33 Memorandum prepared by Delegation to Imperial Conference [1]

Memorandum E (37) 29 LONDON, 28 May 1937

MOST SECRET (limited circulation)


At the opening meeting of the present Conference it was indicated by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, Mr Lyons, that Australia would greatly welcome a regional understanding and pact of non-aggression among the countries of the Pacific, conceived in the spirit of the principles of the League, and that, to this end, Australia was prepared to collaborate with all other peoples of the Pacific in a spirit of understanding and sympathy.

[2] Mr Lyons, at the meeting of Principal Delegates held on the 22nd May, indicated generally what he had in mind, and stated that a friendly understanding in the Pacific would contribute to a settlement of difficulties, tend to hold the situation in the critical period ahead, and alleviate the position of the United Kingdom Government. It was agreed that the Australian Government should submit a memorandum elaborating the proposal. [3]

The idea of a Pacific Pact is one in which the Australian Government has long been interested, and to which it has given close attention. It was raised specifically by the Minister for External Affairs, Sir George Pearce [4], and the Attorney-General, Mr Menzies [5], in submitting the Government's proposals for the reform of the League Covenant to the Australian Senate and the House of Representatives respectively in September of last year at the time of the meeting of the Assembly at Geneva. In putting forward these proposals the Australian Government assumed that its foreign policy would remain based on, and harmonised with, the collective system of the League of Nations. It realised that the continued acceptance of League principles is a powerful factor in preserving the unity of the British Commonwealth of Nations, provided some practical way could be found of making the Covenant more effective in meeting ever-changing political and economic conditions. To the Australian Government there seemed to be no visible alternative to the League system as a foundation of foreign policy. It appreciated that the focal point of League reform is Article 16, with its purpose of maintaining peace through the coercive action of sanctions when other provisions of the Covenant have failed to effect a settlement. The experience of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute has shown certain defects in the application of Article 16, but there were weighty reasons for maintaining its provisions in some form, one of them being that 'it forms a reasonable basis for regional agreements in the framework of the League.' It was (and is), the view of the Australian Government, however, that some modification of Article 16 was necessary, to prevent States being automatically obliged to take coercive measures which might be ineffective or so dangerous as to commit their peoples to war, which might conflict with vitally [sic] national interests, or which might relate to a dispute in which the State had no immediate interest. It felt, however, that States, by virtue of agreements covering regions where their national interests are directly involved, might, if so desired, agree to render mutual assistance in the event of one or more of them being attacked by an aggressor. States, and especially European States, would be invited to enter such regional agreements within the framework of the League, and subject to the spirit and provisions of the Covenant.

So far as Australia is concerned, the Pacific is the area in which the Australian Government is most vitally concerned for the maintenance of peace. The Australian Government fully realises that any pact of mutual assistance for the Pacific, having a military character, is neither practicable nor desirable, as a Pact of this nature would command little support, and would only add to the commitments of the British Commonwealth. The Australian Government rather has in mind an understanding which will lead to a diminution and not an augmentation of commitments. It is felt that the promotion of a regional understanding in the spirit of the League undertakings for countries of the Pacific might reasonably be accepted as an objective.

It will have been noted that no definite suggestions have been put forward as to what form such a pact would take, for it is fully appreciated that there must be the most careful examination and consideration as to what degree of unanimity and agreement is possible.

There are signs that Japan is prepared to collaborate with the United Kingdom with a view to arriving at an Anglo-Japanese rapprochement, and conversations for such a rapprochement might, it is thought, include the possibility of reaching a wider understanding, embracing eventually all countries of the Pacific.

This would seem to be the most suitable starting-point, and it is considered essential to the success of the proposal that such a rapprochement should be reached. The progress of the conversations which were initiated last year with the Japanese Ambassador have been followed by the Australian Government with the deepest interest, and early in March last the Australian Government despatched a telegram to the United Kingdom Government in the following terms:-

'Commonwealth Government has followed with the closest attention and interest the question of Anglo-Japanese relations as indicated in various Foreign Office Memoranda, and especially those conversations on the Japanese Ambassador's memorandum of last November.

