to be strong. Have you received any arms from China?
Foreign Minister: Communist China is very poor, especially in the South. The people are barefoot and dirty.

The Secretary: That is very unusual.

Foreign Minister: When I asked to go to Kunming, they asked why I wanted to go here. I said it was the former Thai capital and I wanted to liberate it. It was very poor; the food there was the same as in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The people speak a Thai dialect. When I got there and they raised the Thai flag over the place where we were staying, our escort said "See, you have already liberated Kunming"
Foreign Minister: On our side; it is all O.K. There is no problem. It is only on your side--with your press--that there seems to be any problem.

The Secretary : The press, is impossible.

Foreign Minister: Ours is also troublesome. The problem is now that we have too much democracy. I would like to thank you again for having us at lunch today.

The Secretary: We will do our best within our constraints to help you.

For the completely frank and utterly commical reading, click here.

Also thanks to Michael Montesano who forwarded this on the TLC mailing list.

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