272 Sir John Latham, Minister to Japan, to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 68 TOKYO, 4 February 1941, 10.45 p.m.

Repeated to Washington 12; London 12.

My telegram No. 60. [1] Your telegram No. 46. [2] According to latest reports (which since they are reported to Naval Board Melbourne no doubt you have seen them) although Japanese cruisers at present in Gulf of Siam and naval force south of Hainan, southward move which seemed probable at end of January does not seem to have developed. Also there is no confirmation yet of Japanese request for bases and I have seen report from Bangkok denying any demand on Thai. Therefore I have not seen Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs but am keeping in closest touch with British Ambassador and will act in accordance with your instruction should change in circumstances make action appropriate.

Press and Government are playing up the idea that acceptance of mediation means that France and Thai[land] have accepted and submitted to Japan's leadership in East Asia and include Indo- China and Thai[land] in the mutual co-prosperity sphere which Japan is about to establish. [3]

Very desirable that all possible steps be taken to counteract this endeavour to establish a fait accompli.

I have told the Minister for Foreign Affairs [4] that Australia is not part of Asia and that Australia will not accept any new order prescribed by another Power. Dutch Minister [5] made similar statement on 1st February to Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Important to try to establish this attitude in Thai[land] and Indo-China and to stimulate self-respect rather than self- abasement.

In particular every effort should be made to prevent Japan's securing either in terms or recitals of any agreement reached or in any statement any reference to Japan's leadership in East Asia or to future co-operation with Japan.

But what seems to me most important is a more general decision as to what is to be the British policy with respect to South East Asia. There is no doubt that acceptance of Japanese mediation has greatly enhanced Japan's prestige. I fear that Japan's hold on French Indo-China is very strong. Whilst this is a serious threat to our position at Singapore, Japan's domination of Thai[land] would be far more serious and would make the situation of Singapore very precarious. Available resources in Army, Air and above all material are very slender to deal with land based attack. If worst happened we would have to hope for aid from the United States. But I think we should decide where we must draw our lines. If, as I believe, it is Thailand, I think we should adopt following policy; we should do what we can to strengthen our forces near Thai border, warn Thai Government against giving footholds to Japan and offer them all aid in our power to resist any attempt by Japan to take them by force. We should try to disabuse Thai of any idea that they will escape by yielding to Japan.

Having decided on our policy we should explain to the United States Government fully and in advance what we are doing and reasons for it and that we hope they will stand by us if we are attacked.

It may be urged that such action will bring about Japanese attack on us but in my opinion it is more likely to make Japan pause for despite the outcry in their press I do not believe they want war especially as it means American intervention, but seek rather to advance peaceably by slow stages establishing each position before they make the next move. Compare with Hitler in Europe.

Finally, I think we are more likely to secure United States support if we make up our minds and tell them what we believe we must do.

In making the above recommendations I realize the many other preoccupations of the Government in London and Canberra, but I fear we may have already missed the chance of persuading Indo- China to stand firm and that we may see Thai[land] go the same way unless we are resolute and prompt. As I assume Mr. Menzies [6] will leave shortly for both Singapore and London present seems to be the moment for considering and deciding our policy. [7]


1 Dispatched 29 January. It reported rumours that Japan might demand bases at Camranh Bay in Indo-China and Songkhla in Thailand and suggested that if the rumours proved true he (Latham) should protest to the Japanese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Chuichi Ohashi. See file AA:A981, Japan 185D, i.

2 Dispatched 31 January. It authorised Latham to consult the U.K.

Ambassador to Japan, Sir Robert Craigie, and, if it seemed appropriate, to ask Ohashi if there were any truth in the rumours mentioned in note 1. See file AA:A1608, A41/1/1, xvii.

3 At the end of January 1941 France and Thailand accepted Japan as mediator in the Indo-China-Thailand border dispute.

4 Yosuke Matsuoka.

5 General J. C. Pabst.

6 Prime Minister.

7 On 17 February Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister for External Affairs, submitted to War Cabinet a draft reply to this cablegram which expressed the view that the guarantee suggested by Latham would provoke rather than deter Japan, because it was very doubtful if Thailand would offer military resistance to a Japanese invasion, even with British help. On 18 February War Cabinet decided that it would be inadvisable to reply on the lines proposed by Stewart and that an acknowledgment only should be sent to Latham. See AA:A2671, 71/1941, and 77/1941 with Supplement no.

1. The acknowledgment was sent to Latham as cablegram 82 on 11 March. See file AA:A981, Japan 185B, i and Document 312, note 5.

[AA:A981, FAR EAST 14A]