435 War Cabinet Minute

Minute 365 MELBOURNE, 25 June 1940

AGENDUM No. 147/1940 [1] AND SUPPLEMENT No. 1 [2]-THE EFFECT OF THE POSSIBLE OCCUPATION OF THE NEW HEBRIDES AND NEW CALEDONIA BY JAPAN AND THE STRATEGICAL POLICY GENERALLY IN RELATION TO FRENCH COLONIES

(Previous reference-War Cabinet Minute No. (345) [3]).

In regard to the Commonwealth Government's cablegram No. 303 of 18th June to the United Kingdom Government relative to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, the following replies of the United Kingdom Government in cablegram No. 187 of 21st June were noted:-

(i) That a request had been made to U.S.A. for a declaration to the effect that it would not tolerate any alteration in the status quo in the Far Eastern Pacific. It was observed from a later cablegram (D.282 of 23rd June) that the United States Government could not at present go beyond the declaration made by the Secretary of State [4] some time ago in connection with the Netherlands East Indies, but suggested that better results might be obtained from immediate United States diplomatic activity in Tokyo.

(ii) That the United Kingdom Government was of the view that to forestall Japan by occupation of the islands with our forces would provide them with a dangerous pretext for similar action on their part against the Netherlands East Indies.

2. It was decided that representations should be made to the responsible French authorities in New Caledonia and the New Hebrides that the Commonwealth Government would be glad to enter into discussions with them on trade relations, and that the Commerce Department should arrange for a review of the position and the extension of an invitation, through the appropriate channels, for representatives to come to Australia. It is particularly to be ensured that due regard is paid to Japan's present trade relations with the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, to avoid any ground for complaint that the present volume and nature of her trade with these islands is being prejudiced. Advice of these proposed negotiations is to be forwarded to the United Kingdom and New Zealand Governments.

3. Following a discussion generally regarding the strategical policy which should be adopted to encourage resistance in the French colonies, and the action taken by the Australian High Commissioner as outlined in cablegram No. 461 of 23rd June [5], agreement was expressed with the attitude of the United Kingdom Government, an outline of which is contained in the following summarised statement in cablegram Z.134 of 20th June from the Dominions Office to the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Australia:-

'In general we do not think that with our very limited resources we can attempt to occupy French oversea territories but in some cases our control of sea communications should enable us to deny the resources of these territories to the enemy. We hope it may be possible to stimulate continued resistance on the part of the French Colonial Empire forces.'

(NOTE: The following relevant cables should be noted:Z.127 of 19th June;

Z.134 of 20th June;

No. 194 of 24th June [6];

Z.152 of 25th June. [7])

1 This cablegram was repeated to General Mittelhauser, Commander- in-Chief of French forces in the Middle East.

2 On file AA: A2671, Agendum, 147/1940. It included a copy of the U.K. Dominions Secretary's cablegram D282 (Document 426).

3 Document 399.

4 Cordell Hull.

5 Document 424.

6 On file AA: CP290/7, M, ii. It reported measures to safeguard U.K. strategic interests in West Africa.

7 On file AA: CP290/6, 48. It reported the U.K. Govt's views on the status of General Charles de Gaulle.

[AA: A2673, VOL. 3]