Sound 1, Fix 1, take two. (CLAPSTICKS).
The MIA issue was one of those horrible, ugly, emotional, difficult residues of war. Ah, there were 2,500 of the Americans who died in Vietnam who remained unaccounted for at the end of the war. Now that's four percent of the Americans who died in Vietnam. Compared to the twenty-two percent of Americans who died in Korea
, and twenty-two percent of the Americans who died in World War II, whose bodies were never recovered—that's a remarkable percentage, and a tribute to the determination and skill of the United States Military in recovering the bodies of their dead.
However, pilots went down in the North, and other people were lost in the South whose bodies were never recovered. The assumption is that most of these people died—all of these people probably died. But, the League of MIA Families had a powerful, emotional issue which grabbed the souls of many Americans beyond the immediate families. President Ford and Doctor Kissinger had vetoed Vietnam's entry into the United Nations in 1975 and '76, based on this issue.
That linkage which was not in accordance with the UN charter, in any case, was bound to fail. The United States was eventually going to lose the vote in the UN for Vietnamese admission. We decided to pursue the MIA issue vigorously, but detach it from the United Nations' issue, and to give the Vietnamese an opportunity to talk to us constructively about stability in the region and about US-Vietnamese relations.
Now, I want to stress that the discussions with the Vietnamese that began in Paris
in May of 1977
were discussions which were part of an overall framework that we had for a new post-Vietnam era in Asia
. An era in which the United States was definitely going to remain a major power in Asia
and the Pacific. But in which our presence would not solely be headlined and highlighted by a military involvement on the landmass of Asia
We had inherited in 1977
a atmosphere of considerable chaos and drift in Asia
. There was widespread doubt from Japan and Korea
all the way down through Southeast Asia
and the Archipelago about American intentions in the area.
Nixon and Ford had begun a historic relationship with the Chinese, but Southeast Asia
felt abandoned in the aftermath of Vietnam; Japan and Korea didn't know what was going on; there were questions about the future of the American bases in the Philippines
; and even the Australians and the New Zealanders were very worried.
We set out to reverse that trend by first reasserting America's involvement in the area; secondly, trying to integrate our China policy with Japan and Southeast Asia
; third, asserting the importance—the primary importance—of Japan
to the United States in the region. Fourth, dealing with the Philippine
base problem, which took us two years, but we did negotiate a basis on which the United States will remain in those installations for the next decade or more—very important agreement; and moving towards full normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China; and also moving towards normalization of relations with Vietnam.
Now, of those items I mentioned, and there were some others like Micronesia in which we also made major progress on, of those items I mentioned, we achieved during Carter's four years as President all the original objectives of the United States except normalization of relations with Vietnam. The reason for that is critical and I want to stress that.
The Vietnamese took a position in 1977—an idiotic position, in my view, a self-defeating position which the American public understandably and instantaneously rejected that the United States had to pay up the money promised to the Vietnamese by Nixon in a letter he had sent them on February 1st, 1973, for 4 and 3/4 billion dollars of credits and grants.
Now, that letter was secret at the time. Nixon has subsequently disavowed it in effect by saying that it was linked to actions of the Vietnamese which never took place. And in any case, there was no—no possible ah ah ah no possibility that the American public, the Congress were going to give money to the Vietnamese. It just was not in the cards.
When the Vietnamese took that position in 1977
, and the talks that I undertook with them in three rounds in Paris
, I think that they doomed their chances. At the same time, the five Southeast Asian
nations which form ASEAN—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—Indonesia
, and Malaysia
—those five nations had invited Vietnam to join ASEAN. The "empty seat for Vietnam" as it was called. The Vietnamese did not join, either.
So you can look back today on the period '77 and '78
, up to about the summer of '78
, as the chance for Vietnam to become a peaceful participant in Southeast Asia
. Hanoi turned away.
The reason they turned away, in my view, had a great deal to do with their own political battle in Hanoi over whether they should lean towards Moscow, to strengthen themselves against their growing hostility with China, or whether they should move towards the Southeast Asian
nations and become a member of the community.
The Moscow faction of the Communist Party in Hanoi
won the battle. The pro-Chinese and the pro-American factions lost out completely. Inevitably, perhaps.
Ok. Change [inaudible]...And rolling...Camera role 2. Clapsticks.
The Vietnamese really blew an extraordinary opportunity in '77-78
to be a peaceful participant in Southeast Asia
to have diplomatic relations with the United States. They chose instead, perhaps inevitably, to lean towards Moscow in a definitive manner. They were frightened of the Chinese.
Meanwhile, the United States had been negotiating secretly with China for normalization of our relations with China. As it turned out, we completed the process with China while the process with Vietnam collapsed. I think that there isn't—that it's very important to understand the reasons why the US and Vietnam did not proceed.
They were two-fold, and in my view, the blame lies in Hanoi—fully in Hanoi. In 1977, it was the Vietnamese demand for aid and credits as promised by Nixon, which no Americans—in Congress or the American public—was going to support.
And in 1978, it was their growing evidence of their brutality to their own people evidenced above all in the famous "Boat People Exodus" in which tens of thousands of people were induced or pushed out into the seas, often in very rickety and unseaworthy boats, trying to find sanctuary elsewhere.
So there was no way the United States could move forward with Hanoi. Today I think the die is cast. Vietnam has set itself up as Moscow's only real friend in East Asia
, as a counterweight to its giant neighbor to the North.
The United States has decisively cast its lot in the direction of close relations with China. I think Hanoi made a phenomenal mistake during this period, and I—but I also believe that it's going to—it's very, very unlikely that the trend that developed in those decisive months at the end of '78 and the beginning of '79 will now be reversed.