184 Gollan to Burton
Departmental Dispatch 6/49 NEW DELHI, 3 February 1949
SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE ASIAN CONFERENCE
You may find interest in the accompanying articles which appeared in the 'Hindustan Times' of January 30th  and the 'National Herald' of January 31st.  The Isaacs article probably owes something to disclosures made by Romulo who we believe showed few inhibitions where American journalists were concerned. Isaacs may also be the victim of some of Romulo's impressions. The 'National Herald' article fades towards the end.
2. In one important respect the Congress press differs from official spokesmen in Delhi. It has always beaten the pistol by imagining that an Asian bloc already exists except for the accomplishment of a few formalities which it would probably discount as merely formalities and in this mood it is apt to huff and puff. Hence the references to Australian migration policy that one finds in the present article and in others that appear, editorially or otherwise from time to time.
3. In this period of flux no Asian country will take the risk of keeping entirely aloof from any proposal for an Asian grouping that comes forward from a responsible quarter but while an impression of solidarity might thereby be created it by no means follows that there is great cohesion in the present show of union.
Inside the Asian perimeter several possibilities of dispute are capable in future of breaking through the surface. The position of Indians in Burma and Ceylon, outstanding differences between India and Pakistan, Siam's attitude towards Chinese migration and Chinese minorities, the indeterminate nature of Indo-Chinese relations are all cases in point. If the Arab countries are to be included in Asia the likelihood of difficulties are multiplied.
4. In these circumstances the tendency may be for Asian bloc protagonists to select targets like colonialism, neutrality and racialism which will raise no dispute within Asia itself. The last aspect provides one good reason why references in Australia to our migration policy need to be most carefully handled, and mention of colour as well as the use of the unhappy expression 'White Australia' avoided religiously and at all costs. If policy has to be explained then the defence of it need be not only expressed in terms of Australian living standards and the deliberate unproductiveness of Asian countries. With much wisdom it can also be backed, where these invoke general principles, by the arguments that Ceylon and Burma, for example, might be expected to use against Indian pressure, or Siam against Chinese pressure where the question of their own policies arise as they do arise and will arise.
5. Whatever misgivings there are, there is equally much of a constructive nature that regional organisation can accomplish in Asia provided it is within the framework of the United Nations Charter. Besides, there are Asian leaders, including Nehru, who are prepared to see a grouping of Asian countries in its most liberal sense. It is the pressure of zealots which needs to be watched.
6. Some integration of Asian thought was inevitable. The idea of cohesion having found its first expression over Indonesia, it was just as inevitable that Australia should participate in the discussions. To our mind Australian security is involved. It was essential to prevent the conference holding itself out as purely an Asian conference thereby favouring those who would build up an Asian pressure group; it was essential to discourage an outlawing of the Charter; it was essential to prevent any sudden alignment of East versus West. There were incidental reasons such as the factor of Communism in the region which as Nehru said could not be permitted as the sole protagonist of Indonesian freedom.
7. Furthermore in the background of the Australian decision there must be the disappearance of European, especially British influence in South East Asia. This has left a political vacuum in the area and represents a problem which, certainly in its early phases, can be safely offset only by a stable combination of Australia and India in association. The element of stability so evident as the conference proceeded was due entirely to Australian handling and the support given by Nehru and his advisers to this approach.
8. Finally there was the aspect of India's membership of the British Commonwealth, the prospects of which received a rude shock on account of the United Kingdom attitude but subsequently recovered as a result of Australian participation.
9. The Indian decision to request Australian participation derived from various considerations. There was the obvious fact that for some time India had closely consulted with Australia which country held the initiative on the Indonesian question. Secondly and as distinct from this the Indian Government, since August 15th, 1947, has shown a tendency to look to Australian precedents, form and experience in the development of its own agencies. This tendency can also be discerned in broad policy subjects in which sphere Australia's reputation for brisk and frank treatment of international issues is recognised here.
10. Also behind the Indian decision was an admission of Australian experience and Australian know-how in political questions. Indians would be the first to admit that they themselves are relatively without knowledge in the handling of current procedural issues, certainly where as in the present instance they find themselves in the position of having the initiative. Moreover while the sudden calling of the conference owes much to Nehru's deep indignation over the Dutch police action, his request that Australia should participate in a full dress conference probably owes as much to his advisers feeling that without Australian participation, the conference, hastily called, might develop into an anti-climax.
11. Both before and during the conference the British remained curiously aloof. Beforehand their High Commissioner kept away from the Ministry of External Affairs and, although one might have at least expected it, made no enquiry of us. Sir Archibald Nye departed for Bombay just prior to the discussions, and his absence from them was quite conspicuous, particularly since all other diplomatic chiefs including the Dutch Ambassador  were in the galleries at the two public sessions.
12. Of other missions outside the periphery of the conference the Americans at first underestimated the proposal to hold it. Later as the implications struck home their interest was very manifest.
Mr. Loy Henderson, their Ambassador, made it his business to return from Calcutta and become a knowledgeable figure on the fringe of the talks. The Canadians showed a prejudiced interest.
The French watched the conference intently and were no doubt relieved when Indo-China like Palestine disappeared as a possible item on the agenda.
13. The third annexure  to this despatch, a Reuters message from London, describes the Russian attitude as being that any strong regional grouping not under Russian influence is now subject to suspicion in the Kremlin for being under the influence of Britain and the United States. It has not been possible to obtain any Russian reactions in Delhi itself.
14. We have suggested earlier that Australian participation was inevitable also that the conference was kept on the rails largely owing to the presence of Australian representatives and the sobriety of Indian officials. As we see it critics must judge the Australian contribution not by any set and preconceived notions but rather by the several factors we have outlined and by the attitude of the various groups here who saw the progress of the conference at first hand. It can be accurately reported that the British and American pressmen, including the B.B.C. correspondent in Delhi spoke with approbation both about the manner of the Australian approach and the effect of it. The Indians, both senior officials and journalists, were genuinely impressed. Likewise the American Ambassador whose gesture of approval in our presence to Mr. Symon, deputy to the United Kingdom High Commissioner, could not be mistaken when the conference concluded on January 23rd. The Indonesians, who had expected so much knowing that they could not achieve it, were gratified to all appearances. The Chinese Ambassador this morning spoke in complimentary terms of the Australian contribution. The Dutch Ambassador was relieved by the result and privately expressed himself as being gratified by references in a balanced analysis  made by Australia on the opening day. These reactions point to one conclusion.
15. If one can treat the Indonesian question as having become only one aspect of the Delhi conference then it can perhaps be regarded as the second occasion on which Australia has been faced in an adjoining region with a wholly intricate problem of statecraft requiring at once a large measure of political acumen, a refusal to be bogged down by traditional or negative attitudes, but at the same time a perceptiveness which will discern the points at which and the time at which other countries in the region will capitalise on the issue. These qualities, as they can be estimated here, have characterised the Australian approach to the Delhi conference. What develops from it will require the closest attention and it is in this context that the Indian aide memoire referred to in our telegram No.94  may prove relevant.
16. We are sending copy of this Despatch to the Australian High Commissioner  in Ceylon and to the Official Secretary , Office of the High Commissioner for Australia in Pakistan.