Subject: Colombo Conference�United Kingdom Reactions
I propose to comment very briefly on the reactions to the Colombo Conference in the United Kingdom, emphasising
(i) Nature of coverage by Press and radio.
(ii) Comment by newspapers.
(iii) Comment by magazines and reviews.
(iv) Official views.
2. The Conference was best reported by a joint service of the London 'Times' and 'Manchester Guardian'; I enclose a set of these reports...2 Other daily newspapers all covered the Conference, in reports which varied in length from day to day. The British Broadcasting Corporation made the Conference the main item of many of -its news bulletins and had a number of broadcasts direct from its representative in Colombo. Naturally these reports tended to emphasise the views of the United Kingdom, with the result that the contributions of Mr. Bevin and Mr. Malcolm MacDonald were given prominence perhaps even beyond that which they undoubtedly deserved. Of the other personalities a fair estimate based on the public reports would be that Pandit Nehru, Mr. Spender and Mr. Pearson in that order were, after Mr. Bevin, the most prominent participants. No single item attracted as much attention on any one day as the Australian proposal for mutual economic aid in South East Asia did on each of the last two days. The newspapers generally avoided more than the barest reference to the Kashmir dispute,3 which, while not on the agenda, was obviously in the minds of the members of the Conference and the subject of unofficial discussion between them.
COMMENT BY NEWSPAPERS
3. Comments were in general enthusiastic as to the overall value of the Conference; there was some disappointment that United States inaction had made positive discussion of the Japanese settlement difficult; the principal differences in approach to political problems caused no surprise but the impression created certainly was that in five and a half days the Foreign Ministers were more specific in their discussions than earlier Conferences of Prime Ministers have been.
4. The Australian mutual aid plan was regarded extensively as the most positive achievement of the Conference. In particular it is described as an imaginative, if as yet tentative, plan to get a highest common denominator of action on the basic problem of South East Asia, in relation both to the immediate domestic needs and in relation to world Communism. I attach leading articles from the 'Times' of 9th and 16th January...and 'Manchester Guardian' of 9th and 16th January..., also an article from the Observer' of 15th January...(the content of which does not appear to me quite to justify the headlines).
COMMENT BY REVIEWS
5. I do not propose to canvass the issues raised by the various journals but a brief summary of the main references ought to be useful here:
(i) The 'Economist' of 14th January, in a long article (written before the Australian proposal was submitted) challenged the primarily economic approach to the problem of Communism in Asia by emphasising the time factor and the 'dependence at every turn...of economic development upon strategic and political considerations...The most immediate requirement is obviously that of defence'. The latter parts of this article to an extent redressed the balance of the earlier, and this trend was continued in the 'Economist' of 21st January, on which I reported briefly in my telegram No. 307 of 21st January,4 and in which the relation of United States policy in Asia to the Australian plan was stressed.
(ii) The 'New Statesman' on 21st January, in an item headed 'Western Worlds and Eastern Parsnips', cynically dismissed the Colombo Conference.
(iii) The 'Tribune' of 20th January said it was obviously one of the best such Conferences ever held and could not have been held if the United Kingdom had a Tory Government.
6. It is too early for United Kingdom officials to have formed views as to the next steps. But the information they have already received from Colombo and their impression of the public reports suggests to some of them the following views:—
(a) The Australian proposal is, in addition to its merits, important as a practical alternative to the various other suggestions made for collective action in the past few years (e.g. India's bid to lead a regional grouping, which was made evident at the Delhi Conference on Indonesia, January 1949; the Philippine suggestion of a Conference on cultural and like matters in mid-1949; the proposed Korea-Philippine-China alliance, and the talk during 1949 of a Pacific Pact, which made no appeal to the United States).
(b) The non-exclusive character of the Australian proposal and its provision for coordination of activity gives it a real chance of success.
(c) The location of the Consultative Committee in Australia is important in the development of British Commonwealth machinery. Some officials feel there are already too many Committees and working parties in London. It should be able to complete tasks uncompleted by the Killeam organisation.5
(d) The financial talks at Colombo have been useful and the interest of Australia and New Zealand in Burma welcome.
(e) The Kashmir situation remains the big problem and informal talks about it at Colombo were disheartening.
It would be wrong to treat these points as summarising United Kingdom official opinion, but I think they do give at any rate an impression of atmosphere in which the views of returning delegates from Colombo will be received. It should be remembered that, in view of the election,6 the work of the United Kingdom Government on the Colombo recommendations will be in the hands of officials to rather a greater extent than usual.
[NAA: A3318, L50/3/2/28]