Commonwealth Consultative Committee
The following sets out my views concerning Australian action in the Consultative Committee and I should be glad if you would bring them to the attention of Ministers when you have your discussion. I have yet to see the six-year development programmes submitted by the various governments and their size must largely determine the policy which we will follow in London. For that reason I can only draw to your attention certain general considerations at this stage.
2. These programmes differ from the course which Australia advocated at Sydney which was directed to meeting immediate priority requirements within finite financial limits. However, the present procedure may prove to be the most effective in winning United States support. As a first consideration we should try to get an informal reaction from the United States as to their willingness to provide a large share of the finance required. The whole project was based on the assumption that the Americans would fill the missing component after the British Commonwealth had demonstrated that it was prepared to share the burden within our capacities.
3. For this reason I have proposed to Bevin that he and I raise the matter privately and informally with Acheson in Washington with a view to getting some indication of United States attitude before the meeting of Ministers takes place in London.
4. It is evident now that only in respect of India, Pakistan, Ceylon and the British Territories in South East Asia, will the London meeting be able to draft development programmes and attach to them a specific estimate of external assistance required from Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries. Non-Commonwealth countries may attend the meeting for the purpose of a general discussion and I think Australian policy should be directed most actively towards encouraging them to come. These are the countries which are most directly exposed to Communist penetration and their attendance in London will—
(a) lay the ground for the assessment of their economic needs in greater detail at a subsequent stage;
(b) help to break through the political suspicions which are at present deterring them from associating with the Commonwealth in a joint venture; and
(c) enable the Commonwealth to pass to the Americans a report which at least contains some reference to the economic needs of South East Asia and thereby prevent a situation in which the Americans are being asked to interest themselves solely in the economic development of the four British Commonwealth territories which traditionally the Americans have regarded as a British concern alone.
5. It is most important that, in view of the attitude of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, the Indo-Chinese states should not be the only non-Commonwealth governments which attend the London meeting.
6. At the same time I hold the view that the Commonwealth should stand ready to go ahead with assistance to the British Commonwealth countries which submit plans and should not delay merely because of the failure at this stage of the non-Commonwealth countries to submit programmes on which a financial decision is required. Now is the time to demonstrate that the interest of the western world in Asia is not confined to the application of armed force against Soviet-Communism. We should demonstrate to the United States that the small beginning that we already made by appropriating some funds for technical assistance work will be followed up in a broader way with economic assistance generally subject to their own participation.
7. For the reason given in paragraph 1 above, it is not possible for me to recommend to you an amount of assistance which Australia should be prepared to contemplate. It would be preferable to explore American attitude further. It should be possible to argue successfully that it is not practicable at the London meeting to enter into any definite commitments about the Australian contribution since the Government will not have had time to study the report as a whole. Other governments will be in a similar position. But at the same time I should think it would be necessary to make a decision before the end of this year so that soon after the presentation of the report to the Americans and before the Administration finalises its next year's aid programme we can simultaneously indicate what the Commonwealth can do and make a suggestion for American finance. There would be a number of attendant issues arising from the use of sterling as a means of financing the programmes and we shall no doubt hear from the British upon this when they have assessed the way in which the burden of aid might in practice be distributed in real terms.
8. Concerning the agenda item dealing with priority economic requirements, I feel inclined not to press for decisions to offer ad hoc assistance separate from the long-term programmes until we see the outcome of them. If the long-term programmes do not come to fruition, it may be necessary to revert to the more limited approach at a subsequent stage.
9. So far as technical assistance is concerned, I am anxious that Australia retain the initiative in the Colombo organisation either by nominating promptly a suitable Australian Director-General of the organisation or at least by attempting to obtain the Chairmanship of any standing committee which is set up. So far as policy towards technical assistance is concerned, I would recommend that the Ministers endorse the instructions sent by me to the delegation at Colombo1 as sufficient guidance for the London meetings.
10. Pending any further development of Government policy in Canberra, I have instructed Tange to be guided by the foregoing in the official discussions.
[NAA: A3320, 3/4/2/1 part 2]