Churchill, Eden and Indo-China, 1951-1955

Churchill, Eden and Indo-China, 1951-1955

by N?ng V?n D?n


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‘Churchill, Eden and Indo-China, 1951-1955’ offers a systematic approach to pertinent international politics, providing a historiography and assessing the impact of events such as the Cold War and the Second World War within the context of the governments of Churchill and Eden. Revisiting Churchill's wartime helmsmanship in order to shed further light on his post-war administration, Nông Dân provides a greater historical awareness of the broad international context of decolonized Indo-China and South East Asia.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780857284174
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 10/01/2011
Series: Anthem Southeast Asian Studies , #1
Pages: 390
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Nông Văn Dân is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Economics and Development Studies, National Economics University (Hanoi). He holds an MA and a PhD from Cambridge University.

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Churchill, Eden and Indo-China, 1951â"1955

By Nông Van Dân

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Nông Van Dân
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84331-877-4



The world is the British people's stage; we have to span it and to focus it.

–Anthony Eden, Places in the sun, 1926.

What I did NOT want to do was to have anything connected with the war in Asia! I would much sooner drift further West than to Eastwards again.

– Diary entry for 14 September 1943 by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall upon being appointed chief of staff to the supreme commander, South East Asia Command.

Sir Winston S. Churchill wrote no memoirs on his post-war administration (1951–5) and as regards UK diplomatic contribution to a peaceful end to the warfare in Indo-China in 1954, the role of Prime Minister Churchill has tended to be historiographically more obscure than that of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. Churchill's enthusiasm for détente during his post-war prime ministership has been considered to date from the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953 and be confined mainly to Europe. The preceding Labour government had recognized the Communist regime in China, but little attention has been paid to the Asiatic dimension of Churchill's détente policy and his overall world view in that connection.

British policy towards Indo-China is addressed in this study in relation to its global connections enunciated by Churchill, while out of office, as the 'three circles', according to which the United Kingdom was geopolitically seen as bridging North America and the European continent as well as having ties with commonwealth and imperial positions. To appreciate British policy in South East Asia as it was made by the post-war Churchill administration, the first postwar Labour period as well as Churchill's wartime ministry are to be taken into account.

The wartime impact on policy-making sometimes confirmed an established trait or redressed the balance. Both dimensions could exist in parallel in not only the policy-making process as a whole but also in the mind of individual policy-makers. The specific contexts in this book will indicate where cultural perceptions helped to influence policy-making and where policy preferences helped to influence cultural depictions or where the dynamics was somewhere in between.

South East Asia as a geopolitical entity was academically depicted during the Second World War in the two-dimension Indian-Chinese terms. In the same vein both India and China were at times seen in the immediate post-war years as being in the same international league together with Japan while other peoples in this part of the world were noted as the 'Lesser Countries of Asia'.

The land mass between the Indian and Chinese subcontinents was sometimes called the Indo-China peninsula. 'French Indo-China' was the part of the 'Indo-China peninsula' under French rule yet by the same token Burma had also once been known as 'British Indo-China' to the French. The name 'Indo-China' that went mainly with the French possession seemed to help to promote it towards the centre of attention of the two-dimension Indian-Chinese geo-cultural perspective on South East Asia.

What were referred to as the 'lands east of Suez'– including French Indo-China – had received considerable attention in the informed public in the USA shortly before and after the Japanese launched what they called the 'Greater East Asia War'. Did the two-dimension Indian-Chinese analytical approach to South East Asia have any impact on Anglo-American attitudes towards Indo-China? Did the American wartime efforts to build up Nationalist China as a great power and the British post-war empire-to-commonwealth approach to independent and subsequently republican India have any bearing upon Anglo-American co-ordination of regional policies? The Indian factor taken up in the following chapters will help to highlight the non-Western area in the cultural spectrum of British post-war power by proxy.

East of Suez: Indian Ocean versus the Pacific

Churchill referred to the Great War from the vantage point of the Second World War that 'we were not then, and are not now, fighting for territorial gains'. Nevertheless, by being drawn into the vacuums of power created by the collapse of other colonial powers, the British Empire secured additional footholds in Africa and the Middle East in the aftermath of the Great War. These new responsibilities as well as the expansion on the other side of the globe of the Japanese seem to have helped to set in train since the late 1920s a momentum for the reduction or revision of British commitments in the Far East.

Shanghai had been seen as part of east of Suez as much as 'Southeast Asia'. The British gradual retreat from China and entrenchment in Singapore between the two world wars is viewed in this study as the beginning, in both space and time, of the long curve of withdrawal from east of Suez. Any such momentum seems to have been not only halted but also reversed by Japan's resort to open hostilities and subsequent defeat.

