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87 Letter from Stuart to Watt

New Delhi, 28 August 1950

Indian approach to Australian-South East Asian Relations

[matter omitted]

The conclusion which one reaches at present in any attempt to evaluate Australian relations with India and South East Asia is that, while the logic of events is tending more and more towards just the sort of South East Asian grouping which has been discussed,2 racial antagonism may very likely prove a stronger counter-force. It may seem absurd, in terms of practical reasoning, but it is nevertheless a fact, that the racial basis of our immigration policy is a stronger antagonistic force to our neighbours than the economic and technical development of Australia is an attractive one. There is of course no possibility of Australia changing its immigration policy to meet this situation; indeed it is scarcely worth discussing it at the present time. But while we will no doubt feel justified in proceeding with our present positive policy towards South East Asia, we should be under no illusion that we are, as a country, likely to obtain any considerable goodwill by so doing. The conduct of South East Asian relations with Australia is likely to present something of a continuing dilemma to South East Asia's leaders; events compel them to co-operate with us, but we must not believe that their hearts are really in it. In the circumstances some comfort can be taken from the co-operation displayed to date by the circle of ministers and publicists who do not let their hearts rule their heads. There is I think evidence that this tendency to co-operate is growing; if we exercise patience and assume an attitude of modesty in our dealings with India we may hope with reasonable confidence to achieve a mutually profitable relationship. But we will be sorely tried in the meantime, and we will escape disappointment by bearing in mind constantly the limited nature of India's likely response to our efforts.

[NAA: A183B, 3004/11 part 1]

1 A.S. Watt, Secretary, Department of External Affairs.

2 Stuart had written of the ideas of E.P.W. da Costa, editor of the Eastern Economist, who 'is now the leading protagonist of a school of thought favouring some sort of South East Asian bloc, under the joint auspices of Australia and India, and manifesting in joint agencies for development and mutual support'. Da Costa thought that South-East. Asia 'might grow into something on the Benelux model, with India and Australia as its two poles'.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017

Category: International relations

Topic: History