522 Report by Stuart [1]

Extracts SINGAPORE, 24 December 1947




121. Australia is a country about which the Burmese have hitherto known very little. Certain educated circles have realised that it was a British Dominion but, even among these, few have realised what degree of progress, economically and socially, has been reached by Australia, or what measure it has attained of independence in international relations. The war and what is regarded as Australian championship of the Indonesian Republic have changed all this, and there is now a keen interest in, even an admiration for, Australia, which in the case of Burma is not counterbalanced by any feeling of resentment against the racial implications of the White Australia Policy. The Burmese are unfamiliar with this policy and I was only catechised on it by the Deputy Secretary U Tha Din, among all the Burmese I met. He was not very convinced by my hedging, but fortunately the colour bar is not a real issue in Burma. There is a considerable Anglo-Burman community in this tolerant Buddhist land which is as acceptable to the Burmese as the Europeans.

122. Australian foodstuffs crowd the Rangoon shops, and as other Australian products find their way to Burma the possibilities of closer commercial relations with Australia are constantly before the eyes of the Burmese authorities. In education, too, the possibility of increasing the present number of Burmese studying in Australian universities is looked upon with favour, particularly because it is cheaper to send state scholars to Australia than to the United States of America or to the United Kingdom.

123. A new development is the growth of interest in Australia politically. The part played by Australia in international affairs since the war, the way in which Dr Evatt is considered a champion of small nations, and the Australian defence of the Indonesian Republic, regarded as a persecuted Asian community under colonial domination and as such the 'fair game' of the west, have kindled Burmese interest considerably. It is also a fact that the present Burmese government feels itself very much a shorn sheep on the cold uplands of independent statehood, and is looking around for a kind shepherd. It was made clear to me in Rangoon for instance that the Burmese government would like to see generally closer relations with Australia because this would afford them both contact with the West and closer association with what they regard as their own part of the world, that is, South-east Asia.

124. If it is right to assume that Australian security depends upon the freedom of South-east Asia from great power domination, and that the development of its independence and welfare is vital to us, then the independence and progress of Burma are major Australian interests. As in Indonesia, so in Burma, Australia has an opportunity open to no other western nation; it can offer the economic advantages of other western nations without the political disadvantages that so often go with the former, for Australia is not strong enough in numbers or military weight to be a source of fear. The Burmese would welcome Australian diplomatic and commercial support after the transfer of power, and might look in time to Australia for leadership. As it is so manifestly to our advantage that they should, there seems every argument in favour of a forward policy now so far as Burma is concerned.

125. Australia does not want to see, at some future date, the borders of a Japanese, Chinese, or Indian empire reaching to Java and Timor. A guarantee against this is the maintenance of a region of independent buffer states. These include Siam, Burma and Indochina as well as the Philippines and Indonesia. It is probably inevitable that we come to regard Burma sooner or later as a country whose defence is vital to the security of Australia. This being so the present anxiety of the Burmese leaders for closer relations with ourselves provides an opportunity to start well, and it is my recommendation that the Australian Government should open a diplomatic mission in Rangoon as soon as possible, as a first step in a process of greater penetration of the Union. From such a beginning it is not too much to hope that greater political understanding generally will follow; this is quite likely if the Australian representative is accessible, patient and friendly and has something positive to offer. It might also be possible to make known to the Burmese that in matters concerning the independence and security of their country they can rely upon Australian support at the United Nations.


126. At our earliest conversation together the then Secretary for Foreign Affairs asked me if Australia proposed to open a diplomatic mission in Burma. This was usually the first question put to me by all Burmese officials. At the conclusion of my first interview with him the Minister for Foreign Affairs raised the issue himself with the opening, 'Well I suppose we had better do something about reciprocal representation.'

[matter omitted] [2]

129. From my discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs it emerged that the Burmese have in mind an exchange of diplomatic representatives and at a high level. I have outlined in the preceding section my own views on the value of an exchange with Burma. It follows from this that I hope personally the Government will agree to diplomatic representation there. I felt it would be wise all the same to tell U Tin Tut that we had no diplomatic representation in South-east Asia, and that manpower and financial difficulties had limited us, for instance in the Philippines, to a consular mission. The Burmese are however in an exalted mood on the eve of their independence, and they feel that the recognition of that independence abroad will be the degree of importance attached by foreign countries to their representation at Rangoon.

There are only six missions here: United Kingdom, United States, China, Siam, India and Pakistan. All are embassies. French and Dutch missions have not yet been established but are about to be.

The Burmese clearly hope that Australia will establish an Embassy in Rangoon, and the fact that they wish to open a mission in Australia with their very limited resources is, in their eyes, a sufficient compliment for Australia to concede them the highest form of diplomatic representation in return.

130. I am quite unaware of Australian intentions in this regard.

If however it is our aim to open a post here, any suggestion of consular representation would badly disappoint the Burmese and would to my mind be better not made. The figures given above are those for the smallest mission that would be of any value to us in Burma, and it will not be possible to have representation there at less cost. In the circumstances I see no objection, and every advantage, in giving it a style which would please the Burmese.

1 Stuart had been directed on 5 December to make a brief goodwill visit to Burma.

2 Matter omitted is a detailed estimate of costs involved in establishing a mission of appropriate size.

[AA : A1838,441/1/3, i]