It was generally held that no post-war administrations had contemplated major reduction of commitments east of Suez, except for the Canal Base itself in 1954 in view of the Russian attainment of thermo-nuclear capability the year before. It was also held that the decision to withdraw from east of Suez in the late 1960s was the result of about only two years of debate. This book refers to the discussion of retrenchment east of Suez during the post-war Churchill administration. Spotting the signposts of such a debate will be facilitated by the recognition of the containment line in Indo-China as one of the real limits of British post-war commitment in South East Asia.

The virtual equation by Philip Darby of the Indian Ocean with east of Suez reflected the central position of British India in the imperial outlook, making Malaya, Singapore, Australia, etc. almost appear as sections of the rim of this ocean or outposts of the British Raj. By the early 1960s Asia' was indeed meant to include also the 'Australasian members of the Commonwealth' from the foreign office (FO) point of view. Yet by focusing further towards the Pacific, Sir Robert Scott pointed out in 1968 (a few years after his retirement from the position of permanent secretary of the ministry of defence) an 'Indo-Pacific' perspective on British strategic and economic values in that part of the globe. In any event, his depiction of 'South East Asia' as being situated 'between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, between Australasia and Asia' was authoritative. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia-covered by the FO South East Asia Department until 1964-were included together with Brunei and Australia and New Zealand in the South West Pacific Department upon the merger of the foreign and commonwealth offices in 1968.

While the Indian Ocean was the traditional British centre of gravity east of Suez, Pacific shifts of paradigm were not necessarily to be overlooked. The impact of the swings between the Indian and Pacific Oceans on attitudes towards Indo-China, South East Asia and east of Suez is one of the distinct subjects taken up throughout this book.


A school of thought gave the event-centred decisions the most important edge in influencing British and American foreign policy. Such an emphasis had as its counterpart the debatable assumption that decisions were made mainly by ministers rather than officials. Another related moot point was, therefore, whether the structure of decision-making or policy-making was pyramidal, corresponding to the hierarchical bureaucracy.

The bureaucratic process of British policies overseas has captured considerable attention. The interest in decision-making dates back to the search for those ultimately responsible for the outbreak of the First and Second World War. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of the three moot points above also suggests that ambiguities not only revolve around the particulars of bureaucratic systems but also exist at the conceptual level, that is the meaning of foreign policy. In this latter respect, this study seeks to emphasize that what mattered was not only by whom and for what but also towards whom the policy was made.

The object of British policy in this book is Indo-China. British policy towards a foreign nation or colony is seen in this work as the mainstream attitude in the government of the day, embodying, inter alia, the points of view-including raisons d'être, axioms and perceptions–which may or may not have been referred to in any specific plan or decision but exerted considerable influence on the relevant authorities in Whitehall as well as the FO. Relevant decision-making and planning are viewed in this study, therefore, as forming only part of policy-making. The significance of any single idea, ruling and blueprint, etc. to policy-making is to be appreciated by the extent of its impact on the existing policy or its role in creating an entirely new or distinct one.

The pyramidal depiction symbolises the more or less routine administrative procedure or hierarchical order rather than the contentual process of policy formulation. The 'funnel of causality' model, for its part, emphasizes the interaction and feedback of messages from different sources within and without the government and centres on the contentual legacy through accumulation and selection. While both examples are relevant, neither alone can be used to represent British policy-making regarding Indo-China. The following chapters indicate that in coping with the military threat during the Second World War it was the prime minister but in dealing with the Cold War threat and decolonization it was the foreign secretary who often had the last words on crucial matters directly regarding this former French colony. At the same time some of the plans and arguments or opinions prepared and suggested at the lower bureaucratic echelons might become eventual government commitments.

All the same, Indo-China could be greatly influenced by policy-making not in the first place directly concerned with that area. For example, the successive evocations of different axioms and perceptions, well-established at various quarters, could make an idea not originally aimed at Indo-China have a bearing on it in the end.

An FO department was charged in the 1960s with 'contacts with unofficial opinion on international problems'. Nevertheless, all the first three post-war administrations, as Lord Strang, a former permanent head of the FO, observed, could 'within wide limits' persevere with an external policy that faced 'substantial opposition in the country'. This study gives priority, therefore, to the views of the Prime Minister (PM) and foreign secretary and other relevant foreign policy-makers in Whitehall as well as the FO, but the opinions of others, including popular or academic perspectives, are also woven in where seemingly pertinent.

What follows in the remainder of this chapter is a set of introductory sketches of the bureaucratic and international outlooks of the top policymakers which may have helped to facilitate their participation in shaping British foreign policy in general and attitudes towards South East Asia and Indo-China in particular. The views of Churchill and Eden are underlined in terms of priority. The relevant positions of less senior policy-makers will be taken up in the more detailed contexts of the following chapters.

Churchill's domestic and international prestige helped the Conservatives to win the election of 1951 and he became the oldest serving head of government in Europe, two years senior than Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany. Churchill's mental vigour during the peacetime premiership was expressed in his continued production (with assistants) of the histories of the Second World War which earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. Churchill and his ministers considered the idea of his becoming lord president or paymaster general or simply an 'Elder Statesman' outside the cabinet once he had stepped down from the prime ministership. More than a year after Churchill's retirement, Eden, who had become his successor, contemplated offering him a cabinet portfolio.

