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TAI FEDERATION

In order to facilitate their colonial return after World War II and oppose the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s (DRV) attempt to create a new nation-state in eastern Indochina, the French adopted a divide in order to rule policy. This meant turning ethnic minority groups against the Viet Minh and playing off real and imagined anti-Vietnamese sentiments. In the upland Tai principalities of northern and northwestern Vietnam, the French cultivated the loyalty of White, Red, and Black Tai lords such as Deo Van Long. In July 1948, the French reached an agreement with Tai leaders in the strategically important areas in the highlands of northwestern Vietnam. This agreement allowed for the creation of an autonomous Tai Federation nominally located outside of the jurisdiction of the larger counter-revolutionary Vietnamese state the French were building with Bao Dai, the Associated State of Vietnam. Led by White Tai leader, Deo Van Long, this Federation regrouped the provinces of Lai Chau, Phong Tho, and Son La. The French also relied on Tai allies in this region to help them organize opposition to the Viet Minh, most notably via the Groupement de commandos mixtes aéroportés. In so doing, the French supported the development of “ethnonationalism”, as Oscar Salemink has argued for the central highlands, promoting the teaching of the Tai language, a separate education system, the militarization of the uplands, their political and cultural distinction from the ethnic Vietnamese and their identification with the French. The DRV naturally opposed the French politico-military project to remove this region and these populations from the Vietnamese nation-state it was set on creating. With the withdrawal of the French from northern Vietnam in 1954, the DRV dissolved this federation and crushed those who resisted their efforts to do so. Although the DRV replaced the elites supported by the French with their own, Vietnamese communists maintained a special legal status for the Tai, the Tay Bac Autonomous Region. See also PAYS MONTAGNARDS DU SUD.