64 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Cablegram unnumbered GENEVA, 22 September 1937, 10p.m.

PERSONAL SECRET

Advisory Committee of 23 on the Far Eastern situation, which was set up in 1933, to follow the then existing Sino-Japanese situation, to assist the Assembly in performing its duty under Article III paragraph 3 and to aid members of the League of Nations in concerting their action and their attitude among themselves and with non-member states, held meeting yesterday afternoon as the result of a decision of the Council taken last week to reinvoke it. It originally consisted of members of the Committee of 19 set up early in 1932 Plus Canada and the Netherlands. United States and U.S.S.R. later joined it, United States of America representative acting as observer and not voting. All the original members attended yesterday's meeting, including the United States Minister, Berne [1], but excepting Italy which although still of the Council is taking no part in League affairs owing to Abyssinia still being regarded as member.

On the proposal of the United Kingdom and France, an invitation was extended to the Governments of the parties to the dispute, China and Japan, and to the Governments of Germany and Australia to be represented on the Advisory Committee. This invitation I have now received formally for transmission to you. Next meeting is fixed for Monday, 27th September, but if replies are received from the four invitee Powers before then it will meet earlier.

Invitation to Australia due to the fact of our interests in the Pacific and to my remarks in the Assembly cabled to you. [2] With regard to the latter, action taken is not in accordance with my suggestion. My idea was that the League should make it clear that qua League with its limited membership effective action was not possible but that in view of the seriousness of the situation and vital interest in the dispute of certain nations inside and outside the League, an attempt should be made by whatever means were deemed most expedient to bring about meeting of such Powers with a view to getting in touch with the countries concerned in the dispute and endeavouring to arrange some settlement or, if this were impossible, of concerting such measures as might be necessary and practicable. This meeting to be limited to Powers vitally concerned, which in practice would have meant the Great Powers, with the possible exception of the Netherlands and Australia. Action down these lines might have been taken in a way to make it extremely embarrassing and difficult for any Power to refuse to attend. Had an invitation to such a Conference been extended to Australia, our decision would clearly have been acceptance. A more difficult situation arises under the proposals that have been adopted. Japan and Germany will almost certainly refuse the invitation, and Italy will be absent owing to her attitude of non-co-operation with the League at the present time.

This would mean a Committee composed of members of the League of Nations with the half-hearted co-operation of the United States of America. Such a Committee would, in my view, be impotent and futile and would tend to bring the League into further contempt. I appreciate that this position would be altered if the active co- operation of the United States could be looked for, but I see no indication of such an eventuality. The determination as to the wisest course for Australia to pursue in response to an invitation to join the Committee presents great difficulties. For us to refuse the invitation would come as a considerable shock to all the members of the League and would be regarded by Great Britain as an unfriendly act. On the other hand to accept without any indication of our attitude places us in a somewhat false position.

An alternative would be to accept but at the same time to make our position clear down the lines that we do not consider the League, without the active co-operation of countries at present outside the League can take any effective steps other than to ascertain and publish to the world the facts and that in view of the serious issues involved, vital interests concerned, and menace to world's peace constituted by the present situation, Australian delegate on the Committee will be instructed to urge that further steps should be taken to bring about co-operation of the Powers outside the League whose vital interests are seriously jeopardised by the present position in the Far East. Before making final recommendation as to course we should adopt, I should like to have your reaction to the points I have indicated above. As reply to invitation must be sent by Monday next it is urgent that you should let me have them at the earliest possible moment.

1 Leland Harrison.

2 Not found.

[AA : A981, CHINA 114, ix] BRUCE