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Thursday, 10 March 1966

I turn now to look at the most critical centre of conflict in Asia today - South Vietnam. I submit first to the House and to the people of Australia that we cannot see that conflict clearly if we look only at Vietnam. This is not only a local struggle. It continues to harass the thoughts of compassionate people in all lands, and attempts to find a settlement fail because it is so much more than a local struggle.

Behind Vietnam lies a wider conflict that extends from the northern frontiers of India to the dividing line in Korea; that engages the worldwide diplomacy of the Soviet Union no less than the worldwide diplomacy of the United States; and that casts the shadow of fear over millions of people in all lands of southern Asia no less than the shadow of terror over the villagers of the Mekong delta. This is a war that affects the fate of all countries of South East Asia - a war that throws into sharp relief the aim of Communist China to dominate them by force. These are things seen most vividly and felt most painfully by the countries of the region.

We do not imagine that a lasting arrangement can emerge in Asia which does not take account of what exists on the Chinese mainland. That is not the same thing as immediate recognition of Communist China or its admission to the United Nations. Those are simply parts of the whole question of China. What we are trying to do is to establish and make clear the conditions whereby China and the countries of the region can live peaceably side by side. One essential condition is that there should be no Chinese domination attempted by force or threat of force. We and other nations are standing up for that principle now in Vietnam.

It will take time - indeed, it may take a very long time - to reach an accommodation with China. China itself must make some response and make some movement towards accommodation. Some persons, Australians and others, talk of recognition and of United Nations membership solely in terms of action by us and countries that think like us. But China itself would have to contribute something. Any acceptable accommodation will have to provide for the independence and security of China's neighbours and must not involve abandonment of Taiwan.

Communist China is a big country in area and population. It has substantial forces, and a revolutionary policy both inter nally and internationally. But we should not allow ourselves to be bemused into thinking that Peking has been uniformly infallible or successful. What is its record? It has brought together in certain respects the Soviet Union and the United States, by its clumsy and doctrinaire threatening of both. China has alienated a large part of the nonaligned world by its treacherous armed aggression against India and by its bullying tactics at Afro-Asian gatherings. It is not a record of success. It is a record of miscalculation and failure. If we hold on with courage to resist aggression while pursuing positive policies of political and economic development we shall win through.

What we, who are on the fringe of the region, are also concerned about and what we hope that all nations in all continents will be concerned about is that events in Asia are also a threat to the peace of the world. They present today to the world the greatest risk of global war. Indeed, over thirty nations have seen this and are giving some support to South Vietnam in its struggle. Are they giving enough? If they see that their fate and their future are also involved in the present struggle, if they see that the aggression that has to be resisted and the principles of the United Nations Charter which have to be upheld in Asia today are the same as those that lie at the core of peace in every continent of the world, should they not do more? This struggle to save freedom in Asia is the struggle of the whole of the free world.

Sometimes unfortunately any statement about the risk of global war arising in Asia is translated only into a fear of escalation or a fear of provoking those from whom the threat comes. The real risk lies not in the fear of provoking Communist aggression: It lies in any failure to block it. The damage to the principles on which alone peace can be founded is done by neglecting them, not by applying them.

The character of the war in Vietnam is appearing more starkly as the months go by. As operations proceed and the attack on the Vietcong uncovers more of the enemy strength, the old fiction that this was just a band of rural patriots fighting with weapons captured from their oppressors becomes more ridiculous than ever. As underground headquarters, large dumps of supplies and weapons, and the organisational structure of the Vietcong are revealed, it becomes plainer than ever that this attack has been prepared in breadth and in depth and organised with professional skill over a period of years and that year by year more and more sophisticated weapons of foreign Communist manufacture have been fed into South Vietnam from the North. I saw myself in Saigon a few days before Christmas photographs of one of the wellprepared underground headquarters of the Vietcong and I have talked with Australian soldiers who cleared these redoubts. I saw in Saigon literally thousands of weapons captured from the Vietcong and alongside them other military and semi-military supplies from Communist China and Communist Europe. South Vietnam is not opposing a local band of dissident citizens but the deliberately created and well organised instrument of North Vietnamese aggression. In all, the Communists have at least 80,000 regular troops, some 120,000 guerillas and some 18,000 men in administrative and support troops. As more and more of the enemy are captured or defect, unit identifications and interrogations help to give increasing precision to our knowledge of enemy strength. The Vietcong have perhaps as many as fifteen regiments of their own which have been established and trained with the help of North Vietnamese cadres and increasingly armed on Chinese equipment. Among the Vietcong there is an ever growing proportion of men infiltrated from the North. In all, over 60,000 men have been infiltrated from the North since 1959. Included in this figure are 18,000 men in regular units of the North Vietnamese Army. There are now nine and probably more regiments of the North Vietnamese Army in South Vietnam. These regular units are being reinforced from other forces of the North Vietnamese Army illegally stationed in the eastern parts of Laos.

