Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with William Primosch
The other big issue that was somewhat coming to an end but was still significant to us with Thailand was a huge border population of refugees, mainly Cambodians, some Vietnamese. There were also a lot of Vietnamese “boat people,” people who escaped from Vietnam on rickety boats and ended up on Thailand's southern coast.. Many refugees, however, were on the Thai border with Cambodia. There were also camps in southern Thailand where the boat people tended to end up. how the Thai government treated refugees was a big issue. Thailand really didn't like having all these refugees in their country. Initially, they were very hostile and uncaring. I understand that when Mort Abramowitz was ambassador to Thailand, he took this on as a key policy issue. People have said that if it wasn't for his direct intervention, there would have been thousands who would have starved to death because the Thais just weren't going to do nothing. Ambassador Abramowitz finally shook up everyone, including our own government, to intervene and provide what was needed for the refugees. When I was out there, there were several hundred thousand refugees in camps on the border.
Q: What was the role that China was playing, particularly in the economic sphere?
PRIMOSCH: China was trying to project more influence in the whole region at the time. My impression was that they were rather clumsy at it. The Chinese did participate in the UN regional organization. They were rather friendly to other representatives there. The Russians were also there. But I didn't get the impression they were all that effective. The Thais, however, are very astute at judging power relationships and had launched a number of initiatives to try to improve relations with China. They were very wary of offending the Chinese in any way. Even when we pushed them to take some hard stands on issues, you could tell they were reluctant to do that because this was a small neighborhood and the Chinese were the big boys in the neighborhood.
Q: I'm sure you were dealing with the UN bureaucracy there. What was your impression of the international bureaucracy, the UN, as it projected into where you were?
PRIMOSCH: I did not a very high assessment of the UN bureaucracy. They were usually very nice people. A lot of them were from South Asia or some from the region there. I got the impression that they valued their UN employment as exceptionally good jobs and they were going to hang on to them. They didn't do a lot as far as I could see except organize meetings.
Q: You're talking about Indians and Pakistanis.
PRIMOSCH: Yes. A lot of the UN employees were nationals of these countries. The UN employees were very nice and professional in some ways, but they didn't get very much accomplished.