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7 Memorandum from Borthwick to Burton

Canberra, 23 November 1949

C. 408

Commonwealth Conference in Ceylon�1950

I took advantage of a formal call which I paid this week in Mr. Amott's2 company upon Mr. Vaithianathan, Secretary to the Department of Defence & External Affairs, Ceylon, briefly to raise the subject of this Conference. Mr. Vaithianathan had very little to say except to express his satisfaction at the reception generally given to Ceylon's invitation, particularly because some misgivings had originally been maintained as to the probable reaction of South Africa.

In connection with the Agenda I enquired whether there was any particular item, such as the Japanese peace settlement upon which definite views had been formed by his Department, but was informed that all these matters had as yet been considered only very generally. As far as Ceylon was concerned he felt that the Island was too small and Japan too far away for them to have studied the matter in any detail. (I made no comment upon this somewhat novel appreciation which may not moreover represent the whole truth, but I would surmise that in any case almost all the energies of senior civil servants and political leaders in this country have been devoted over the last two years to constructing a government and administration, and in these circumstances there may have been little time for any but most immediate external problems). He added, however, that the Government of India, which was thinking of itself more and more in the role of pre-eminent Asiatic Power, would be much more likely to bring some positive opinions to the Conference, and to show itself increasingly jealous of any restoration of Japanese strength that would enlarge her impact on this area. It is difficult to say from here how far this may be so, but no doubt it is a matter upon which you are adequately informed from New Delhi.

I gained altogether an impression that Mr. Senanayake's main interest in the Conference was its importance politically in marking out clearly in the public eye the altered position of this country since its emancipation from Colonial to Dominion status, so that his invitation might perhaps be said to have been inspired by his appreciation of its domestic and, since he will be host, of its personal advantage in the field of public relations. On the other hand a further advantage may be seen in emphasizing the position of Ceylon in a wider Commonwealth association of equals in status, which would protect her from the client relationship to her most powerful neighbour which she is anxious to avoid. For both of these reasons the fact of the Conference may seem of greater importance here than the details of its agenda.

However, if there is any item upon which you might wish especially to present the Australian view on an informal basis before the Conference assembles, there might be some advantage in doing so in order to permit its proper consideration by Ceylon. If you think the idea worth pursuing an indication in broad outline of any points which could be put forward on a conversational basis would be welcome.

[NAA: A1838, 532/7 part 1]

1 A.H. Borthwick, Official Secretary, Australian High Commission, Colombo.

2 L.J. Amott, First Secretary, Australian High Commission, Colombo.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017

Category: International relations

Topic: History