Section 7. Situation in Indochina Peninsula
1. Military situation
The Communist side, with North Vietnamese regulars as the main force, launched a big offensive on March 30, 1972, across the demilitarized zone at the 17th parallel. The Communist offensive had the following military features:
(i) North Vietnam mobilized the greater part of its combat units. (ii) It was a modern war offensive which mobilized tanks and heavy and medium artillery in great quantities. (iii) The Communist offensive extended over not only the northern part of the Republic of Vietnam but over almost all of the south centering around the borders of Laos, Cambodia and the Republic of Vietnam (Kontum and Pleiku in the Central Highlands) and the Cambodian-South Vietnam border (around An Loc, some 100 kilometers north of Saigon).
This Communist offensive of the conventional type continued until around early June. During the offensive, the provincial capital of Quang Tri was occupied by the Communist side on May 1. (South Vietnamese forces mounted a counteroffensive on May 29 and recaptured Quang Tri on September 16.) South Vietnam forces continued to hold Konturn and An Loc although it was feared more than once that they would fall to the Communist side.
The Communist offensive gradually changed into guerrilla warfare after mid-June. On the other hand, U.S. forces resumed the bombing of North Vietnam on April 6, 1972, and intensified the bombing of North Vietnam on May 8 and blockaded seven North Vietnamese ports with mines. The U.S. Secretary of Defense made it clear in his statement on October 27 that the bombing of North Vietnam had been limited to areas south of the 20th parallel. On December 8, U.S. forces resumed bombing of all of North Vietnam by aircraft including B52s. The bombing was de-escalated again on December 29 to limit it to areas south of the 20th parallel and it was ultimately suspended on January 15, 1973.
Under the cease-fire agreement, the foreign military forces in the Republic of Vietnam began to withdraw and the Republic of Korea forces completed their withdrawal on March 23, 1973, while the U.S. forces completed their withdrawal on March 29, 1973.
In Laos, the Communist side launched an offensive in the Plain of Jarres (on December 17, 1971), about two months earlier than usual, and the Plain of Jarres and the Bolovens Highlands had been brought under Communist control by early in January 1972. The Communist side did not withdraw from the Plain of Jarres and the Bolovens 'Highlands even after the start of the rainy season in 1972 and continued to occupy these areas. However, battles were fought on a small scale, and there was no major change in the war situation.
The Laos cease-fire agreement was signed on February 21, 1973, about one month after the conclusion of the Vietnam cease-fire agreement. Although battles continued on a small scale immediately after the conclusion of the cease-fire agreement, they gradually subsided and it seems that a de facto cease-fire has been realized in Laos.
The Communist side made sporadic attacks, including one on Route 1 (on April 8, 1972) which cut off the highway, a suicide attack on the southern end of Phnom Penh (on May 6), rocket attacks on the private residence of the President and the Defense Ministry (on June 5), rocket attacks on Phnom Penh Airport and Phnom Penh Station (on June 8), a suicide attack on the northern part of Phnom Penh and the destruction of the so-called Japanese Bridge (on October 6), and an artillery attack on Pochentong Airport (on November 29).
After mid-February 1973, the Communist side attacked Route 1 and later Routes 2, 3 and 4 and increased its military pressure on the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The Communist military pressure assumed an extraordinary aspect compared with the conventional pattern of Communist offensives in the preceding years, and this, together with the unstable political situation under the rule of the Lon Nol Government, require that future developments be closely followed.
2. Paris Agreement
(1) Conclusion of Paris Agreement
After a series of developments such as President Nixon's statement (on May 8, 1972) on the blockade of North Vietnam with mines, the PRG's new peace proposal (on September 11), and the disclosure of a draft U.S.-North Vietnam peace agreement by the North Vietnamese Government (on October 26), the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam finally reached a peace agreement on January 23, 1973. Altogether, 202 official talks and 24 secret talks were held from the start of the Paris peace talks in May 1968 until the agreement was reached.
The complete texts of the Agreement Concerning Termination of the War in Vietnam and 'Restoration of Peace (generally called the Paris Agreement) and of the protocol to the agreement were announced (on January 25, 1973). The agreement was officially signed (on January 27) and the cease-fire under the agreement went into force (at 2400 hours GMT on January 27, 1973).
(2) Features of the Paris Agreement
Reflecting the difficulty in adjusting the differences in principles among the parties concerned, the Paris Agreement contained the following problems: (i) it did not clearly mention the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces; (ii) it did not impose restrictions on military aid to North Vietnam; (iii) areas under the control of the forces at war and the deployment of troops, which should normally be decided promptly in accordance with a cease-fire, were not clearly defined in the agreement; (iv) the settlement of this and other problems that concerned the political future of the Republic of Vietnam was entrusted to consultations between the two parties concerned, being completely separated from problems concerned with the United States and its allied forces; (v) the cease-fire supervision machinery was imperfect.
