Jean Sainteny

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Jean R. Sainteny (1907-1978) was a French military officer, politician and diplomat who was regarded as an honest broker by a surprising number of opposing factions in French Indochina and in the Vietnam War.

His experience with Indochina went back to 1929, when he worked in banking and insurance. He was the son-in-law of French prime minister Albert Sarraut.

Sainteny was active in the French Resistance during the Second World War, where, under the pseudonym "Dragon", commanded the Resistance forces in Normandy. He was captured by the Gestapo but escaped, and was a trusted Gaullist member of the Free French.

In May 1945, Sainteny became head of the French intelligence mission, M.5, in Kunming, China, where he met with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services mission.[1] OSS mission chief Archimedes Patti was aware that multiple French factions were trying to gain dominance in the Chinese theater, and Sainteny might be represeting the Gaullist SFLEO (Section de Liaison Francaise en Extreme Orient) group in Calcutta, rather Sainteny, a representative of the Free French, parachuted into Indochina in 1945, as French commissioner for Tonkin (i.e., northern Indochina), replacing an earlier mission who had been captured and the survivors sent out. While he was trusted by Charles de Gaulle, he made no distinction between French civil servants affiliated with Vichy, but treated them as professionals. [2]

Without full authority for France, but only for his region, he negotiated, with Ho Chi Minh, and Vu Hong Khanh of the VNQDD the March 6, 1946 recognition the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a state within the French Union. Unification of Annam, Cochin China, and Tonkin was a matter to be decided. The DRV, in turn, agreed not to oppose French forces returning to Tonkin and Annam, to replace Chinese troops. Adm. Georges d'Argenlieu‎ was the High Commissioner to whom he reported.

Both Ho and Sainteny recognized it was a compromise. Ho said "I am not happy about it, for basically it is you that has won." Sainteny felt Ho was sincere in knowng he could not have everything at once; "this had been his plan for thirty-five years, he knew how to wait a little longer." Under a military annex, the occupation force would be limited to 15,000 Frenchmenand 10,000 Vietnamese, under French Command. [3] This agreement, however, was only Sainteny's authority, and the French government never honored the provisions giving limited autonomy to the DRV. When details reached Washington, Ho's Communist ties were emphasized.[4] Over time, a degree of mutual respect between Ho and Sainteny became obvious.

Later, he was delegate-general of France to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954.

In 1969, the first secret Paris Peace Talks between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were held in his apartment;

Like many Frenchmen who had served in Indochina, he considered our enterprise hopeless; unlike many of his compatriots, he understood the importance of an honorable exit for America and other free nations. I did not doubt he would report our contacts to his government...I trusted Sainteny's honor and reliability in doing what he had undertaken; he and his wife were friends of long standing. He was trusted by the North Vietnamese as well. No more can be asked of an intermediary.[5]


  1. Patti, Archimedes L. A. (1980). Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America's Albatross. University of California Press. , pp. 104-105
  2. Hammer, Ellen J. (1955), The Struggle for Indochina 1940-1955: Vietnam and the French Experience, Stanford University Press, p. 123
  3. Hammer, p. 153
  4. Patti, p. 382
  5. Henry Kissinger (1973), Ending the Vietman War: A history of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietanam War, Simon & Schuster, p. 86