At the same time, the foreign secretary was less pro-American than Churchill. Eden referred at the early stage of the wartime Anglo-American alliance to what he saw as Britain's apprehension about US 'imperialism'. Eden was president of the Asiatic society while he was a student at Oxford University. He earned a first in Persian and Arabic and in due course dubbed the Orient as his first 'love'. Eden also had more first-hand experience with the east beyond India than Churchill. Eden toured 'places in the sun', including Australasia, at the beginning of his political career. He attached importance to a post-war tour of empire, including Malaya where the Labour 'Emergency' to cope with the Communist rebellion was in progress. Unlike Eden, Churchill did not have time for Oriental languages. Churchill fought in the Middle East-India area but had never been further east than the Indian subcontinent itself.

Churchill and Eden worked together twice as prime minister and foreign secretary. By his second marriage Eden also became nephew in law of Churchill. Their working relationship highlighted the Labour interval as a period of aberration. While Labour Foreign Secretary Bevin tended to 'take the lead over Attlee', his prime minister, the co-operative rapport between Eden and Churchill pointed in the opposite direction. 39Nevertheless, Churchill's private secretary observed that the PM 'seldom overrode' once persuasion had failed.

Due to health reasons, the FO had three political heads in 1953, i. e., Eden, Churchill (from the second week of April to the third week of June) and the Marquess of Salisbury (from the end of June to early October). Salisbury observed that 'the PM is much tougher than Anthony'. Salisbury himself was the cabinet minister whom Churchill had rejected as a possible successor of Eden as foreign secretary in a reshuffle during the Second World War, on the grounds that 'when he [Salisbury] wasn't ill he would be obstinate'. Churchill and the chiefs of staff (COS) tended to see the foreign secretary as a diplomatist rather than a military strategist. Eden appeared to be unhappy with such an assumption. Churchill did not mean to have R. A. Butler handling the Treasury single-handedly, attaching others to assist him. The most challenging interventions are known to have come from Paymaster General Lord Cherwell–Professor F. A. Lindemann, Churchill's wartime scientific adviser-added in November 1951 to the ministerial advisory committee overseeing the Treasury.

Churchill made a critical claim that FO memoranda tended to be ambiguous. The widely-held post-war assumption that Eden was the political heir of Churchill strengthened the former's difficulty in such a regard. As his private secretary observed, 'A. E. can see a little ahead; the trouble is that he is too keen on popularity to push far-seeing measures through'. Eden's second in command at the FO was Minister of State Selwyn Lloyd who had never made any visits abroad except those with wartime service responsibility. The views of the Marquess of Reading, who was promoted to become the second minister of state in November 1953 and given several Far Eastern assignments in 1954, are said to have carried less weight with Eden.

The administrative balance in the FO between junior ministers and the officialdom was less than definitive in the first post-war decade. As of October 1954, for example, the permanent under-secretary took precedence after the ministers of state but before the parliamentary under-secretaries. The permanent under-secretary of state for foreign affairs (PUS) from 1949 to 1953, serving the first three post-war foreign secretaries, was Sir William Strang, a European expert. He was considerably interested in the Far East, taking the initiative to tour the 'sea-girt periphery' from Norway to Japan, upon assumption of the office in question. However, Lord Strang admitted in his memoirs published on his retirement the failure to include Australasia in this trip on the ground of lacking time. According to a former Head of the Permanent Under-Secretary's Department, Strang was less 'original' than his successor, Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick. In his memoirs published in 1959, Kirkpatrick, also a Europeanist, was less outspoken than Strang about any preoccupation with east of Suez. 'I fell back on an old Foreign Office joke', claimed Kirkpatrick in the introduction to his memoirs, that 'once a man was launched on the Inner Circle (London, Paris, Berlin, Rome) it was impossible to leave the track'. 52In any event, east of Suez seems to have received much attention in Whitehall in general in the aftermath of the Second World War. Sir Edward Bridges, permanent secretary of the Treasury and head of the civil service during the first post-war decade, once had to remind the chancellor of the exchequer of the necessity of showing attention to the Antipodean Dominions.


Excerpted from Churchill, Eden and Indo-China, 1951â"1955 by Nông Van Dân. Copyright © 2011 Nông Van Dân. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents

Maps; Preface; Chapter 1: Introduction; Chapter 2; The War Against Japan Had the South East Asia Department Emerge in the Foreign Office; Chapter 3: The East of Suez Review: Détente for South East Asia?; Chapter 4: The British Path Towards Negotiations on Indo-China; Chapter 5: The British Path Towards the Partition of Vietnam; Chapter 6: The Annamitic or Vietnamized Divide and Barrier of the 'Smaller Dragon'; Chapter 7: Conclusion

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