However, it was considered more stable than the Geneva Agreement because of the following reasons: (i) the cease-fire supervision machinery was considerably stronger than that under the Geneva Agreement; (ii) it provided for procedures concerning decisions on the political future of the Republic of Vietnam and created a consultative body between both parties concerned; (iii) it specifically mentioned a guarantee of democratic freedom for the future of the Republic of Vietnam; (iv) it is believed that, behind the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, there was a concensus between the United States .and the People's Republic of China and also between the United States and the Soviet Union to localize the conflict in Vietnam; (v) power relations between North and South Vietnam were balanced.
(3) Enforcement of the Paris Agreement
The Paris international conference on Vietnam was held as scheduled (from February 26 to March 2). The arrangement on the withdrawal of foreign troops (the withdrawal of Republic of Korea troops was completed on March 23, 1973 and that of U.S. troops was completed on March 29) and the release of U.S. prisoners of war (their release was completed on March 29, 1973) proceeded as scheduled, and the four-party Joint Military Commission was dissolved (on March 29).
After the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the two-party Joint Military Commission (agreement on its creation was reached on March 15, 1973, and its first meeting was held on March 29) was established and talks between the two parties of South Vietnam were held (the first meeting was held on March 19) as a matter of form. But cease-fire violations continued in the Republic of Vietnam with the advance of North Vietnamese troops into the South (President Nixon warned against this on March 15). Talks on the political future of the Republic of Vietnam made no substantial progress.
3. Developments in Indochina countries
(1) Republic of Vietnam
The great Communist offensive, which came at a time when the widely prevailing mood among the people of the Republic of Vietnam was to accept the status quo, produced the effect of checking criticism against the Thieu Government. Moreover, the Thieu Government seemed to have increased its confidence to tide over the situation partly because the war situation turned favorable for the Republic and the bill to amend the law that invests him with all powers was approved (on June 28, 1972). Against this background, the Thieu Government succeeded in having North Vietnam and the United States re-negotiate their draft agreement reached in October 1972 and in obtaining a U.S. promise for its continued support after the cease-fire.
The Thieu Government endeavored to strengthen its foundation in preparation for a political struggle after the cease-fire by promulgating the Political Party Control Law (on December 27, 1972). (The Democratic Party was inaugurated on March 29, 1973, with President Thieu as its president.) There were no remarkable moves by the so-called third forces concerning consultations on national reconciliation scheduled under the Paris Agreement.
The Son Ngoc Thanh Cabinet tried to create various republican institutions, and a national referendum of the draft Constitution was held on April 30, 1972 (in which 97 per cent of the votes cast approved the draft). President Lon Nol was re-elected in the Presidential election on June 4, and the Social Republican Party-the Government party-monopolized all seats in the National Assembly election on September 3, 1972. However, the number of votes obtained by President Lon Nol (54.9 per cent) was much smaller than had been expected, and the Democratic Party (affiliated with the In Tam faction) and the Republican Party (affiliated with the Sirik Matak faction) did not take part in the National Assembly election, saying there were some dubious points in the Election Law. This left some problems. The Hang Thun Hak Cabinet (formed on October 15, 1972) assumed a comparatively optimistic attitude toward the peace problem, although it was faced with serious economic problems and a military situation which remained unfavorable.
On the occasion of the conclusion of the Paris Agreement (on January 29, 1973), the Government forces ceased its attacks against Communist positions. However, there emerged no possibility of talking peace, and there was social unrest, including demands by some soldiers for payment of salaries, teachers' strikes and blackouts for a long period of time. Amid this situation, President Lon Nol's official residence was bombed by a plane (on March 17, 1973), and he declared a state of emergency (on March 21, 1973).
There were no concrete peace talks after the Pathet Lao side made a five-point proposal (on March 6, 1970) and the two sides only maintained contacts through an exchange of letters. However, in accordance with progress in the Vietnam peace talks, the two sides held their first talks in Vientiane on October 17, 1972. Since the Laos problem had been closely related to the Vietnam peace talks, the Laos peace talks made rapid progress in February 1973 after the conclusion of the Paris Agreement and the Laos Peace Agreement was concluded on February 21, 1973. (The cease-fire went into force at noon on February 22, 1973.)
The points that should be noted, in addition to conspicuous concessions made by the Government side, were that (i) the agreement was worked out between the parties concerned in Laos on the basis of the present Constitutional setup and (ii) both agreed to include more realistic and concrete provisions for a political settlement compared with the Paris Agreement. However, the enforcement of the agreement was delayed considerably and no agreement was reached within the time limit on the formation of a provisional national coalition government, which should have been established by March 23, 1973.
