145 Fraser to Chifley

Cablegram 35 WELLINGTON, 7 March 1949, 5.18 p.m.


External Affairs telegram 22 of 18th February. [1]

I can fully appreciate the need and desirability for Asian countries to consult among themselves on matters of common interest. I am, however, not aware of any common standard for regional associations; and although we have now received through the Indian High Commissioner in London, his Government's memorandum on the steps by which it is proposed to implement the third resolution adopted by the New Delhi Conference, I am still by no means clear as to what are to be the practical functions and scope of the proposed Asian grouping.

2. The ostensible functions may well be regional co-operation and assistance to the United Nations in the settlement of disputes arising within the region. To the exercise of these functions I feel there can be no very strong objection if the association is generally desired by all major countries represented in the area, but the scope of the proposal should be made clear and definite.

3. It is nevertheless felt that the New Delhi Conference itself can scarcely be said to have had this character, since one of the disputants, the Netherlands, though comprised with the region, was not even invited to attend. It seems probable, therefore, that the association will be conceived rather as a pressure group, aimed largely at bringing about the speedy termination of European rule in Asia. While we are in full sympathy with the reasonable aspirations of colonial peoples to achieve independence as soon as they are capable of undertaking responsibilities involved, the manner and tempo of a development of this nature may be of great importance. For instance, we should not wish to see the sudden termination of existing authority in Malaya.

4. Whatever may be the ultimate characteristics of the proposed Asian association, however, I am not convinced either as to the desirability or the necessity of New Zealand being formally associated with it. Indeed, it is my personal view that we should definitely not take part. In reality, New Zealand though adjacent to Australia who, in turn is adjacent to South-East Asia and a South Pacific country, having its natural links within the South Pacific grouping. Quite apart from not wishing to form a part of an Asian bloc within the United Nations, we in New Zealand are disturbed at the growing tendency, not only among Asians, but among Europeans and Americans, to regard New Zealand as belonging to South-East Asia. I do not feel we should encourage a train of thought which might lead to general acceptance of a belief that we are expected to carry a disproportionate share in the burdens of Asia, or indeed, that we constitute a natural field of Asian expansion. That Asian Leaders should seek to emphasise the Asian connections of New Zealand may, it seems to me, be regarded as a projection of their hopes and even ultimate intentions for New Zealand. The inevitable pressures of increasing population and the equally inevitable growth of national consciousness throughout Asia are considerations which must necessarily influence New Zealand's policy. The fact that Asiatic countries are beginning to have an active policy towards ourselves renders it essential for us to have some positive policy also. It seems inevitable that eventually our immigration policy will be attacked and this we should be in a better position to withstand if we refused to be classified as part of Asia which we are not, either geographically or in any other sense, and the same is true as we see it, of Australia.

5. At the same time, we cannot divorce ourselves from an interest in Asian developments, the importance of which we fully recognise.

I appreciate that, for instance, it might be to our interest, as occasion may require, to participate in South East Asian meetings and, on such occasions, as observers rather than as full members.

We in New Zealand certainly wish to be as neighbourly as possible.

If, without in any way jeopardizing our economic or political independence, we can contribute through technical assistance, or by fostering commercial relations, we shall certainly wish to do so.

6. Speaking with the candour which our common interests require, in my view the Australian situation is similar to our own as it is a South Pacific and not a South East Asian power. Being nearer to Asia and also more powerful than New Zealand it can play a bigger part in the neighbourly role we see as the right one. We may thus exert some, though not very considerable influence on the policies of the Asiatic countries. But as I see it, they, especially India, are fully determined to take the lead in any important matters themselves. By too intimate association we may find ourselves more in the position of followers than we should wish.

1 Referring to the India. proposal for a regional association, Chifley agreed 'in principle to a regional association including India, Pakistan and South East Asia. countries with Colonial territories represented by the metropolitan powers concerned'.

[AA:A1838/278, 851/18/3]