Sunday, February 22, 2015

Treaty of Saigon (1862)

French warships in Da Nang (1858)
In the 1850’s, Asia faced a growing threat from the mighty industrialized nation of the West. France and Britain began an active harassment and conquest of many independent countries in the Far East. China had already tasted defeat in the hands of the modern steam-engine warships of the British. By the late 1850’s, China’s client state in Southeast Asia – Vietnam – also faced the prospect of succumbing to the nuisances of Westerners. The Treaty of Saigon symbolizes the result of the gunboat diplomacy of Europeans to the Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese and the French signed the Treaty of Saigon on June 1862. The Treaty concluded the campaign of theFrench in Southern Vietnam, otherwise known as Cochinchina. The overwhelming firepower of the French led to the Vietnamese to sue for peace, which led to its signing.

But how events played that led to the signing of the Treaty of Saigon? What were the contents of the Treaty? Lastly, what were its effects?

Vietnam in the middle of the 19th century stood as one of the prominent powers in Southeast Asia, excluding the European presence. Much of its history, Vietnam had strong ties with the Chinese, most evident when it adopted the ideas of Confucianism. At that time, the half-century old Nguyen Vietnam competed with Siam for influence over Laos or then known as Luang Phrabang and Cambodia. Internally, the Vietnamese officials and the Nguyen Emperor felt uneasy. For more than fifty years, Christian missionaries, both French and Spanish, had converting Vietnamese into their religion. By 1840’s, Christian in Vietnam numbered to over half a million. The officials suspected the missionaries as foreign agents working for the downfall of Vietnam. In addition, they saw Christianity as a threat to the Confucian establishment. The Nguyen Emperor felt the same and instituted persecutions against the Christians. In the process, some foreign missionaries perished.

In the 1840’s the missionaries convinced the French government to punish the Vietnamese government for its conduct. France sent a punitive expedition to Da Nang or Tourane. The naval warships of the expedition bombarded the port city, causing hundreds ofcasualties to the Vietnamese. However, the desired effect failed to materialize. In fact, it might had inflamed the anti-Christian sentiment of the Vietnamese. The authorities continued the persecution of the Christians through the next decade.

Only ambition and opportunity made France to stand tougher against Vietnam. By the 1850’s Chinese trade became more profitable. In addition, France needed more natural resources for its industries and new markets for its products. Combining the two, they decided to look for a colony in the Far East. They saw Vietnam as a starting point. In the late 1850’s the Vietnamese government once against executed Christian missionaries. This gave the French an excuse to launch a conquest of Vietnam. Already engaged in the Opium War in China, some French warship sailed south towards Vietnam and began an assault in the area. In 1858, under Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly, French forces attacked the port of Da Nang. However, it failed to hold because of overwhelming Vietnamese resistance. The French decided to move south and captured the major city in Southern Vietnam – Saigon. From there they captured the peripheral provinces and defeating the Vietnamese forces. By 1862, the Vietnamese had enough. They sued for peace.

The negotiations resulted to the signing of the Treaty of Saigon on June 5, 1862. The Vietnamese sent its seasoned official Phan Thanh Gian to negotiate with his French counterpart, Louis Adolphe Bonard. Eventually, the two came up an agreement that favored France tremendously. France capitalized on its victories in Southern Vietnam and used the Treaty to cement its control over the region. The Treaty gave France control over the three surrounding provinces of Saigon: Bien Hoa, Dinh Tuong, and Gia Dinh. In addition, France also took over the island of Poulo Condore or Con Son. The Mekong River also became open to French warships traversing to Cambodia. France also forbid Vietnam to cede lands to any power without its prior authorization. France seemed wanted to secure Vietnam for its own and made the clause to deter any Western powers in encroaching in its prey. Moreover, the Treaty of Saigon guaranteed the freedom of proselytizing of French and Spanish missionaries. It also made Vietnam open the ports of Da Nang, Ba Lac, and Quang An open to trade with French and Spanish traders. And lastly, Vietnam had to pay France an indemnity worth $4 million in a span of 10 years.

The Treaty brought displeasure to Nguyen Emperor Tu Duc. But what could he do? They lose the lands militarily. Some in the court asked the Emperor to dismiss the chief Vietnamese negotiator on the Treaty. But Emperor Tu Duc hesitated.

On the other, France tasted its first colonies in Cochinchina, and even the whole orient. The territories gained from the Treaty of Saigon later on became cemented with the Treaty of Hue. From those three provinces and Saigon France continued to extend its control over the neighboring lands. It even used the Treaty of Saigon as the basis for its conquest of Cambodia. The Treaty of Saigon meant the success of France’s use of arms in order to extract what it wanted from its targets. For Vietnam, the Treaty of Saigon meant a huge defeat, territorial and for its sovereignty. Symbolically, it lose one of the main regions that made up their homeland. For them, however, the Treaty of Saigon was just a start from a line of treaties it would sign – a first death warrant for Vietnam’s independence.

See also:

Corfield, J. Historical Dictionary of Ho Chi Minh City. New York: Anthem Press, 2014.

St. John, R. B. Boundary & Territory Briefing: The Land Boundaries of Indochina: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam v. 2 no. 6. International Boundaries Research Unit, 1998.

Taylor, K. W. A History of the Vietnamese. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Vo, N. M. Saigon: A History. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2011.

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