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153 Commonwealth Government to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 765 [1] CANBERRA, 2 December 1941


The following sets out the views of His Majesty's Government in
the Commonwealth of Australia with regard to the possible
contingencies emanating from a Japanese movement.

The cases of Japanese aggression which should now be considered
are five in number:-

(1) Intensification of attack by Japan against China, especially
Yunnan and Burma Road.

This does not amount to new Japanese aggression, but to
accentuation of existing undeclared war. However, it does create a
special situation because United States is very sensitive and
sympathetic as to the position of China. We think this first case
of Japanese aggression is clearly one where we should be content
to follow the lead of United States and not to declare war against
Japan unless United States armed intervention is certain. We
should, of course, continue to give China support short of
declaring war against Japan, such support including provision of
volunteer air forces, of aircraft equipment and supplies.

(2) Japanese attack on Thailand.

Admittedly this is a difficult question. Attitude of United States
seems lukewarm, as witness their refusal to give Thailand economic
assistance or military equipment.

(a) We adhere to our decision of yesterday (telegram 763) [2]
namely that if Japanese armed threat against Kra Isthmus is
definitely established, it would be advisable to follow advice of
competent military authority and, subject to conditions mentioned
in our telegram, to occupy the region referred to;

(b) The principle of that decision is that, in the opinion of the
competent military authority, the strategic defence of Malaya does
require such an occupation;

(c) In the event of the Thais resisting Japanese aggression
elsewhere in Thailand and appealing to us to assist, our refusal
to assist would undoubtedly have a very bad effect upon world
opinion. On the other hand, our physical resources are limited and
at present we do not see how we could intervene effectively except
in Kra Isthmus to the limited extent already mentioned;

(d) The conclusion is that with regard to Thailand, except in the
case of Kra Isthmus, regarded as an integral portion of the
defence of North Malaya, we should not give armed support except
with the assurance of United States active co-operation.

It is true that the decision to occupy Thailand territory in the
Kra Isthmus may well lead to war with Japan and perhaps Thailand
also, but the risk of this may fairly be run in view of the
strategic considerations.

(3) Japanese attack against Russia.

The position of Russia is a special one because of British-Russian
alliance [3], and because Japan is an active Axis power. In event
of Japanese attack against Eastern Siberia, our view-already
expressed in 714 to Secretary of State 41S that there should be a
declaration of war by Britain against Japan. Public opinion would
not tolerate anything less. We think Russia should be informed
that question has arisen, and should be asked to undertake that,
if we are involved in war against Japan in the Pacific due to
southward aggression, Russia will consider herself at war with
Japan. Such a reciprocal arrangement, if suitably notified to
Japan, should in itself be a valuable deterrent against Japanese
aggression. The first part of this paragraph should be contingent
on the second part.

(4) Japanese attack against Netherlands East Indies.

For twelve months the Netherlands Government has been pressing for
a British declaration of automatic armed support in case of
Japanese attack on N.E.I. Australia feels very strongly that we
should at once give such an assurance of armed support and do so
irrespective of United States attitude. In return we should seek a
definite commitment from the Netherlands that if we are at war
with Japan as a result of Japanese aggression in the Pacific, the
Netherlands Government will also be at war with Japan. Here, as in
the case of Russia, the bargain should be reciprocal.

(5) Portuguese Timor.

It is essential that in the event of Japanese attack on this
territory, Britain should declare war irrespective of United
States attitude. Portuguese Timor is the entrance door to
Australia. Secretary of State's message 766 [5] suggests that
Portugal expects declaration from us and that she on her part is
willing, within her very limited powers, to resist Japan and
declare war upon her. We think a definite understanding with
Portugal should now be negotiated upon this footing.

As we have asked, a decision should now be taken in relation to
five above types of aggression. Of course, such decision will
itself be subject to alteration in the event of change in
international or strategic situation.

1 Repeated to the Minister to the United States as no. 136 and to
the N.Z. Prime Minister as no. 509. The Prime Minister also
instructed the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom to see the
Dominions Office copy of this cablegram. See cablegram 7575 of 2
December (AA : A3196, 1941, 0.20471)
2 Document 143.

3 The Agreement between the United Kingdom and the U.S.S.R.

providing for Joint action in the war against Germany had been
signed in Moscow on 12 July.

4 Document 97.

5 Dispatched 18 November. On file AA : A981, Timor (Portuguese) 3,

[AA : A981, JAPAN 178]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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