The Commonwealth Government feels the promotion of better relations and a closer understanding between Great Britain and Japan would be highly desirable from the point of view of Australia. The recent agreement against Communism between Germany and Japan, the attitude of Japan towards Naval disarmament and other international agreements, and the campaign for the Southward advance policy have created a feeling of perturbation in this country which a definite understanding with Japan, perhaps in general terms on the idea of the recent Anglo-Italian Pact, would go a long way to dispel.

The fact that the overtures were initiated by Japan and conversations continued after the German agreement was concluded seem to indicate that Japan is anxious to arrive at some definite understanding.

Should the present political situation in Japan not jeopardise this favourable atmosphere, the Commonwealth Government hopes that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will lose no opportunity of pursuing the matter to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.' [6]

Any new Anglo-Japanese understanding would presumably include some declaration of mutual policy respecting the integrity and independence of China, and the continued maintenance of the open door policy. It is felt that, if China could receive guarantees against any further acts of aggression or violation of her sovereignty on the part of Japan, she would be ready to collaborate in a wider Pacific agreement.

In this respect Mr Eden stated at the fourth meeting that 'China appeared to be ready to respond to genuine advances, and, recently, a Chinese Minister, Dr Kung, had stated that China would be ready to go half-way in order to secure a really satisfactory arrangement with Japan.' The Commonwealth Government has also been approached direct by representatives of the Chinese Government during the last week, who stated that they viewed the suggestion with a considerable degree of interest and would be prepared to collaborate to the full in arriving at a general agreement covering the Pacific region. [7]

There are also indications that Japan desires to establish closer and more friendly relations with the United States.

Mention has already been made at the Conference by the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr Mackenzie King, and the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Lyons, of conversations which took place between them and the President of the United States [8], and the very direct statements made by him in connection with security in the Pacific.

In addition, the Australian Government has evidence that the Netherlands East Indies are apprehensive about their position, are concerned with Japanese penetration, and believe that their future safety is closely linked with that of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and more especially of Australia. This being so, it is felt that the Dutch would willingly co-operate in the promotion of any regional understanding which has as its objects the maintenance of the status quo.

France was one of the original signatories of the Quadruple Treaty; and, being anxious and ready to co-operate with the British Commonwealth in all efforts to promote peace, would probably be prepared to entertain favourably the proposal, especially as she has extensive and largely unprotected interests in the Pacific.

The possibility of inducing the U.S.S.R. and Japan to collaborate in a Pacific regional pact may seem at present remote, but, with the lapse of the Washington Treaties of 1922 [9], the way is now open for Russia to join in a new understanding to cover the Pacific region. At the time of the Washington Conference Russia was a negligible factor in Pacific affairs, but with her rapid accession to strength, the possibility of her clashing with Japan is a disturbing element in the present situation. The tension between the two countries is, however, less acute than it was a year ago, and as it is understood that Russia had a grievance in that she had been excluded from the Quadruple Treaty of the Washington Conference (between the United Kingdom, United States, France and Japan), it is felt that the U.S.S.R. might now be prepared to collaborate in a new understanding.

The Washington Treaties had the effect of contributing, in large measure, to the maintenance of the status quo and the preservation of peace in the Pacific over a period of no less than 15 years.

The Australian Government feels that at the present time there are tendencies which are likely to endanger the status quo, that an era of heavy competition in armaments is threatened, and that the economic and financial position of the Pacific countries may, in consequence, be jeopardised. It will be recollected that the Washington Treaties lapsed at the end of 1936, and it is felt to be highly desirable that some step in the direction of replacing them should be taken before the position in the Pacific deteriorates. The Australian Government feels that it would be premature to discuss, in the present Memorandum, the form which any Pacific Pact might take, pending the ascertainment of the view of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions on the general idea.