We now have a much more realistic knowledge of the enemy as a result of the more intensive fighting, the greater difficulty of concealment by North Vietnam and the knowledge progressively uncovered of the long preparations and planning of the other side. The challenge is being faced today with a better assessment of what it is and a clearer determination on how and where to meet it. There are now about 300,000 men in the regular forces of South Vietnam, which is a significant increase in the past six months. There are now more than 215,000 American troops in Vietnam, supported by forces from Korea, Australia and New Zealand totalling some 20,000 men. As announced last Tuesday by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt), the Australian Government has decided that the battalion now in South Vietnam will be replaced by a self-contained Australian task force under Australian command of some 4,500 men. The Philippines Congress is at present considering a proposal by the Philippines Government to despatch an engineering construction battalion supported by security forces. To make possible this buildup of strength, ports of entry and bases have been established and secured at points along the coastline of South Vietnam. The ocean approaches are securely controlled and the United States is also able to make a vast use of aircraft and helicopters, both from carriers and land bases.

One other part of the character of the conflict is also being revealed more starkly than before. Up to date, as honorable members know from statements previously made in this House and by documents published, the enemy has not shown any interest in peaceful settlement by negotiation. Early this year further overtures were made. The bombing of North Vietnam was suspended for 37 days. Although an earlier pause in bombing last May had evoked no response from the enemy the United States was willing to try once again to demonstrate its readiness to end hostilities if it could see hope for a just solution by peaceful means. Governments of Communist countries and of non-aligned countries which might possess some influence in Peking and Hanoi were approached. Direct contact with the Hanoi regime was made in some capitals where the United States and North Vietnam were both represented. All these approaches were summarily rejected. Peking, Hanoi and the Vietcong prefer war. Let us face that plain fact. They prefer war. They have chosen war. They said so in plain and angry words. They denounced American efforts for peace. It was under these circumstances that restrained bombing of the North was resumed.

I should like to say something about the bombing of the North. The original decision by the United States to begin bombing of North Vietnam early last year was not taken lightly. Indeed, so strong was the desire to avoid spreading hostilities and destruction that the decision to undertake bombing was delayed far beyond the time when, on military grounds, it became justified. The simple fact is that for some years the Vietcong - armed, supplied, and directed from North Vietnam - have been waging a campaign of terrorism and guerilla warfare in the South while the North was left untouched. The point was reached where we could no longer ask the people of South Vietnam to sit and take it and fight the Vietnamese Communists only at the places of the latter's choosing. The three objectives of bombing, as defined at the outset by Mr. McNamara, the United States Secretary of Defence, were first, to demonstrate to the South Vietnamese that they could depend upon American support; second, to reduce the flow of men and equipment from the North to the South and/ or to increase the cost of that flow to the North Vietnamese; and third, to put political pressure on North Vietnam to halt their campaign of subversion in the South by demonstrating to them that they had no chance of success.

Notwithstanding the limited purposes of the bombing, its suspension meant real sacrifices from a military standpoint. The evidence is clear that the North used the month-long lull to repair damaged infiltration routes and bridges, to send men and material to the South more freely and to recover from some of the losses that had been inflicted on them in the South. The lull in the bombing was a liberal declaration of the sincerity of the search by the United States for negotiations for a peaceful settlement. They paid, and paid heavily, for their forbearance by the advantage the enemy took from the lull and the sad fact is that the pause failed to bring negotiations in sight. The Australian Government supported the eventual decision of the United States to resume the bombing.

While on our side the search for peace will go on, the prospects are - let us face it soberly - of a long and difficult struggle in Vietnam. The possibility of military victory has been denied to the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese armies supporting them. They do not have the logistics or the fire power to defeat the South Vietnamese and their allies in open battle. They can no longer hope to bring about the disintegration of the forces opposing them by rapid attack and dispersal with light losses to themselves. They will try to wear us out. They will try to undermine our resolution. This has become a test of will. It is also a test of faith. In countries such as our own and the United States the questioning, the search for some way for peace, will go on. It is our pride as a free people that this questioning and the public debate can take place. But, while we debate, let none of us forget the central issues which are at stake.

