222 Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia

Cablegram 200 LONDON, 12 September 1939, 10.08 p.m.

MOST SECRET

Your telegram No. 191 of the 11th September. [1] Please inform Prime Minister of the Commonwealth as follows [2]:-

1. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are grateful for the Prime Minister's message, which seems to them to set out very clearly the principal factors which must be taken into account in considering how the Far Eastern situation is likely to develop.

2. Question of what action should be taken on the Japanese Government's 'friendly advice' to withdraw our garrison and ships is under urgent consideration with the French and United States Governments, and until agreement is reached with them, it is impossible to say definitely what is likely to be the immediate future of Anglo-Japanese relations. The issue depends on the extent to which we and the French can rely on United States support in countering Japanese irritation if we disregard their advice. As soon as consultation with France and the United States is complete, we shall telegraph further. Meanwhile following are interim replies to the Prime Minister's questions.

3. Our reasons for believing that Japan will remain neutral for a time are that this would seem most likely to serve her immediate ends. It would improve her chances of an early Chinese settlement.

She has had more than two years of war in China and five months of by no means inconsiderable hostilities on the Mongolian frontier.

She has been disconcerted by the German-Soviet agreement and is uncertain of the attitude of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. and conscious of the value of the British and French Empires as markets. It seems unlikely that Japan would lightly engage in actual hostilities with either, unless and until she feels reasonably sure that their preoccupations elsewhere are such as to ensure their inability to resist Japanese attack. Japan may, in fine, be expected to play, as the Prime Minister says, a purely selfish game and is likely to enter into no agreement now either with us or the enemies which she would regard as binding on her for longer than she thought it would pay her.

4. We should have made it clear in telegram No. 191 of the 8th September [3] that the possibility of Japanese hostility is not excluded, and that the suggestions in that telegram were framed to meet the present situation. These suggestions would, we feel, tend to increase Australian readiness to meet any contingency, i.e.

both Japanese hostility and neutrality. We appreciate that whether or not it will be possible for Australia to despatch oversea land and air forces to assist in the general war effort of the British Empire must be decided by the Commonwealth Government in the light of the conditions at the time when these forces are ready.

5. Admiralty would not propose in the first instance to employ the second cruiser and five destroyers (see para. 4 of telegram No.

191) west of Suez, and it is realised that the availability of naval and air force personnel from Australia and technicians of all three services must of course depend on the extent to which these could otherwise be usefully employed in the Australian forces.

1 Document 219.

2 Whiskard handed a copy of this cablegram to Sir Henry Gullett, Minister for External Affairs, who in turn passed it on to the Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies, on 13 September (See AA: AA 1972/341, box 6, Cables etc.,... December 1939).

3 Document 214.

[AA:AA 1972/341, Box 6, CABLES ETC..... DECEMBER 1939]