147 Burton to McIntosh

Letter CANBERRA, 10 March 1949


I was somewhat concerned when I read the telegram [1] from Mr.

Fraser to Mr. Chifley regarding India's regional proposals. You will already have seen the reply', which I hope is satisfactory.

I very much regret that you did not have one of your own officers at the Delhi Conference because the answer to Mr. Fraser's fears in respect of a South East Asia region was to be found in the spirit of that Conference and the ability of the representatives.

Moodie and I went with the advice from the press, from Eggleston, and from all the experts that we would be confronted by a pressure group racially antagonistic and there would not be any fair consideration given to the subject. Nothing could have been further from the truth. No conference could have acted less in the manner of a pressure group from start to finish. For example, it was suggested that the Dutch and Indonesians might be invited but when it was found that the Dutch would not accept the invitation it was decided to invite neither party, and they were most impressive in their eagerness to work with Australia and New Zealand and to seek our advice. On some issues, such as the setting up of a secretariat, while we were a minority of one our advice was taken. All through there was a keen, though perhaps naive, desire to act correctly, particularly in respect to the United Nations and at no stage was there any thought of separate action.

Nehru, as Mr. Fraser will know, is a leader amongst the few and his prestige in the area is certainly outstanding. Largely due to him, but also because of the good sense of all the representatives, there were no political, ideological or other irrelevancies brought into the Conference. I have never attended a conference, even at home, where facts and logic, counted for so much and prejudice for so little.

I fear that from down here we are inclined to be influenced by our own Opposition propaganda and we are inclined to write off these people as unreliable and basically antagonistic. There is no evidence of this in the area itself; on the contrary there is a keen desire to work with us as it is from Australia and New Zealand that technical, administrative and educational advice is sought, it being politically impossible to seek assistance from the old colonial powers.

On the other hand, if we are to adopt the policy advocated by Hughes [3], Menzies [4], Harrison [5], etc., in this country, and no doubt by your Opposition in New Zealand, inevitably antagonism will be created and there will be formed in that area a pressure group. We would have difficulty in resisting it in any of the councils of the world or bilaterally for the reason that we cannot depend upon the support of any of the western powers.

My own feeling when I came back from Delhi was that South East Asia is rapidly becoming more and more stable. Every one of the 18 governments represented there was actively resisting any infiltration from foreign powers and was well aware of the dangers of Communist influence. Though they were not acting in any sense as a pressure group there was a desire to avoid involvement in the East-West conflict and to preserve peace, at least in this area. I do not think there is anywhere a deliberate antagonism toward the Western powers or a desire to exclude them; on the contrary, the Delhi group would have been the first to say that Dutch assistance and influence in Indonesia is essential to the welfare of the Republicans. India and Pakistan know full well the value of British help and, in fact, any Englishman in India or Pakistan will say that their position there is now stronger than it ever was. Industrialists particularly made this point and you find scattered everywhere English advisers invited by the Indian Government. The same is true in Malaya, the general belief being that in order to preserve the political integrity of the native peoples the continuance of British influence is essential otherwise the place is handed over to the Chinese and not one of the countries of the South East Asia region wishes to see this.

Looked at from this point of view the Delhi group is of tremendous importance to Australia and New Zealand, particularly since recent changes in China and the use which will. be made of Chinese minorities throughout South East Asia and the Western Pacific.

I feel that this question as to how we approach South East Asia is probably the most fundamental and vital Australia and New Zealand have to face. I feel it would be most unfortunate if we pursued different policies and it is not enough for us to understand each other's point of view and agree to differ. It is true Australia and New Zealand are differently placed but not much so. New Zealand's fate will ultimately be determined probably by Australia's relations with South East Asia in the years to come.

For that reason I am concerned about this exchange of telegrams which reveals a difference in point of view, though Mr. Chifley's reply was meant to be reassuring. I think it is something we should get down to in detail because every day the question is before us in one form or another, for example, the question of Burma, the future of Malaya, the question of India and Pakistan in British Commonwealth relations, not to say the old question of Indonesia. Policy in respect of each one hinges on this basic question.

Not unrelated is the important defence question as to the use, if any, of Australian and New Zealand forces in the event of a European conflict. Whatever the experts down the line might be planning my own view is that it is politically unthinkable for Australia to send one man outside the area of South East Asia and the Western Pacific. The assumption of a contribution in the Middle East is not only unrealistic but may be in the ultimate misleading in the sense that assistance might be counted on and might not be forthcoming.

I do not know how these questions should be discussed between our two Governments, but it is clear they should be discussed in all their aspects. I suppose the first step is for us, on an administrative level, to put forward some clear proposition or to be clear on our points of difference prior to seeking definite policy decisions. On this subject there is no definite Australian policy, though we are, I think, moving towards a greater degree of co-operation with the countries of South East Asia based on a greater respect for the leaders we have come to know. There is, however, no over-all policy decision which suffices to integrate foreign policy and defence policy. I assume that it is the same with your Government and therefore it would be appropriate for some consultations, first on the administrative plane and then at the highest level. If this subject is to be discussed, as has been hinted at an early meeting in London, it is all the more necessary for us to clarify our views. Frankly, I think it would be a great pity for discussions to take place at this stage in London. If Australia and New Zealand are not quite clear in their own minds and are not in full agreement, the trend of discussions at a conference in London will pay little respect to Australia's and New Zealand's long-term interests in this area and we will find the problems of this area once again becoming a by-product of Western union.

I do not wish to put forward any proposals, but if you agree with me that this is the fundamental issue and if any good purpose could be served by discussions at one level or another, I am quite sure the Prime Minister would react favourably to a follow-up on his telegram suggesting discussions at one level or another, at one place or another.

1 Document 145.

2 Document 146.

3 W.M. Hughes, member of the House of Representatives.

4 R.G. Menzies, member of the House of Representatives and Leader of the Opposition.

5 E.J. Harrison, member of the House of Representatives and Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

[AA:A1838/278, 383/1/2/1, iv]