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Historical Dictionary

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OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN THAILAND

The Indochina War directly affected the 50,000 Vietnamese residing in Thailand. Since the 17th century, Vietnamese from northern, central, and southern Vietnam had settled in areas of eastern Thailand running from Nakhon Phanom along the Mekong River to Chantaburi in the Gulf of Thailand. Several thousand also lived in Bangkok. These Vietnamese immigrants were fluent in Thai and many had supported Vietnamese anti-colonialists ranging from Phan Boi Chau to Ho Chi Minh. With the advent of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in September 1945, the new government dispatched delegates to Thailand to rally the large Vietnamese population to the nationalist cause. Not only were these overseas Vietnamese strategically located near Indochina, but Thai leaders were also opposed to the return of French colonialism. As in southern China, where thousands of Vietnamese émigrés also lived, the DRV turned to the Vietnamese in Thailand to help it establish a diplomatic delegation for Southeast Asia in 1946 and to operate commercial activities in the area until 1951.

Fluent in Vietnamese and Thai, the overseas Vietnamese were invaluable cultural and linguistic intermediaries for the DRV delegates arriving in Thailand to work. Several hundred were involved negotiating deals and transporting arms and supplies to central and southern Vietnam. A Buddhist monk named Bao An who immigrated to Bangkok from Cambodia during the colonial period is a case in point. His religious fervor as well as his fluency in Khmer and in Thai helped him to become a highly respected monk in Bangkok. His anti-colonial politics also earned him the sympathy of Thai officialdom and DRV agents keen on preventing the French return to Indochina after World War II. Bao An also used his contacts and influence in the service of the Vietnamese nationalist movement, becoming one of the five most powerful delegates of the DRV’s delegation in Bangkok.

The DRV also turned to the overseas Vietnamese to recruit troops to fight in southern Vietnam in the early years of the war. Between late 1945 and 1948, several thousand overseas Vietnamese youth signed up to fight the French in southern Vietnam and Cambodia. The Indochinese Communist Party also ran some of its most secret and important external activities out of Thailand and anchored among the overseas Vietnamese. In 1948, for example, Hoang Van Hoan arrived in northeast Thailand to run the party’s external cadres affairs committee responsible for all relations with the outside. Hoang Van Hoan knew Thailand well. He had worked and lived there for years during the interwar years. He spoke Thai fluently. The ICP relied upon its revolutionary networks in Thailand to foster and administer the development of communism in Laos and Cambodia.

The Thai government turned a blind eye to these activities during the first half of the Indochina conflict. What counted most for Bangkok leaders, even for Phibun Songgkram upon his return to power in 1948, was opposing French claims on territories taken by the Thais during World War II in western Laos and Cambodia. This changed, however, in 1950, when the Chinese communist victory to the north ushered in the Cold War to Southeast Asia. Under American pressure but also in a move designed to reinforce his internal power, Pibun Songgram closed the Vietnamese diplomatic delegation in 1951 and adopted measures hostile to the overseas Vietnamese populations in Thailand and their support of what was now considered to be a communist-driven DRV, hostile to Thai security. While overseas Vietnamese party cells would continue to support the government and party, the center of the ICP’s external networks shifted to southern China from 1950 as Chinese communists began channeling large amounts of aid to the DRV. As in France, from 1950 the Associated State of Vietnam began to operate in Thailand and among the overseas Vietnamese. See also CAMBODIAN RESISTANCE GOVERNMENT; EXTERNAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE; INDOCHINESE FEDERATION; LAO RESISTANCE GOVERNMENT; NGO THAT SON; NGUYEN DUC QUY; NGUYEN KHANG; NGUYEN THANH SON; OVERSEAS CHINESE; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN FRANCE; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN JAPAN; PARTY AFFAIRS COMMITTEE; PHAM NGOC THACH; PRIDI PHANOMYONG; TIENG SERIKHAN; TRAN VAN GIAU.