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219 Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia, to Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 191 CANBERRA, 11 September 1939


Your telegram No. 191 of the 8th September. [1] following message
from the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. [2] Begins.

Your suggestions will be considered by the Cabinet tomorrow and
full reply sent to you as soon as possible.

As your suggestions are based on the assumption that Japan will
remain neutral, I should like to receive from you if possible by
tomorrow your reasons for this assumption.

As the matter stands it appears to me that neutrality of Japan for
indefinite period is open to extreme doubt. She will probably play
a purely selfish game and at any time during the war may engage
actively without notice on either side and more probably with the
enemy. We cannot overlook her approach to open hostility during
1917 when she was our ally.

If Japan by any chance comes to terms with Russia the danger of
her entering the war against us would be greatly increased.

I fully recognise that you are most actively engaged in every
possible effort to come to a friendly settlement of current
difficulties with Japan with a view to reaching an understanding
or some closer bond with her for the duration of the war.

Nevertheless I venture to impress upon you the extreme urgency of
such efforts from both the purely Australian standpoint and the
wider Empire significance. Upon the Japanese relationship and
prospects, I am sure you will agree, must depend almost absolutely
the part other than defensive which Australia will be able to take
in the war, though the question of a possible Australian force for
Singapore is not being overlooked.

I am fully mindful of all the problems you have to face in
approaching a settlement with Japan. I recognise that acquiescence
in Japanese suggestion that the British Navy and Army units should
withdraw from the concessions and settlements, together with
cessation of supplies and other assistance to Chiang Kai Shek [3],
are excessive price to pay for a so-called friendly relationship
with Japan especially as the latter may not prove in the least

If in the last resort the concession of Tientsin alone must be
evacuated by armed British forces, it should be, as I see it,
under duress and not by agreement. This would leave the way open
for adjustment at the end of the war whereas any agreement now
entered into by H.M.G. in the United Kingdom could not be
subsequently broken. I cannot escape the thought that at the end
of the war and when the Western peoples generally are restored to
normal relationships, there will be an irresistible combined move
to restore European and American rights in China. No steps taken
now should close the door to such a readjustment however long it
may be delayed.

It is equally desirable Chiang Kai Shek should continue to receive
sufficient support to keep China fighting unless indeed Japan is
forced to peace (settlement) really satisfactory to Chiang Kai
Shek. The importance of keeping Chiang Kai Shek in the field lies
in the fact that if Japan during the war actively joins Germany it
would seem obvious strategy for ourselves and the French to
associate ourselves as strongly as possible with Chiang Kai Shek
in supplies or even with reinforcements. It would appear sound to
fight Japan as strongly as possible in co-operation with the
Chinese and so limit her striking powers against any part of the
British or French Empires.

In advancing these necessarily bald views I am aware that I am
piling up obstacles to your efforts to bring about with Japan
friendly relationships which may develop into something better. I
wish to impress upon you that while I and my colleagues place the
highest value upon settlement with Japan we believe that unless
great care is exercised an excessive price might be paid for it.

Peace with Japan would prove not only a measure of relief to
Australia and make it easier for us to fall in with your proposal
retrospectively but without that peace I cannot escape the thought
that communications between Australia and New Zealand and the
United Kingdom, so vital to your supplies and our exports and
internal economy, must rest upon a dangerous basis.

I do not overlook the consideration and take it for granted in the
event of evacuation by British troops being decided upon, United
States would be asked to take over and protect British interests.

Further while open [sic] [4] might in the event of Japan entering
the war against us intervene in the event of major Japanese
operations aimed at acquisition, American public opinion might
tolerate great Japanese activities against British Mercantile
Marine in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Your views upon points I have raised above by tomorrow would
greatly help our considerations. Ends.

1 Document 214.

2 R.G. Menzies.

3 Commander-in-Chief of Chinese armed forces and member of Central
Executive Committee of the Kuomintang.

4 United States.

[PRO:FO 371/23562]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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