The French developed a plan for the secession of Cochin China and the establishment there of a puppet government. Located in the Mekong Delta, the French colony of Cochin China had extensive rice fields and French-owned rubber plantations, and it was the richest and most economically developed region of the country. Three-fifths of French properties in Indochina were located in this region (García Oliveras 2010:45).
On February 28, 1946, the French and Chaing Kai Shek arrived at a negotiated settlement for the release of French troops imprisoned in China. The liberated French troops penetrated northern Vietnam in order to join in the French war of re-conquest. Meanwhile, French reinforcements proceeding from France disembarked in the south (García Oliveras 2010:45-46).
Ho Chi Minh undertook negotiations with the French. Ho insisted upon the independence of Vietnam, but he was prepared to accept a transition period of several years. He rejected French claims for the separation of Cochin China, demanding the unification of Vietnam and the nullification of the French colonial division of Vietnam into the protectorates of Tonkin in the north and Annam in the central provinces and the colony of Cochin China in the south. The French proposed the formation of an Indochinese Federation that would be headed by a French governor and that would have authority to represent Vietnam in all international relations, but that would include a degree of autonomy for Vietnam (García Oliveras 2010:46-47; Duiker 2000:353-59).
On March 6, 1946, Ho Chi Minh and French negotiator Jean Sainteny signed an agreement, according to which France would recognize Vietnam as a free state with its own government, parliament, and army, which would form part of an Indochinese Federation that would pertain to the French Union. It was agreed that the destiny of Cochin China would be determined by popular referendum. It also was agreed that 15,000 French troops would enter Hanoi and that the 200,000 troops of Chaing Kai Chek would withdraw from Vietnam (García Oliveras 2010:46-47; Duiker 2000:362-65).
But in signing the accord, the French were to some extent driven by an interest in the withdrawal of Chinese troops from Vietnam. Believing that they could easily attain the military re-conquest of Indochina, the French remained oriented to retaking full control of Indochina rather than implementing the March 6 accord and its promise of limited sovereignty for Vietnam. In June and July of 1946, Ho Chi Minh and a Vietnamese delegation traveled to Paris in an effort to avoid a new armed conflict through a negotiated implementation of the March 6 accord. But prior to the arrival of the delegation, the French Government recognized the secessionist Autonomous Republic of Cochin China, thereby reneging on the March 6 agreement to decide the status of the territory through referendum. In the Paris talks, the two sides were far apart concerning the degree of autonomy that Vietnam would have as a free state in the French Union. Meanwhile, the French government was moving toward the creation of an Indochinese federation of puppet governments, and French troops continued to engage in military actions in Vietnam. The Vietnamese delegation suspended the talks and returned to Vietnam. In a final effort to attain a negotiated settlement, Ho Chi Minh remained in Paris. Ho signed an agreement with French Minister of Overseas Territories Marius Moutet on September 14, which reinforced the accord of March 6, thus avoiding a total breakdown of the talks. But Ho’s efforts toward peaceful negotiation of Vietnamese independence could not succeed, inasmuch as an independent Vietnamese government headed by Ho Chi Minh, the Vietminh Front, and the Indochinese Communist Party was incompatible with French imperialist interests (García Oliveras 2010:46-47; Duiker 2000:367-81).
On November 20, French troops opened fire on Vietnamese troops in Haiphong and Lang Son, leaving thousands of civilian casualties in Haiphong. On December 17, the commander of the French troops sent an ultimatum to the Vietnamese government, demanding that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam turn over security functions of Hanoi to the French. On December 19, Ho Chi Minh issued a call to the nation, noting that the French have decided to re-conquer the country and calling upon the people to struggle against French colonialism and to save the country.
“We will sacrifice everything before losing independence and living as slaves! All citizens, men or women, young or old, of any religion, nationality or political opinion ought to rise up to struggle against French colonialism and to save the country. . . . Let everyone rise up against colonialism for the defense of the country!”
It would be a difficult struggle for the Vietnamese, but they would prevail, as we will see in the next post.
Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh. New York: Hyperion.
García Oliveras, Julio A. 2010. Ho Chi Minh El Patriota: 60 años de lucha revolucionaria. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
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