In this respect the Australian Government appreciates that the proposal cannot be advanced unless it commands the whole-hearted support and co-operation in carrying it to fruition, of His Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

It is suggested that provisions, somewhat along the general lines of the lapsed Quadruple Treaty of 1922, might form a basis of discussion. The provisions of that Treaty included the following:-

'With a view to the preservation of the general peace and the maintenance of their rights in relation to their insular possessions and insular dominions in the region of the Pacific Ocean- 1. The High Contracting Parties agree as between themselves to respect their rights in relation to their insular possessions and insular dominions in the region of the Pacific Ocean.

If there should develop between any of the High Contracting Parties a controversy arising out of any Pacific question and involving their said rights which is not satisfactorily settled by diplomacy and is likely to affect the harmonious accord now happily subsisting between them, they shall invite the other High Contracting Parties to a joint conference to which the whole subject will be referred for consideration and adjustment.

2. If the said rights are threatened by the aggressive action of any other Power, the High Contracting Parties shall communicate with one another fully and frankly in order to arrive at an understanding as to the most efficient measures to be taken, jointly or separately, to meet the exigencies of the particular situation.'

It is submitted also that the proposed Pact might, in addition to the political collaboration envisaged in the Quadruple Treaty, embrace a general declaration of economic and cultural collaboration; a guarantee of non-aggression and respect for each other's sovereignty; and a reiteration of the principle of the Paris Pact to the effect that war was renounced between them as an instrument of national policy.

The Australian Government would appreciate the views of the Imperial Conference on the suggestion for a Pacific Pact, and if the general idea should meet with approval, it would further suggest:-

(a) A discussion as to possible forms which the Pact might take;

(b) A discussion as to what initial steps should be taken;

(c) Consideration whether the Conference might pass a resolution in respect to the proposal.

1 The rough notes for this memorandum were prepared by W. R.

Hodgson (Adviser to the Australian delegation) and written up by A. T. Stirling. The draft was subsequently amended by Hodgson, S.

M. Bruce and R. G. Casey.

2 Document 25.

3 Document 29.

4 Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 151, pp. 644-45.

5 ibid., pp. 622-23.

6 Document 12.

7 No documentation of this approach has been located.

8 See Document 29, note 5; see also Eden's speech, 2 June 1937, Document 36.

9 The Washington Conference, 21 November 1921-6 February 1922, attended by Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Japan, China and the U.S., resulted in a series of treaties:

(i) a collective guarantee of China's independence (the Nine Power Treaty);

(ii) a British-French-Japanese-American guarantee of each other's Pacific territories (the Quadruple Treaty);

(iii) an undertaking by Japan to restore Kiaochow to China;

(iv) a naval convention pledging the powers not to build capital ships for ten years, and establishing a ratio for capital ships of 5:5:3 between Britain, the U.S. and Japan.

The treaties were to remain in force until two years after notification of withdrawal by any of the signatories. Additional agreements on naval limitations were later reached in London to apply from 31 December 1930 until 31 December 1936.

On 29 December 1934 Japan gave notice of withdrawal from the provisions of the Washington naval treaty, which caused it to lapse at the end of 1936.

After a series of conversations and a further Naval Conference in London from 9 December 1935 until 25 March 1936 a new treaty was signed which put limits on capital ships and guns, and provided for advance notification of new construction. This treaty was signed by the British Commonwealth, France and the U.S., provision being made for Japan and Italy to accede to it later if they wished. On 23 June, however, the Japanese Cabinet formally decided not to adhere to it, nor did Italy ever accede. Germany, which had announced agreement in principle while the 1936 Treaty was still in draft, finally concluded a bilateral treaty with Britain on 17 July 1937, as did the U.S.S.R. It was only after this, on 29 July 1937, that the British Commonwealth finally ratified the London Treaty.

[AA : A981, PACIFIC 23]