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1 Cablegram from Senanayake to Chifley

Colombo, 8 November 1949

47. SECRET

You will remember that at the Prime Ministers' Meeting held in London in October, 1948, a proposal was mooted that in the interval between meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, Meetings on Foreign Affairs may be held at ministerial level. Though there was some difference of opinion subsequently about the regularity of these meetings the principle that such meetings should be held as and when found necessary was acceptable to all, at that time I invited the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to hold the first of these meetings in Ceylon which you will recall received general approval at the time. (See paragraph 2 of annex to document PMM (48) on 13th meeting of Prime Ministers Conference held in October, 1948.)3 1 was hoping that it would have been possible to have held the first meeting in Ceylon in the first part of this year, but this did not materialise as the Special Meeting of Prime Ministers in London in April last, precluded the Foreign Ministers meeting within a short time of it.

2. In view, however, of the present international situation it appears to me that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers might consider it most important that the Foreign Ministers should meet together early to exchange ideas. The questions are of such a complex nature that it is only by personal contact and consultation that the fullest understanding of each others' view points can be secured. I venture, therefore, to remind you that Ceylon's invitation for the first Foreign Affairs Conference to be held here still remains open and we hope that it will be possible to aim at the meeting in Colombo very early next year and, from our point of view, January would be a suitable month. I might add that it has been tentatively suggested that the Conference should begin on the 11th January and end on the 21st January.

3. I have consulted Mr. Attlee4 informally, and his view, in which I concur, is that the Conference should discuss the general international situation; he felt that it would not be possible to consider some of these political problems in isolation from relevant economic issues. We do not think that it would be practicable to extend the proposed meeting so as to include Finance Ministers as well as the Ministers of External Affairs, but we think it would be advisable that each Commonwealth Delegation should include one or two Senior Officials competent to advise their Ministers on such broad economic questions as may arise (though not in detailed questions of supply). It would be useful if, without obscuring the main purpose of the Ministerial Meeting, these Economic Advisers could also meet simultaneously among themselves to make stock of the general balance of payments position of the Sterling Area5 as a whole in the light of all that has happened since the Finance Ministers' Meeting last July.6

4. As regards the items to be put on the agenda, I shall await suggestions from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, but if I may make a suggestion myself, I should say that besides a general review of the international situation including economic aspects and the situation in Europe, we may discuss the Japanese Peace Treaty, the situation in China and any special problems of South East Asia which may be brought up. We are in communication with the United Kingdom Government on the subject of the Agenda, and we shall be grateful if any suggestions you wish to make are sent direct to the United Kingdom Government, with a copy to us, in order that the United Kingdom Government may co-ordinate the proposals.

5. I know how difficult it is for Foreign Ministers to leave their countries at short notice, particularly for the Prime Ministers who, in addition to their own duties, also bear the heavy burden of the portfolio of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I very much hope, however, that it will be found possible to adopt my suggestion and hold the first meeting of Foreign Ministers in Colombo, in January 1950. We should be greatly honoured indeed if the visiting Ministers and the official staffs which they would wish to bring with them would be our guests. We attach the greatest importance to the meeting being at ministerial level and sincerely hope that the Foreign Ministers of every Commonwealth country would find it convenient to come.

6. I should be grateful if I might have your views at the earliest possible moment. Even an indication in a general way of your first reaction to my proposal would be of great assistance to us in planning for the Conference.

[NAA:A1838, 532/7 part 1]

1 D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Ceylon.

2 J.B. Chifley, Australian Prime Minister.

3 See Document 90, Volume XIV, Documents on Australian Foreign Policy (DAFP).

4 C.R. Attlee, UK Prime Minister.

5 The sterling area was an association of mainly Commonwealth countries that conducted its trade in sterling and concerted its exchange and import licensing policies with respect to countries outside the sterling area.

6 See Document 37, Volume XIV, DAFP.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017

Category: International relations

Topic: History