Intentions, standpoints of the parties involved, and the outcomes of the Conference

WVR- In reality, the Geneva Conference in 1954 was convened by four major powers: the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The negotiation process was heavily influenced by the diplomacy of other major countries, including China. Each party sought to take advantage of the conference to serve its own intentions and interests.
Hội nghị Geneva 1954 là một “trận đánh” lớn đầu tiên trên vũ đài quốc tế của nền ngoại giao Cách mạng Việt Nam. (Ảnh: QT)
Overview of the Geneva Conference in 1954.

Just one day after our forces and people took control of the Dien Bien Phu stronghold, on May 8, 1954, the Geneva Conference on Indochina commenced and concluded on July 21, 1954. The Conference gathered 9 parties, including the United Kingdom, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), the State of Vietnam (Bao Dai government), the Kingdom of Laos, and the Kingdom of Cambodia. The Pathet Lao and Khmer Issarak delegations were in Geneva but were not officially part of the conference due to the obstruction of Western countries.


Following the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, France sought to extricate itself from the war, hoping that it would avoid direct bilateral negotiations with the DRV government by participating in an international conference backed by the US and the UK. Initially, the French delegation adopted a firm stance, attempting to appease public opinion while buying time to rescue French forces in Indochina. France advocated for a military solution akin to the Korean War, meaning a ceasefire and disarmament in place for irregular forces without a political resolution.

On June 12, 1954, the conservative cabinet of Prime Minister Laniel was condemned by the French public and forced to resign. Mendès France, a pacifist politician, was appointed to form a new government. On June 21 1954, during his inauguration, Mendès France declared that he would resign if a ceasefire in Indochina could not be achieved within one month. With a more flexible approach, the new French government wanted to pull out of the Indochina War with dignity while maintaining economic interests and cultural influence in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

The United Kingdom

The UK was concerned about maintaining its interests in Hong Kong and the mainland China, hence it recognized the People’s Republic of China on January 6, 1950. It did not wish to get embroiled in the Indochina War alongside the United States but did not want to damage its alliance with the US. The UK persistently advised the US to postpone any military actions in Indochina, including the establishment of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), until the “communist forces put forward a peaceful solution” approved by the US. This way, the UK would not have to choose whether to support or not support the US. Furthermore, the UK also advocated for supporting France in negotiating from a position of strength. On June 2, 1954, at the US-UK Summit in Washington, the two sides issued a joint statement threatening that “if the conference fails, the world situation will become very serious.” At the same time, the two sides also agreed on a list of seven conditions for a solution to the Indochina issue that both sides pledged to respect.

The United States

At the 1954 Berlin Conference (also known as the Big Four Conference), the US initially did not want to engage in negotiation on Indochina. However, later on, they reluctantly agreed to do so. Their goals were to strengthen the position of the Laniel cabinet, pressure the French National Assembly to ratify the Treaty establishing the European Defence Community and prevent the pacifist faction in France from taking power. Moreover, the US even urged France not to fail in Indochina by all means due to concerns that the Communist movement would spread throughout Southeast Asia. The US even threatened to engage in direct military intervention in Indochina. The US Secretary of State Dulles, who left Geneva three days before the Conference on Indochina began, instructed the US delegation to “only play a role as an observer.” In Vietnam, the US began implementing a plan to replace France, bringing in Ngo Dinh Diem to replace Buu Loc as the “Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam.”

When the parties reached a solution, the US delegation refused to sign the Final Declaration and recognize the Accords. However, they stated, "any recurrence of violent acts violating the Accords would be considered a matter of grave concern and a serious threat to international peace and security.” Even after the Accords were signed, the US sought to use the UN card to intervene in Indochina. The US government “continues to strive for the reunification [of Vietnam] through free elections supervised by the United Nations to ensure [the general election] is conducted fairly

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union, the initiator of the conference aimed at promoting international détente, had every reason to prevent its failure and avoid creating a pretext for the US to expand the war. The USSR’s stance was that the Indochina War should be resolved through negotiation with a “satisfactory solution for all parties involved”. It wanted to help France to honorably withdraw from Indochina so that the French National Assembly would not ratify the Treaty establishing the European Defence Community. “Of course, the possibility of using the end of the war to urge France to abandon the idea of the European Defense Community was also taken into account”. “In that context, the Soviet Union could not only significantly limit the US’s global plans, but also help France withdraw from Vietnam without “humiliation”. The USSR made every effort to invite China to participate in this international conference to elevate China’s position on the international stage.


For China, the Geneva Conference is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to become a major player in Asia, enhancing its position in addressing international issues. It is also a great chance for them to take advantage of Western support to create a peaceful environment for economic development.

China sought to achieve an agreement to break the US’ encirclement and isolation and avoid providing a pretext for US intervention in Indochina. China advised Vietnam to make “fair and reasonable” conditions that France could accept, “simple and clear” for easy negotiation, and to “avoid wasting time and prolonging negotiations to create an opportunity for the US to sabotage the negotiations.” At the meeting in Bern on June 23, 1954, Zhou Enlai conceded to Mendès France on one of the two most important issues: the temporary demarcation line between North Vietnam and South Vietnam.


Vietnam’s negotiation stance was clearly stated in President Ho Chi Minh’s interview with Sweden’s Expressen on October 26, 1953: “[We] stands ready negotiate if France wants to reach an armistice in Vietnam through negotiation and to come up with a peaceful resolution to the Vietnamese issue.” “The basis of armistice in Vietnam lies in the sincere respect of the French Government for the true independence of Vietnam”. The method is “an armistice negotiation... between the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the French Government”. Regarding the global trend, in the Report to the first Tenure National Assembly, Third Session, President Ho Chi Minh assessed that “the main objective of our side is to reduce world tension”. He advocated resolving disputes in the world through negotiation. Regarding the timing of negotiations, on May 1, 1954, the Central Committee of the Vietnam Workers’ Party emphasized: “We do not overestimate the Geneva Conference but should not miss the opportunity; we must seize the chance to get the Geneva Conference started to move onto other meetings.”

On May 10, 1954, the Head of the Vietnamese delegation, Pham Van Dong, presented an Eight-point plan for a comprehensive solution to the Indochina issue. The fundamental goal was the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam and other countries on the Indochinese peninsula. Despite many unfavorable developments within the framework of the Conference and among the major powers, Vietnam persistently fought for a comprehensive solution encompassing both military and political aspects. On the military side, it involved cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of foreign troops, and restoration of peace in Indochina. On the political side, it aimed to ensure peace, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, ending the French colonial regime of Indochina.

Amidst the deadlock of the Geneva Conference due to the lack of consensus among the parties, the meeting between President Ho Chi Minh and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in Liuzhou from July 3 to 5, 1954, played a decisive role. They discussed the issues of regrouping zones, the deadline for general elections, and the issues of Laos and Cambodia.

The Conference unfolded in three stages under the co-chairmanship of Britain and the Soviet Union, featuring seven plenary sessions, 24 working sessions, and especially intense diplomatic engagements on the sidelines among relevant parties in Switzerland and the capitals of several countries. On July 20, 1954, the three Agreements on the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. On July 21, 1954, the Conference concluded, endorsing a Final Declaration consisting of 13 points, including cessation of hostilities, restoration, maintenance, and consolidation of peace, general election for the reunification of the country after 2 years of signing the Accords, and provisions on the implementation of the Accords for the entire Indochina.

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