185 Mr F. Strahan, Secretary of Prime Minister's Department, to Mr R. R. Sedgwick, Official Secretary of U.K. High Commission in Australia

Letter CANBERRA, 1 November 1940

SECRET

I am directed by the Prime Minister [1] to acknowledge receipt of your letter, Ref. 2/114, of 30th October [2] referring to the establishment of an Australian Legation at Tokyo.

Your letter was placed before the Prime Minister on the afternoon of 30th October. On the morning of that day an announcement appeared through the morning press of Australia which was based upon the following statement made to the press by the Prime Minister.- 'At the first meeting of the Advisory War Council all members were present. Apart from the necessary preliminaries it was decided to take the opportunity for a discussion with Sir John Latham before his departure to take up the post of Minister to Japan. It will be remembered that the Minister remained in Australia for the purpose of such consultation. He attended the meeting, as did Mr. McEwen, the retiring Minister for External Affairs, who was familiar with previous discussions by Cabinet on the appointment of a Minister to Japan.

We had a very close and detailed discussion on the functions of the Minister, and general instructions to be given him and the policy to be pursued in relation to Eastern affairs. I am happy to say that the decisions revealed complete unanimity on all the matters discussed, so Sir John Latham can go away feeling that there is no division of opinion on the questions with which he will be dealing.' This announcement referred to the Australian Advisory War Council, which represents a new departure in Australia designed to avoid, or at least diminish, the difficulties of party politics so far as the conduct of the war and of international relations is concerned. Great public interest is being taken in the proceedings of the Council, and it would be very unfortunate from all points of view if the first decision made (which was a unanimous decision) was, without satisfactory assignable reason, immediately reversed.

The decision that Sir John Latham should at once go to Tokyo was taken after full consideration of the circumstances, including the prior consultation with the Government of the United Kingdom, the agreement of that Government to the proposed appointment, the acceptance of the Minister by the Government of Japan, the unavoidable postponement of his departure on account of local political conditions, and the desirability of adding to anti-Axis diplomatic representation in Tokyo in the present hostile state of opinion in Japan.

It is the view of the Commonwealth Government that representation is more imperatively required in difficult times than at other times. The Commonwealth Government most definitely does not regard the despatch of an Australian Minister as involving any approval of the policy of Japan or as indicating any weakening of or risk of division in Empire policy. It is assumed that the Government of the United Kingdom is of the same opinion.

It is the opinion of the Commonwealth Government that the establishment of an Australian Legation without a Minister would, in the present hysterical condition of the Japanese people, quite probably be regarded as an insult. On the other hand, normal and unexcited procedure in times of crisis is in itself often a steadying factor.

Accordingly, the Commonwealth Government thinks that it would be wise for the Minister to proceed to Tokyo as already announced. It is, of course, recognised that changes in circumstances may at any time make it necessary to review the question.

F. STRAHAN

1 R. G. Menzies.

2 Document 183

[AA:A461, A703/1/2]