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SIAM

Pavie’s image in Thai documents

Three events in which Pavie’s role is incontestable had consequences for Siam : the construction of the telegraph line between Phnom Penh and Bangkok, the occupation of the Sip Song Chau Taï by the French, and finally the Franco-Siamese crisis of 1893 and occupation by France of the territories on the left bank of the Mekong.

Some Thaï historians present Pavie’s actions in an objective manner. One example is J. Sathapanavathana: "Pavie played an important part in building French imperialism in South East Asia. He arrived for the first time in Indochina as a sergeant in the Marines. In 1868 he entered the employment of the telegraph service. In 1871 he went to work in Kampot. In 1883 he was engaged by the Siamese government to construct the telephone line between Bangkok and Battambang. Moreover, Pavie was charged with exploring Cambodia and Laos. His mission is known under the name of "The Pavie Mission". Pavie himself was filled with ambition. He carried out research on tropical species of plants and animals." Vice Admiral Ch. Pujjusanondha and the ship’s captain S. Chantanee, reported on the appointment of Pavie to the position of Vice-Consul in Luang Prabang without including any personal judgements: "On 7th May 1886, France and Siam signed the Luang Prabang accord, enabling France to trade and establish a consulate in Luang Prabang. Pavie was appointed Vice-Consul there to monitor the movement of the Siamese in the Lao territories. He was also charged with conducting explorations and mapping these territories so that the borders between France and Siam could be delimited in future."

This objectivity even included a hint of admiration from time to time. This can be seen from a few relatively short passages. When speaking of Pavie in his capacity as an employee of the telegraph service, S. Charnachalerm does not hide his admiration: "France has appointed an extraordinary engineer who is able to both write and speak the Khmer language well. His name is Auguste Pavie, and he is simultaneously a diplomat, explorer, adventurer and politician. In short, he is a man of many talents. He has studied the geography and history of the countries of the Indochinese peninsula. Thanks to the maps, he knows Siam better than the Siamese officials who have heard about their country without ever having seen a map." P. Duke underlines the skill that Pavie demonstrated in his negotiations with Prince Devawongse : "Pavie, who was much more prudent, showed Prince Devawongse that he could not suggest anything to him regarding the demarcation of the borders because the maps that he had to produce were not yet finished." If we are to believe what a contemporary, Chao Phraya Surasak, wrote in his letter to King Chulalongkorn, on 25th June 1893, Pavie was a reasonable and peaceable man: "Mr. Pavie said that those who actually aspired to war […] were the French officers because they believed it would help them gain promotion. The French were extremely angry with them. The origin of the conflicts was minimal. If everyone had been organised from the beginning, there would have been no problems. The Siamese thought that the border problems were a consequence of the ideas of Pavie and a few others. However, ultimately they realised that they were solely due to the French government. As for Mr Pavie, he evinced a great deal of respect for His Highness, and he had no intention of pushing the conflicts further."

As well as the few objective and even admiring accounts and testimonies, there are many more that are extremely critical of Pavie, which emphasise his dishonesty, treacherousness and lack of scruples.

P. Duke reports the words of Prince Devawongse accusing Pavie of dishonesty: "The prince also expressed his feelings with regard to Pavie by saying that he had not kept his promise to bring us, in August, the maps and work schedules he had produced. Instead he delayed the meeting until March. In spite of his promise, Pavie did not come to Bangkok to resolve these problems." S. Charnachalerm is of the same opinion. Speaking of the occupation of the Sip Song Chau Taï by the French, he writes: "During this time, Pavie, in his capacity as French Consul, went to see Phraya Nondhaburi. He requested permission from him to join the French troops who had come from Lao Kai in Annam. It can be noted that, at this time, Pavie recognised Siamese sovereignty. However, shortly afterwards he stated that the Sip Song Chau Taï belonged to Annam and that France had inherited the rights to them from Annam."

Moreover, in the opinion of the Siamese, the battle of Paknam would not have taken place if Pavie had exercised his role honestly. Before the Inconstant and the Comète had entered the Menam, "[Prince Vadhana] [Siam’s representative in Paris] succeeded in convincing Develle, the French Foreign Minister to countermand their orders. Develle therefore sent a despatch via Pavie ordering the French warships not to enter the Menam. […] But Pavie employed trickery to ensure that the despatch did not reach the hands of the captains of the two warships in time. He placed it in the mailbag […]. He boarded a boat to take the bag to the two warships (on 13th July 1893) without saying anything about Develle’s new order. As a consequence, the two warships did not receive the new order and acted in accordance with their previous orders. This pleased Pavie a great deal, as his wish was for France and Siam to go to war."

One of the tactics France used to extend her sphere of influence in the territories on the left bank of the Mekong was to send French commercial agents to the towns within the confines of Siam. "The commercial centres that Pavie established did not have any of the goods necessary for everyday life. As for the commercial agents, they were nothing but hooligans skilled in espionage and terrorism, who one might simply call "Parisian hooligans". This was the case, for example, with Champenois." M. Chumsay writes: "After having sent Pavie to Luang Prabang, France also sent spies into the territories on the left bank of the Mekong, saying that they were merchants […] In fact, these Frenchmen were Pavie’s men. In the guise of merchants, they were secret agents charged with obtaining news from the left bank territories."

Another accusation has Pavie as a coloniser in the guise of a diplomat. Speaking of the occupation of the Sip Song Chau Taï by Pavie, S. Charnchalerm writes: "After having met Ong Ba, a Ho chief, Pavie removed his diplomatic mask to become the coloniser. He attempted to convince Ong Ba to accept French protection. If Ong Ba accepted his proposal, Pavie would take him to Hanoi. But Ong Ba refused." S. Thirasaswat has a similar opinion of Pavie: "In 1892, Pavie returned to Siam. This time, he bore the title of "Consul to Bangkok". At this time this was the most important French diplomatic title in Siam. French policy, as conducted by Pavie, was to subject the territories on the left bank of the Mekong at any price."

Ultimately Pavie was "a terrorist and the sworn enemy of the Asians, in particular the Laos and the Siamese," wrote S. Thavornsuk: "Such a man should never have been a diplomat because he provoked ill-feeling and hatred among the Laos and the Siamese. He was in no sense there to build relationships. He could be described as a terrorist-diplomat. He was someone who disrupted tranquillity, peace and international relations. Mr. Pavie was only competent as a coloniser. He deserved to be cursed by people from every corner of the world. Other diplomats should in no way seek to imitate him."

For the Siamese France, a powerful country, had, without shame and by all possible means, persecuted Siam, causing loss of its possessions and the lives of the people, as well as the annexation of territories covering an approximate total area of 467,500 square kilometres. What France did to Siam resembled what the wolf did to the lamb in La Fontaine’s fable as P. Tuck explained in The French Wolf and the Siamese Lamb. Consequently, when we consider Franco-Siamese relations during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, France is looked upon unfavourably. It is, however, also the attitude that the Siamese had towards Pavie himself: "He was an important factor who, more than any other, contributed to the annexation of the Siamese possessions by France." And so, for most Siamese, Pavie became a sworn enemy.

It is, of course, necessary to take into account the nationalism of the authors. S. Charnachalerm, author of The Pavie Mission, Pavie, the man who swallowed the Mekong writes: "Through a dishonest policy and due to its power, France succeeded in seizing Cambodia. Then by using Vietnam as a base for expansion, it seized territories on the left bank of the Mekong river, which are the Lao kingdom where the population is of the same race and blood as us. [...]. The discontentment and hatred that the Siamese feel towards France are indelibly engraved on our hearts."

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