516 Report by Moodie

Extracts NEW DELHI, 11 April 1947

REPORT ON ASIAN RELATIONS CONFERENCE 23RD MARCH - 2ND APRIL, 1947

The Department of External Affairs has already received from this office a steady bombardment of cables, Rapporteurs' Reports and newspaper articles describing the course of the Conference. They should provide a great deal of the material required for a just appraisement of the work performed by the Conference.

[matter omitted]

None the less the conference established that there are many causes for dispute amongst the Asian countries themselves, both on the score of migration and internal discrimination and that Australia, if she plays her cards skilfully, should be able to avoid a concerted challenge. The countries which appear most involved in difficulties of this sort are Burma and Ceylon. We have reported by cable on the approaches to the Australian observers by the leader of the Burmese delegation, Justice Kyaw Myint, and his suggestion that Australia should continue her migration policy, and his veiled hint that Australia and Burma might profitably 'get together'.

ECONOMIC DISCUSSIONS

A wide field was covered, but the main manifestation was a desire to curb the power of foreign capital investment and the singular lack of any practical proposals to give effect to this.

POINTS FOR CONSIDERATION

(1) It is questionable how far it would at present be advisable for Australia to become involved in-let alone take a leading part in convening-a South-East Asian Regional Conference. India is at present trying to group the Asian countries together. The odds, with Chinese opposition, are against this but in the meantime they would be unlikely to welcome direct initiative or organisation from outside. China would certainly oppose such a move and India would be reluctant to surrender the initiative to anyone else.

Australia might by all means discuss in a friendly way with India the possibility of Australia being associated in any such move but talks with India should precede anything else.

(2) The same general object can be achieved in other less political and less controversial ways. For example, Australia should send a strong delegation to the forthcoming (preparatory) Asiatic Conference of the I.L.O. [1] This delegation should be well equipped with material to back up our claims to be ready to promote all forms of development in South-East Asia. They should proceed tactfully and avoid blatant assertions of Australian superiority in the social and labour field.

(3) The importance of maintaining Indian goodwill still remains, although the likelihood of India's assuming leadership in South- East Asia now appears much less. Foolish actions or provocative remarks could still unite Asian countries against Australia. An intensification of this could still lead to some complaint before the United Nations against Australia. Thus, indirectly, it is our world status that we seek to preserve in our relations with India.

(4) While principles on which Australian migration policy is based must remain, it may be possible to make our rules somewhat more flexible and less apparently exclusionist. Certain cultured and deserving types of Asiatics who do not fit into present categories might usefully be admitted and in such cases, the necessity for renewing their permits annually might be waived.

(5) The desirability of consideration being given by the Australian Government as to which of the Asian countries are most worth cultivating: the assumption is that smaller countries can be fairly readily tied to Australia economically, so that if we handle our power benevolently they will always be reluctant to enter into controversy with us or to question our policies in public. Most likely examples are Indonesia and Ceylon, possibly with Burma and Siam next. Both India and China are too big to be much influenced by us in this economic way. The approach to them must be along more general paths of goodwill.

THE AUSTRALIAN OBSERVERS

Messrs. Packer and McCallum constituted a most pleasant and capable pair of observers. It is no exaggeration to say that they stood out in a rather mixed gathering and it was noticeable that their company was frequently sought by delegates of all groups.

When one also takes into account that they were both unwell at several stages, their success is all the more praiseworthy.

Finally, they quickly established and maintained most pleasant relations with all members of this office.

1 The ILO governing body decided that a preparatory Asian regional conference would meet at New Delhi from 27 October to 8 November 1947 and that Australia would be invited.

[AA : A1068, M47/9/6/15, ii]