(4) Democratic Republic of Vietnam
After the start of the 1972 spring offensive, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam tried to boost the nation's fighting spirit by issuing a Government statement (on April 11, 1972) which said "The people of Vietnam have the right and duty to fight American aggressors anywhere in Vietnam." As the United States and the Republic of Vietnam mounted a counteroffensive, it tried to appeal to world public opinion, saying "U.S. planes caused serious damage to dikes, dams and industrial facilities" (quoted from a Foreign Ministry statement on June 10, 1972), and placed the whole country on a war footing by issuing a Government proclamation (on June 11, 1972). In this situation, North Vietnam apparently realized the difficulty in liberalizing the South by force and the limits of Chinese and Soviet aid to North Vietnam as a result of the progress in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and also between the United States and China (Nhan Dan, the party organ, dated August 17, indirectly criticized the China and the Soviet Union in an editorial, using the phrase "as if to give a lifebuoy to a drowning robber"). It is believed that this realization was a major factor contributing to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement.
After the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, full-scale efforts were made for postwar reconstruction of the transport network, housing and industrial facilities. Although it seemed to take much time to remove the mines, it became possible for ships of the 3,000-ton class to enter Haiphong in the middle of March 1973. In the diplomatic field, the number of countries that recognized the Democratic Republic, including Canada, Australia and the Benelux countries, increased after the conclusion of the Paris Agreement.
4. Moves of the United States, China and the Soviet Union over the Indochina Peninsula
(1) United States
The year 1972 was one in which the United States carried out dramatic moves in its Nixon-Kissinger diplomacy over the Vietnam problem to shift from "confrontation to dialogue," while maintaining a position of strength. The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam progressed smoothly under the eighth, ninth and tenth plans. It can be said that the gravity of the Vietnam problem in domestic politics in the United States relatively diminished. In this situation, the United States took such strong measures as the resumption of bombing of North Vietnam (on April 6, 1972), the blockade of North Vietnam with mines (on May 8), and also the resumption of bombing of all of North Vietnam (on December 18). On the other hand, it tried to create a consensus among the United States, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China to localize the Vietnam war through President Nixon's visit to China (in February 1972) and to the Soviet Union (in May 1972). This led to dramatic progress in the Vietnam peace talks. It can be said that the conclusion of the Paris Agreement (January 27, 1972) fulfilled President Nixon's three-point pledge made in his speech to accept the nomination as Republican candidate in the presidential election (on August 23, 1972), which said his Administration would not forsake the U.S. prisoners of war, would not allow any attempt to force a Communist regime on the Republic of Vietnam, and would not impair the prestige of the United States.
After the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, the United States made efforts for the political stabilization and economic reconstruction of the Indochina countries, and continued to watch the situation under the cease-fire by maintaining a certain level of naval and air forces at its bases in Thailand and in the adjacent sea. It seems that the establishment of the United States' new relations with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, including Presidential Assistant Kissinger's visit to Hanoi (from February 10 to 13, 1973) and the establishment of the U.S.-North Vietnam Joint Economic Committee (which met for the first time on March 15), were aimed at reducing the influence of China and the Soviet Union in North Vietnam and facilitating the implementation of the Paris Agreement, thereby causing North Vietnam to turn its interest to peaceful domestic reconstruction.
(2) Soviet Union
In concert with moves of the United States for Vietnamization, there emerged on the Socialist side a tendency to try to localize the Vietnam problem. The realization of President Nixon's visit to the Soviet Union as scheduled at a time when the United States was blockading North Vietnam with mines and intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam plainly showed this trend. North Vietnam's reaction to the Nixon visit was reflected in its rather cool reception on the occasion of President Nikolai Podgorny's visit to the Democratic Republic (from June 15 to 18, 1972). It can be said, however, that the Soviet Union tried to dispel North Vietnam's distrust of the Soviet Union by providing it with new types of weapons in view of the fact that a considerable number of U.S. B52s were shot down during the bombing of North Vietnam in December 1972.
After the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, the Soviet Union stressed (in an editorial of Pravda, dated January 27, 1973) the contributions made by Soviet aid to North Vietnam toward the termination of the war and intensified its efforts to promote the so-called Brezhnev plan on collective Asian security for the stated purpose of securing lasting peace in Asia by taking advantage of the Vietnam cease-fire.
(3) People's Republic of China
China endeavored to help the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from the standpoint that "the Vietnam problem needs settlement more urgently than China's own Taiwan problem" (Premier Chou En-lai's statement in an interview with a New York Times reporter on November 19, 1971). But it was very modest in making reference to the contributions of its aid to North Vietnam compared with the Soviet Union (which was made during a meeting between Chairman Mao and Le Due Tho, a North Vietnamese advisor, on February 1, 1973). However it cannot be overlooked that China's influence over North Vietnam relatively increased as a result of the latter's difficulty in obtaining Soviet aid during the blockade of North Vietnam with U.S. mines and also because of the changed international situation, in which the Sino-American rapprochement took place, an important factor in bringing about the Vietnam cease-fire.
It seems that China's modest attitude stemmed from the principle of self-help in national liberation struggles which it advocates. In this connection, China's support for the Provisional Revolutionary Government should be noted. (China's reception when Foreign Minister Binh of the PRG visited China from December 27, 1972, to January 1, 1973, and an editorial in the People's Daily dated January 28 provide such examples.) China did not change, at least outwardly, its attitude of supporting the Sihanouk regime so far as its relations with Cambodia were concerned.
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