564 Massey to Evatt

C.M. Dispatch 16/47 SINGAPORE, 31 March 1947



I have the honour to inform you that the deliberations of the Economic & Social Council of U.N.O. regarding the establishment of an Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East have been followed with keen interest in this country, and particularly by His Majesty's Special Commissioner in South East Asia, Lord Killearn, and his staff.

[matter omitted]

4. You will doubtless have already been informed of the course of the negotiations which ensued in New York and which resulted in the recommendation to establish an Economic Council for Asia and the Far East. I shall therefore confine myself to commenting on some implications of the formation of this Council and on the attitude thereto of the British authorities in this area.

5. In the first place, the British, as you are aware, were reluctant to see the formation of ECAFE and would have preferred the proposal to be shelved. However, when it became apparent that the proposal would receive sufficient support to ensure establishment of the Commission, the British delegation was instructed to give support. The British authorities feel that it represents a dangerous threat to British authority and British prestige in the Far East to give wide powers to a commission on which Asiatic countries, and in particular India and China, are so powerful. It will therefore probably be the aims of British policy in this area to:-

(a) limit the activities of the ECAFE as far as possible; and (b) exercise as much influence as possible over its deliberations and actions.

6. With regard to (a), the British representatives on the Economic and Social Council will endeavour to avoid too wide a charter being given to ECAFE. With regard to (b), every effort will be made to secure the maximum British influence in ECAFE. To this end the desire as learned from discussions with the Special Commissioner's staff is to establish the position of Lord Killearn's organisation in Singapore as an organ of international collaboration in South East Asia, on which ECAFE will need to depend in its early activities both for information and machinery.

This is one of the most powerful reasons why the proposal for a conference of South East Asian territories on social welfare is being pushed forward so strongly by Lord Killearn. It is felt that, the more active, efficient and useful the Special Commissioner's organisation can become in the international sphere, the greater will be the British influence on the activities of ECAFE. That some measure of success has already been achieved in this direction is evidenced by the unanimous approval of the proposal for the social welfare conference referred to in my Despatch No. 15/47.

7. The inclusion of Australia as a member of ECAFE has been most warmly welcomed here. It is recognised that Australia has a most powerful contribution to make, both in material resources and experience, to the economic rehabilitation of the East, and furthermore the British look to Australia for support on a body in which they fear they may be hopelessly outnumbered by Asiatic representatives.

8. In the absence of Lord Killearn, I have had several discussions recently on this subject with Mr. Michael Wright, Deputy Special Commissioner, who most strongly confirms this picture of local British reaction to the formation of ECAFE. The speed with which a decision was reached to establish ECAFE took everyone here by surprise. It was not until advice of the actual decision was received on March 10th that its imminence was appreciated. At that stage, the Deputy Special Commissioner took steps to make available to me all signals and other information he had on the subject.

9. This will doubtless be one of the most important matters which Lord Killearn will wish to discuss with you on his forthcoming visit to Australia. [1]

1 Killearn visited Australia in June.


The preliminary report of the Temporary Sub-Commission on the Reconstruction of Devastated Areas, presented in September 1946, recommended that the UN Economic and Social Council establish a permanent Economic Commission for Europe to facilitate economic reconstruction. Pressure for a corresponding organisation for Asia and the Far East resulted in a resolution by the General Assembly recommending two commissions and the establishment of both at the fourth session of the Economic and Social Council in March 1947.

Membership of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East was restricted to ten countries, including Australia.

[AA : A1068, ER47/3/18]