160 Burton to Evatt

Memorandum CANBERRA, 26 January 1949



1. Your general instruction was that we should do everything possible to ensure that the Asian Conference on Indonesia did not take any action contrary to the purposes or to the procedures of the Charter. We were not in a position to commit the Government to any resolution. We also were instructed as to procedures so that there would be no voting, no signing, and so that the final conclusions would be agreed to ad referendum. Your object in this was to give us freedom to play a full part in influencing the outcome without risk of commitments, and at the same time enable us to avoid the embarrassments, overseas and local, arising from a clear-cut distinction between observer and delegate, and to act as officials under instructions.

2. On arrival in Delhi it was immediately clear that the press speculation on status, the demands that Australia should not attend, the bitter comments by leaders of the Opposition regarding Asiatics as being Communist inspired, etc., helped no little by one-sided Reuter reports, had prejudiced greatly Australia's position. We were received on trial and with the greatest reserve by Indian officials and the Prime Minister. The first two days were therefore spent making personal contact with members of the Department of External Affairs, the Prime Minister's staff and others. At the first informal meeting held at the Prime Minister's home on the eve of the Conference, procedures were discussed. We put forward our proposals, and, in the absence of any other clear ideas, they were accepted. The picture was complicated by the fact that the Arabs had come to the Conference to advocate a point of view on Palestine and we therefore took advantage of this occasion to make it clear that Indonesia was the only subject for discussion. Though perhaps not relevant to the discussion our general approach was indicated, that is, that this Conference should act objectively and in accordance with the Charter. This, added to the preliminary contacts made, helped to signify we were taking a full part and suspicion was in part broken down.

3. The Conference commenced with the public session at which we spoke only after having ascertained that all delegates were doing so. This was well received and press reports of it coincided with your statement [1] from Melbourne in support of the Conference.

4. Thus in the ensuing secret session we were fully accepted and, in fact, after the first day we were looked to to give a lead. The Prime Minister, Nehru, who chaired all meetings rarely moved ahead without seeking our views and it followed we were placed on the drafting committee along with Pakistan, India and Ceylon-four Dominions. The Conference soon completed its business after this point and final texts are attached. Your Sydney statement [2] was reported at a most appropriate time and, being well received by all delegates, greatly assisted us in pressing the case for the United Nations.

5. The following observations are relevant:-

(a) India Relations We learnt from the United Kingdom High Commissioner that Nehru had told him that the United Kingdom attitude over Indonesia was not helpful to his endeavours to bring India within the Commonwealth.

Senior officers of the Department of External Affairs confirmed this and clearly implied that had Australia not attended the Conference, or had Australia attended only in the suspect position of observers, the consequences may have been serious. India is disturbed and bewildered over United Kingdom foreign policy, especially South-East Asia policy, but sees hope in British Commonwealth co-operation if Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Ceylon and herself can influence British Commonwealth policy.

(b) Burma Relations A similar position exists in Burma. Apparently you influenced greatly their present Foreign Minister [3] while at Paris. He explained that he cannot see his way clear to join the British Commonwealth, but as a first step is eager to join the five Dominions in this area in regional consultations. This perhaps should be followed up and consideration might be given to the establishment of a Consulate at Rangoon and the supply of constitutional, technical and other advice they are at present seeking from us.

(c) Communism One striking feature of the Conference was that every government represented, and that includes every government in the area, was without exception anti-Communist and free reference was made to the need of action on Indonesia and like cases to offset the infiltration of subversive influence. In fact, Nehru explained to Bevin one reason why the United Kingdom and the United States of America were not invited was that he did not wish to ruin the Conference by inviting Russia. The clear fact is (and MacDonald at Singapore agrees with this) that the only Communist dangers in Asia occur in the territories which have not yet self-government- French Indo-China, Malaya, and until Hatta took his action, in Indonesia. This fully justifies Australia's policy of assisting true nationalist movements. United Kingdom policy so far does not seem to take account of this fact as evidenced by the United Kingdom Government attitude not only in relation to Indonesia, but also to French Indo-China, which incidentally will at any time attract the attention of the nations represented at this Conference. Recent discussions between Britain, France and the United States on how to combat communism in South East Asia again point to the fact that they do not realise the value and significance of this regional group and tend to use the anti- Communist line to justify action such as France has taken in French Indo-China.

(d) Regionalism There is a strong desire on the part of all independent States for continuous regional consultation and organisation. Because of experiences at ECAFE and because of the nature of international conferences which include the Great Powers, there is a marked reluctance to include in a regional organisation, either colonial or other powers not actually located in the area. The United States Ambassador at Delhi considers it would be most unwise for the Great Powers to be included. Nehru wishes to press on with a regional organisation, and we reminded the Conference of your statement [4] made in the House in February, 1947, advocating regionalism, particularly in the economic field.

(e) Economic Relations There is a strong feeling expressed by the Prime Minister and also by the Governor of Calcutta [5], amongst others, that Australia should use her resources more to the advantage of the area in which she lives. They feel our preference to the United Kingdom shown in bulk purchases (and incidentally shown in the higher price for wheat sold to India than to the United Kingdom based on transport costs from a point outside Australia) is hardly in accord with our long-term market interests and in their view, certainly not in accord with our own future regional interests.

6. The Asian Conference on Indonesia was even more important than the question of Indonesia. It has shown that we can work with this group and that they are willing and anxious to work with us and in accord with the Charter. It was most noticeable that at no stage during this Conference were any questions of national prestige or political ideology interfering with the discussion based on facts and careful reasoning. It seems, however, that if we are to influence this group of nations, we should on such occasions be represented at a Ministerial level and treat their deliberations no less seriously than we would the deliberations of any other international conference. On this basis Australia can rely on the help and understanding of Nehru, with whom we finally established quite unreserved and friendly relations and who showed himself determined to maintain the peaceful conditions in Asia and to avoid racial arguments or disputes.

7. We hope the Government will find that the final resolutions [6] are wholly in accord with Australian foreign policy and will be able to communicate to the Prime Minister, Nehru, the endorsement of the first resolution which follows the United States draft [7] before the Security Council, but which adds to it proposals on the fundamental issues of the future use of the police force and the steps to be taken towards self-government, which the United States Government, under threat of veto by the French, was reluctant to introduce. We hope, too, that the Government can give their agreement to taking early action on the other two resolutions, particularly that one dealing with regional consultation, as it is important that the initiative should rest with Australia, or jointly with Australia and India, in order to avoid any suggestion of a regional organisation based on considerations of race.

1 See note to 2 to Document 111.

2 See note to Document 113.

3 U.E. Maung.

4 See note 2 to Document 104.

5 Presumably a reference to Dr Katju, Governor of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal.

6 Document 144.

7 Document 124.

[AA : A1838, 383/1/25]