114 Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 262 LONDON, 29 June 1939

PERSONAL FOR PRIME MINISTER MOST SECRET

Prime Minister [1] sent for me last night to ascertain the reactions of Australia to the present situation at Tientsin.

After making clear to him that anything I said would be mainly surmise on my part we had about an hour's conversation.

Broadly what I conveyed to him was as follows:-

(1) That Australia considered the position had not been very happily handled in its inception and elaborated to him the views given in my telegram of 17th June. [2]

(2) That Australia would desire every effort to be made to relieve the present tension that was possible, having regard to the necessity of maintaining our prestige, not encouraging the Japanese to further and more far-reaching action, and not antagonising American opinion by the appearance of abject surrender.

(3) That we agreed that the best means to this end would be conversations now arranged between the British Ambassador [3] and Arita [4] in Tokyo.

(4) That if the Japanese were intransigent, refused localisation of the issue and endeavoured to force a change in United Kingdom policy we would recognise the necessity of taking a stand.

(5) In the event of action being necessary by the United Kingdom herself, such as increased assistance to China, or economic reprisals, we would not offer opposition to anything that might be decided particularly if it were in conjunction with the United States merely on the grounds that it might lead to hostile armed action by Japan.

(6) That in the event of its being necessary to ask Australia's cooperation in any economic action, we would probably agree because such a request would only be made in face of extreme provocation by Japan involving dangerous repercussions which could only be met by determined and united action.

I raised with the Prime Minister the point as to Naval reinforcement in the Pacific in the event of action being necessary which led to hostile armed action by Japan.

I told the Prime Minister that I had seen exchange of cables which had taken place with late Prime Minister [5] and that I could not understand the suggestion of a new situation having arisen, as in all my conversations with the British Government last year on the subject of part of the Grand Fleet proceeding to the Pacific, the possibility of a combination of Germany, Italy and Japan had always been visualised.

He then told me of the exchange of cables with yourself recently and read me his reply. [6]

I told him that I thought the position was most unsatisfactory and that it needed greater clarification.

I suggest that you should authorise me to take this question up with the British Government.

Please advise me of your views on the above points so that I can inform the Prime Minister whether my impressions of Australian attitude were correct or otherwise.

BRUCE

1 Neville Chamberlain.

2 This is presumably a reference to cablegram 238 of 18 June (Document 106).

3 Sir Robert Craigie.

4 Hachiro, Arita, Japanese Foreign Minister.

5 See Document 46.

6 Documents 111 and 113.

[AA: CP 290/6, ITEM 8]