U. Alexis Johnson's Address Made Before the Economic Club of Detroit, "The United States and Southeast Asia," April 8, 1963

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 817-818

U. Alexis Johnson's Address Made Before the Economic Club of Detroit, "The United States and Southeast Asia," April 8, 1963, Department of State Bulletin, April 29, 1963, p. 636:

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"What is the attraction that Southeast Asia has exerted for centuries on the great powers flanking it on all sides? Why it is desirable, and why is it important? First, it provides a lush climate, fertile soil, rich natural resources, a relatively sparse population in most areas, and room to expand. The countries of Southeast Asia produce rich exportable surpluses such as rice, rubber, teak, corn, tin, spices, oil, and many others. It is especially attractive to Communist China, with its burgeoning population and its food shortages.

"Militarily and strategically, Southeast Asia has great assets. It stands astride of east-west trade routes. It stands in a critical, strategic relationship not only to China and India but to Australia, the western Pacific, and Japan. Bearing in mind the implications of the recent Chinese attack on India, Southeast Asia takes on an additional significance, since its domination by the Communist powers would outflank the Asian subcontinent.

"Although still thinly populated for the most part, the human resources of this area are considerable and growing. Taken together, the peoples of Southeast Asia represent an important segment of the free world and a target of prime importance to Communist imperialism.

"There is a rhythm to the tides of history. Just as the pressures on Southeast Asia have in the past come alternately from China in the north, India in the west, and the maritime powers along the sea, so Southeast Asia is again threatened by a resurgence of pressure from the north. But today the danger from this quarter is multiplied a hundredfold by the virulence of the political doctrine which now rides on the backs of the Chinese people.

"As my colleague Under Secretary Averell Harriman said recently, 'I don't know how you can distinguish between Chinese communism and Chinese imperialism. Chinese communism and all communism is imperialist.'

"Even before World War II, Communist parties of varying strengths existed in all Southeast Asian countries, from Burma to the Philippines. After the war the signal was given for armed Communist-led uprisings, and these occurred in Burma, Indonesia, Malaya, Indochina, and the Philippines. Even Thailand, the one country in Southeast Asia that had not known colonial rule, was threatened. By 1952 the revolts were crushed in all but Malaya and Indochina. It took the British and the new Malay Federation until 1958 to quell Communist guerrilla forces there. This struggle, incidentally, provided valuable lessons which are now being applied in Viet-Nam. We also might note that, except for Japan, Malaya is now the most prosperous country in Asia.

"The efforts of some powers following World War II to restore colonial rule along the pre-war pattern permitted the Communists more effectively to wave the banner of anticolonialism and, for example, through Ho Chi Minh, at that time largely to capture the nationalist movement in Viet-Nam.

"After the Geneva Agreements of 1954 on Indochina we took the lead in the establishment of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, an alliance of the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Great Britain, and ourselves, with the objective of providing security to Southeast Asia through collective military action if the Communists embarked on outright military aggression. The opening of the eighth meeting of ministers of this organization was attended by Secretary Rusk this morning in Paris.

"Whatever may be the criticisms of SEATO, the fact remains that, since its inception, the Communists have not attempted open military action in the area. Instead they have turned to the more subtle tactics of subversion and insurgency, the prime example being the guerrilla warfare in Viet-Nam carried on in the method made classic in China by Mao Tse-tung. Whereas the method employed by the Communists has changed, the objective remains the same-destruction of the independence of the Southeast Asian countries one by one and return to the days when they bore their tribute to Peiping. While the armed struggle is manifest now only in Viet-Nam, it ceased in Laos through the settlement reached just last year at Geneva, after 14 months of negotiation.

Implications of Struggle in Viet-Nam

"I have pointed out that Southeast Asia is not a homogeneous region but rather a geographic expression. By this same token of geographic interrelation, the security of the area is not stronger than that of its component countries. All of us who were at Geneva in 1954 recognized that Communist domination of the Red River Delta of North Viet-Nam would make it much more difficult to defend the remaining areas. This has been true. However, for the Communists to advance any further in the area would render the defense problem very much more difficult, if not well-nigh impossible. This is why the valiant struggle now being waged in South Viet-Nam has implications far beyond the borders of that troubled country.

"Our massive assistance to free Viet-Nam is designed to avoid just such a catastrophe."

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