192 McIntyre to Burton
Minute CANBERRA, 28 April 1948
SIAM-RECOGNITION OF PIBUL GOVERNMENT
It is now clear that Marshal Luang Pibul Songgram has openly assumed power in Siam. Following the coup d'etat of last November, he professed his intention of remaining out of politics; but he has now forced the Khuang Government out of office and formed his own cabinet which rests on military support.
This can only be regarded as an unsatisfactory development. Pibul was Prime Minister of Siam when the Japanese war broke out, and is therefore tarred with the brush of collaboration. He has always been regarded as untrustworthy and as having the makings of a dictator. The Cabinet which he has now established is reported to be drawn from his own military clique, with the balance made up of nonentities. It is a much less satisfactory Cabinet than that of Khuang, which included a good many men of real integrity and was the nearest approach to a democratic cabinet that Siam has ever had. It had, moreover, obtained a solid vote of confidence from the Siamese Parliament.
Pibul's vote of confidence, on the other hand, does not represent the majority of the parliament, since about sixty members abstained from voting. There have been, moreover, vague rumours that even his own military clique have been making plans to get rid of him. But these rumours are still vague, but the odds at present seem to be in favour of Pibul's being able to remain in office and retain all real power in his own hands.
The question arises whether Australia should recognise Pibul's Government. Since we did not formerly recognise Khuang's Government, we should logically be even more disinclined to recognise this one. We could, if necessary, justify continued non- recognition on the legal ground that we do not approve of the manner in which the old constitution was rescinded and a new one promulgated last November. But this would be a somewhat legalistic argument. Our only real ground for withholding recognition now would be that we do not think the new Government is stable enough to remain in power and run the country. If we intend to 'write off Siam completely, and have nothing more to do with the Siamese, we might also justify non-recognition on the grounds that we do not like Pibul or his Government or the way they came into power. But apart from the question whether we would be wise to do so (and in view of our present and future interest in Southeast Asia, I do not think we would), it is doubtful whether we can cut ourselves off. if we pull out of Siam altogether, we have legally no means of binding Siam to observance of our Peace Treaty. Neither can we continue as an active member of the Claims Committee, which as soon as a new government settles down will be settling the outstanding tin and other claims of Australia and other countries against Siam. Moreover, we have day-to-day contacts with the Siamese Government even now; we often have to ask them for permission for our aircraft to land, etc.
If we withdraw Eastman these practical considerations will arise, and the result can only be to our disadvantage. In addition we shall, of course, be deprived of another useful source of political intelligence.
On the other hand, if we leave Eastman there, we are bound to drift into a sort of de facto relationship with the Siamese Government-even without positive recognition on our part. This is perhaps the best course for us to pursue, at least for the time being. The Siamese could make difficulties about it if they wished to, but the chances are that they will not. It will mean that Eastman's contacts with the Siamese Government will have to remain entirely unofficial. If he begins exchanging formal communications with them, it is likely that he will have put Australia in the position, according to international usage, of having formally recognised the Siamese Government. On the assumption, however, that he can still go on dealing informally with them, he should be able to carry out most of his present functions without committing us to de jure recognition. If difficulties crop up (as they may, e.g., when the war claims negotiations get under way), or if at any time we decide that there is no point in withholding full recognition any longer, we can review the position and determine in the light of circumstances whether we should grant de jure recognition.
It now appears that most, if not all, other governments represented in Bangkok are going ahead to grant de jure recognition without delay. They are all, of course, in a somewhat embarrassing position because they all recognised Khuang and do not like the new government or the way it has come into power.
I suggest the attached telegram be sent to London and Bangkok.