Some people who think that we should negotiate and not fight address all their persuasions to the United States. In that quarter no persuasion is needed. The United States has demonstrated again and again its readiness to talk. The need is for some persuasion to be urged on Hanoi, which has hitherto shown a total unwillingness to talk, a total disregard of any overtures, and a clear preference to try to obtain its own ends by force and to unify Vietnam under Communist rule regardless of the wishes of the people of the South. On our side we have done what we can to bring Hanoi to the conference table. We would prefer to talk than to fight. But if we are to make real progress towards a peaceful solution, our policies for peace must be conducted with great care and realism and an unfaltering firmness of purpose. This has been the lesson in all the efforts to negotiate with the Communists in the successive post-war crises. We must avoid the risk that eagerness to find a peaceful solution may lead to adjustments in our own position which come perilously close to yielding ground that must not be yielded. We must also avoid the risk of raising doubts and adversely affecting the morale of those who live in the region - not simply in Vietnam - and the morale of those who have committed their lives and the future of their families to the successful outcome of the struggle. Many are in free countries which are even closer to the conflict than Australia and are now under direct pressure.

My final word on this is to say that talking is not an objective in itself, but a means to an end. We have to be vigilant lest the idea of talk for its own sake leads us into traps and quicksands. What is the purpose of talking? Surely it is the same as the purpose of our present fighting; to stop the Vietcong from terrorizing the people, to enable the people of Vietnam to make a free choice of their future, and to prevent the Communist aggressor from taking over by force yet another country.

Any reference to negotiations raises the question of whether the United Nations can play a useful role. Honorable members will be aware of the attempts made by the Secretary-General, U Thant, to bring about discussions, and they will also be aware of the lack of response to his attempts. They will also be aware of the view U Thant has expressed that at the present juncture he does not see any useful possibilities in involvement of the United Nations in the Vietnam conflict. They will be aware of the action of the United States in bringing the issue to the Security Council. The history of all those attempts reveals that in present circumstances the United Nations has little or no chance of being helpful.

In moments when we declare greater resolution - the Prime Minister's announcement was, in the clearest possible terms, a declaration of Australian resolution - we need to be clear about our aims. Our aims are to defend South Vietnam, to preserve its security and to allow it freely to determine the economic and political system it wants. We have no military designs on the enemy, who has himself flouted the Geneva Agreements, other than to deter him. We are prepared to accept the present authorities in North Vietnam as they are, to work with them and to have them share in programmes for economic development in South East Asia. Nor is it our aim to prevent South Vietnam and North Vietnam from coming closer together after fighting has stopped. It is their business, if they wish to, to establish links and develop practical co-operation. In addition, we recognise that a strong and pervasive sense of Vietnamese nationalism, provided it is not turned against its neighbours, can be a positive good in strengthening the sense of national independence among China's southern neighbours.

Our aims in South Vietnam are limited, but they are clear, they are steady. They are in keeping with the commitments which were entered into more than ten years ago when the Government declared that it " would view aggression in violation of the Indo-China settlement as a threat to international peace and security " and agreed that South Vietnam should come under the protection of S.E.A.T.O.

I have dwelt at some length on Vietnam because I believe - and the Government believes - that these simple and plain truths need to be stated repeatedly and firmly. It is all very well for the critics and the doubters - wholly sincere as I know many of them are - to plead for negotiations. They are understandably unhappy over the loss of life, the waste and the brutalising effects of a protracted war. We are all unhappy about those things. But the critics have no solutions of their own which can be accepted with honour and' with prudence; they have no practical formula for bringing the parties to the negotiating table; they have no course to propose as a genuine alternative to the one which we are pursuing.

Australia is part of this struggle because we cannot allow it to be lost by default. We are not in it at the behest of any nation or group of nations. We are in it by our own choice and our own decision because the result is a matter of crucial importance to us, to all the people of Australia.

The leaders of South Vietnam face enormous problems in repairing the devastated economy and giving hope to a society which is disrupted by terror and wearied by suffering. But they show a heartening awareness of what needs to be done and a heartening strength of purpose. On my visit to Saigon in December I found the Government of South Vietnam more realistic and purposeful compared with some of its predecessors. President Johnson was similarly encouraged when he met these leaders in Honolulu. They are young and vigorous nationalists, attached to no traditional form of privilege or to vested interests, who accept the need for reform and development. They accept the need for foreign aid and help, and the Australian Government for its part will continue to do all it can to provide it. I commend to honorable members the statement of the purposes of the Government of Vietnam contained in the recent Declaration of Honolulu.


Mr Mortimer - What additional economic aid will the Australian Government give them for rehabilitation?







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