HC Deb 15 June 1954 vol 528 cc1736-9

Statement by the Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden, M.P. 10th June, 1954.

The last two days of public discussion have certainly clarified our differences. I fear that they have also deepened them. I say this with infinite regret, but it is our stern duty to face realities. As a result of the progress we have admittedly made on questions of procedure, our work now seems to me to fall into three main chapters. Let us see where we are in each.

We are agreed that the cessation of hostilities should be simultaneous, and we have also accepted that its examination should begin with Vietnam. Representatives of the two commands are now meeting. We are all glad of this. We hope that we may now learn the outcome of their discussions.

Next comes the issue of supervision. We are all agreed that some form of international supervision is necessary. We are not agreed as to how to make it effective and impartial.

Let us first consider the membership of the International Commission. I have stated the proposals of Her Majesty's Government on this. We do not think any the worse of them because they have been ignored by certain delegations. We stand by them. I repeat that I have proposed this group of five Asian Powers because they are truly impartial. I am convinced that a group of four powers, two supporting the views of either side, can only lead to deadlock. My reason for refusing to accept such a proposal is not ideological. It is simply that it wouldn't work.

As to the working of such a commission as we propose, it will clearly be the desire of the impartial powers, if they be chosen, to try to reach agreement among themselves on every issue that comes before them. But if they fail to do so, they must have the right to decide by a majority. There can be no power of veto. May I remind our critics on this point that to insist on unanimity is to declare that you have no confidence in impartiality. The International Commission must therefore be truly impartial, and must have the power to decide by majority. We for our part are firmly convinced that the representation of India and Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia would form a just and impartial commission.

Now what of the relations of this International Commission with the mixed committees representative of the two commands? There is no dispute that the latter could do useful work in Vietnam. On the other hand, it has been admitted that even with the best will in the world the two sides cannot be expected after eight years of war to agree on every point. The warning of the representative of the State of Vietnam about the experiences of 1946 should not be forgotten by the Conference.

No one therefore attempts to deny that there will be differences, and they may well be frequent. How are they to be resolved? This is surely where the International Commission will have its part to play. No doubt it will always seek to reconcile these differences. But it will not always succeed. In the event of failure the International Commission must have the authority to decide. There is no other way.

The Conference has a clear choice, and we should face it. Either we can set up a commission which is as impartial as we can make it, and give it the necessary authority and the power to take its decisions by a majority if need be, each of us trusting in its good faith. Or we can at each phase interpose a veto, as some delegations have proposed. According to them, this veto might first be used in the mixed committees themselves. It could next be used in the International Commission. It might even be used once again if in the last resort a question was referred to representatives of this Conference. This issue of effective and impartial international supervision seems to me to be crucial. I am sorry to have to record that after the debate of the last two days we are in my judgment further apart than ever upon it.

I come now to the third of the main issues which I wish to discuss—the future of Laos and Cambodia. There is no dispute that it is our duty to examine measures to restore peace in Laos and Cambodia, as in Vietnam. There is dispute as to what those measures should be. Reference has been made here to the existence of "resistance armies" in Laos and Cambodia, and to the fact that there are "two belligerent sides" in all three States—Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This does not accord with the information which we have from our representatives on the spot. I think it my duty to give this in all good faith to the conference.

Laos was first invaded by regular Viet Minh forces in April, 1953. These forces came from northern Vietnam. They advanced to within twelve miles of the capital before they were defeated and driven back to the frontier area in North Eastern Laos, where they have since remained. In December, 1953, a further invasion took place. Regular Viet Minh troops advanced from the Vietnam border into central Laos. They were again driven back. But there are still many Viet Minh troops in the border areas of Laos. These are regular battalions belonging to Viet Minh divisions with their headquarters in Vietnam. Some of them have heavy weapons, including artillery and anti-aircraft guns. These regular Viet Minh units cannot be described as resistance movements.

On 17th April, 1953, the Laotian Government formally notified Her Majesty's Government and other friendly governments of the violation of their frontiers by the Viet Minh. On 25th December the Laotian Prime Minister appealed to world opinion against renewed aggression by "regular units of the Viet Minh corps of battle."

Cambodia was invaded in April, 1954. This was on the eve of this Conference, and several weeks after we had agreed in Berlin to meet here to discuss the restoration of peace in Indo-China. Once again the invaders were regular Viet Minh troops who crossed the border from Vietnam. They did not come to fight the French. These foreign invaders have in fact merely terrorised and battened on the people of Cambodia. They hold no centre of any importance. On 23rd April of this year, a formal protest by the Cambodian Government against Viet Minh invasion was delivered to the Secretary General of the United Nations.

The Laotian and Cambodian delegates have already told us the history of the "resistance movements" in their countries. No one denies that there have been such movements in the past. But with unimportant exceptions, the former members of these movements have now rallied to the support of the legitimate governments of Laos and Cambodia. Armed resistance now derives overwhelmingly from the Viet Minh. It is only since this conference was announced that even Communist spokesmen have pretended anything else.

Viet Minh aggression is not the only factor that distinguishes the problems of Laos and Cambodia from those of Vietnam. In race, religion, language and culture, the peoples of these two countries are fundamentally different from those of Vietnam. The Viet Minh invaders not only crossed a political boundary. They crossed the frontier that divides the two great cultures of Asia—the Indian and the Chinese. The Viet Minh delegate attempted to excuse this action by saying that there were Vietnamese minorities in Laos and Cambodia. That is true. But it no more justifies Viet Minh invasion of Laos and Cambodia than it justified Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. It is also true that in recent years the three different peoples of Indo-China were united under French rule. That is no reason why they should now be united against their wishes under the rule of the Viet Minh.

To sum up, I repeat that there are now three chapters to our work. Military talks between representatives of the two commands are proceeding. As I have said, we await a report upon these. In respect however to the arrangements for supervision, and the future of Laos and Cambodia, the divergences are at present wide and deep. Unless we can narrow them now without further delay, we shall have failed in our task. We have exhausted every expedient of procedure which we could devise to assist us in our work. We all know now what the differences are. We have no choice but to resolve them or to admit our failure. For our part, the United Kingdom Delegation is still willing to attempt to resolve them, here or in restricted session, or by any other method which our colleagues may prefer. But if the positions remain as they are today, then it is our clear duty to say so to the world, and to admit that we have failed.

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