Look back 55 year ago: No time for laughter… funny Tep Phan’s son was POL POT top diplomat at UN
Historical laughter: After worked for Pol Pot up to his death in 1998 then married Pot’s second wife in 1999, presently Tep Phan’s son lives and works for Hun Sen as Chief District of Malaii, former Ieng Sary-Pol Pot strong hold
TIME Foreign News–Monday 24 May 1954
While the Communists looked on and sometimes laughed, the West spent most of the week stepping on each other’s toes, complaining, apologizing and explaining themselves to each other.
An overexcited and incomplete report of Dulles’ press conference (see NATIONAL AFFAIRS) came to France’s Georges Bidault in the midst of an afternoon session. Set-faced and grim, Bidault accosted the U.S.’s Under Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith the minute the session was over. “What does this mean?” he demanded bluntly. Smith hastily telephoned Washington for a full transcript of Dulles’ press conference.
Even after reading it a few hours later, Bidault was only partly reassured. Said one French diplomat: “When you said Korea was outside your security line, the Communists attacked. What might they do if they believe you will not fight for Indo-China? We had felt that the U.S. was resolved to save as much as possible of Indo-China. Now how can we feel? Only that you will let it go.”
Native Wit. It was only the first blow of the week for Bidault. Bidault had sworn that if the Laniel government fell, he would remain at Geneva as representative of a caretaker government even if he had “to go back to France every two or three days and stump the country” for his policy. The actual vote (see below), with its majority of two, was almost as bad.
When he could, Bidault stood off the cocky Communists with the only weapon left to him—native wit. When Tep Phan, Foreign Minister of Cambodia, denounced the Viet Minh invasion of his country and produced a telegram reporting the murder of three Cambodians by Viet Minh rebels, Molotov was scathing. “We have heard about this telegram, but we haven’t seen it,” he declared scornfully. The Cambodian minister waved the telegram aloft. “Now we have seen it, but we still haven’t read it,” snapped Molotov, to the laughter of the Communist delegations.
Bidault stood up. “When men are dying, we should not be laughing,” he said. “I should like to point out that the laughter did not come from the free nations’ benches.” The laughter stopped abruptly. Amid dead silence, Molotov arose and admitted sheepishly: “I agree with the French Foreign Minister.”
One-Sided Respite. Into the vacuum left by the collapse of the U.S.’s hastily laid plans stepped Britain’s Anthony Eden. To the Communists’ charge that Russia and China are the sole champions of Asian nationalist aspirations, Eden pointed out that since the war, India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon have all achieved independence from Britain.
“Therefore I resent and reject the suggestion that we ignore or oppose the tide of national feeling in Asia, and I ask: Where is there real national freedom—in Colombo or in Ulan Bator [capital of Outer Mongolia], in Delhi or in Pyongyang?”
Eden spent long hours conferring with Molotov and China’s Chou Enlai, emerged with a suggestion that international supervision of the.armistice should be by the United Nations, but not necessarily including the combatants or any of the Geneva powers: “There could be an agreed panel of countries from which these U.N. countries could be drawn.”
Molotov yielded an inch, agreed that the two-party commission proposed by the Communist Viet Minh could be supervised by a commission of “neutral” nations. (Bidault agreed that this might be workable; the U.S. produced a report from the U.N. commission of neutrals in Korea indicating that it would not.) Molotov also proposed that any armistice could be guaranteed by the nine parties at Geneva “collectively”—thus giving both China and Russia a veto power on any action. But Molotov rejected completely Bidault’s plea for separation of the armistice from a political settlement. Any separation, said Molotov, would amount to a “shrewdly arranged respite for one side.”
Giving Pause. Significantly, the biggest Communist artillery was directed at the U.S.’s “underhand activity to build up a new aggressive bloc” in Southeast Asia—a clear indication that the threat of a Southeast Asian pact was the thing that notably gave them pause. Remembering the months of stalling that went on at Panmunjom, the U.S. and France last week began doing what they could toward building such a pact without waiting for Britain. The State Department began consultations with Burma, Ceylon, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, emphasizing that the U.S. was supporting independence, not colonialism. Faced with Navarre’s admission that “France alone cannot withstand a general offensive” in Indo-China, Premier Laniel summoned U.S. Ambassador C. Douglas Dillon and asked (to Britain’s alarm) just how and under what conditions the U.S. was prepared to take an active hand. Military staff talks began between the U.S., France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines.
A pact had one major advantage, as the Economist pointed out. “In a crisis, public opinion faces the question: Do we or do we not honor our word? It is not necessary for Parliament and people to consider, more or less at pistol point, whether their vital interests are involved or not.”
* Also Indonesia (from The Netherlands), the Philippines (from the U.S.).