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279 Letter from Casey to Menzies

Canberra, 18 August 1954

PERSONAL CONFIDENTIAL

I have been discussing with some of the senior men in my Department some of the matters to which we might well be paying attention in the course of the next twelve months. The following condensed notes are by no means exclusive—but they are some of the things that I believe we should be thinking seriously about in the period immediately ahead:

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(1) Australian relations with Japan

We have already discussed this and have come to certain conclusions.

(2) Cultivation of understanding with Asia

We have of course a considerable preoccupation with Asian affairs, and I take every opportunity personally of visiting Asian capitals. The Colombo Plan is a good shoe-horn for our interest. I am constantly seeking new forms of initiative in connection with the Colombo Plan. The recent Rank1 visit to Malaya (plastic face surgery) was a good move. I have been working on a correspondence course for Asians (starting in Malaya) that I believe will work out usefully. Indeed, without the Colombo Plan we would have only glancing opportunities for communication and contact with the members of Asian Governments.

Our diplomatic posts in Asia are all quite reasonably good, although I have some changes in personnel in mind that I believe will tend to improve them. The attitude of the Australian press is generally quite good, with the exception of the Sydney Mirror, Truth and Bulletin. I see editors and leader writers off the record on Asian matters from time to time—and I try to beat down the occasional public outbursts of ignorance, prejudice and emotion on Asian questions. However, I believe that more activity on our part is needed. Maybe we should be thinking of sending a Parliamentary Mission or so to some of the Asian countries. Possibly also a Press Mission or so. I would like to see stepped-up Radio Australia programmes to Asia, including a Chinese (Mandarin) programme to South East Asia, where there are many millions of Chinese, may of them sufficiently prosperous to have short-wave radio sets.

One problem that we have to cope with in Asia is that of combating the belief that is held in some quarters that we are an American 'satellite'. I have told our representatives that they should, from time to time, tell the Asians of particular issues in which we have succeeded in influencing American policy for the good; and also to interpret favourably the policies of the United States in this area. I believe that I did something to disabuse Nehru's mind about our 'subservience' to the United States in my long talks with him a couple of months ago at New Delhi, in the course of which, amongst other things, I let him look at a telegram or two that I had sent to Washington just before. In this general regard, of course, we have to steer a careful course.

We can from time to time make a significant contribution to the international political scene, by injecting new ideas or acting as the go-between, accelerator or brake, according to the circumstances. However, because of our limited strength, the area in which we can make our major effective contribution is our own back yard—South East Asia. What we most want to see in South East Asia is the development of stable, democratic and friendly governments. In other words, a group of reliable buffer states between ourselves and the Communist drive to the South—although we must never call them that. I believe our main endeavour should be to give further positive aid towards attaining this objective with every weapon in our armoury—ranging from diplomatic relations, through increasing cultural contact and economic support, to less respectable activities.

As regards accommodation for Asian students at our Universities, I think that the time has come for us to consider a Commonwealth Government contribution to the International House in Melbourne. They've collected �70,000 from the public over the last twelve months.

(3) Indonesia

Apart from the Dutch preoccupation with Dutch New Guinea, Australia is more directly concerned with the state of affairs in Indonesia than any other country. We have quite a reasonably good Australian post at Djakarta—but I feel that we should be paying a good deal more attention to affairs in Indonesia. We are in process of doing quite well by them under the Colombo Plan. However, I feel that we should intensify our contacts with them and our knowledge of them. As you know, I hope that Crocker will agree to go to Djakarta as Ambassador.

(4) Developments in Africa

The developing Central African Federation and other movements towards independence in Africa are beginning to take shape of which we must be conscious—particularly the potential emergence of the Gold Coast and Nigeria with self-government by the indigenous natives! The question of dominion status will arise in the face of South African opposition. Maybe, before long, we ought to be trying to get Australia better known amongst indigenous Africans and to think of some Australian representation in this part of the world. In time, little will remain of direct European influence in the whole African–Asian region which separates South Africa and ourselves from Western Europe. It would be dangerous for us to allow ourselves to be judged by the South African racial policies.

(5) External Affairs Department

One of the problems of this Department (maybe of other Departments too) is the extent to which its senior members at least are preoccupied and over-worked with day-to-day affairs. The spate of paper is tremendous. The difficulty is to shape things so that at least a few senior officers get sufficient time for quiet thinking and discussion. Maybe we will have to make special provision for this by divorcing an officer or two from the daily routine.

I would be glad if I might have a talk with you on these and related matters.

[NAA: A462, 610/8/1]

1 Benjamin Rank (see Document 269). He later undertook Colombo Plan assignments in India and Ceylon (see Document 289).

Last Updated: 10 January 2017

Category: International relations

Topic: History