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147 Burton to McIntosh

Letter CANBERRA, 10 March 1949


I was somewhat concerned when I read the telegram [1] from Mr.

Fraser to Mr. Chifley regarding India's regional proposals. You
will already have seen the reply', which I hope is satisfactory.

I very much regret that you did not have one of your own officers
at the Delhi Conference because the answer to Mr. Fraser's fears
in respect of a South East Asia region was to be found in the
spirit of that Conference and the ability of the representatives.

Moodie and I went with the advice from the press, from Eggleston,
and from all the experts that we would be confronted by a pressure
group racially antagonistic and there would not be any fair
consideration given to the subject. Nothing could have been
further from the truth. No conference could have acted less in the
manner of a pressure group from start to finish. For example, it
was suggested that the Dutch and Indonesians might be invited but
when it was found that the Dutch would not accept the invitation
it was decided to invite neither party, and they were most
impressive in their eagerness to work with Australia and New
Zealand and to seek our advice. On some issues, such as the
setting up of a secretariat, while we were a minority of one our
advice was taken. All through there was a keen, though perhaps
naive, desire to act correctly, particularly in respect to the
United Nations and at no stage was there any thought of separate

Nehru, as Mr. Fraser will know, is a leader amongst the few and
his prestige in the area is certainly outstanding. Largely due to
him, but also because of the good sense of all the
representatives, there were no political, ideological or other
irrelevancies brought into the Conference. I have never attended a
conference, even at home, where facts and logic, counted for so
much and prejudice for so little.

I fear that from down here we are inclined to be influenced by our
own Opposition propaganda and we are inclined to write off these
people as unreliable and basically antagonistic. There is no
evidence of this in the area itself; on the contrary there is a
keen desire to work with us as it is from Australia and New
Zealand that technical, administrative and educational advice is
sought, it being politically impossible to seek assistance from
the old colonial powers.

On the other hand, if we are to adopt the policy advocated by
Hughes [3], Menzies [4], Harrison [5], etc., in this country, and
no doubt by your Opposition in New Zealand, inevitably antagonism
will be created and there will be formed in that area a pressure
group. We would have difficulty in resisting it in any of the
councils of the world or bilaterally for the reason that we cannot
depend upon the support of any of the western powers.

My own feeling when I came back from Delhi was that South East
Asia is rapidly becoming more and more stable. Every one of the 18
governments represented there was actively resisting any
infiltration from foreign powers and was well aware of the dangers
of Communist influence. Though they were not acting in any sense
as a pressure group there was a desire to avoid involvement in the
East-West conflict and to preserve peace, at least in this area. I
do not think there is anywhere a deliberate antagonism toward the
Western powers or a desire to exclude them; on the contrary, the
Delhi group would have been the first to say that Dutch assistance
and influence in Indonesia is essential to the welfare of the
Republicans. India and Pakistan know full well the value of
British help and, in fact, any Englishman in India or Pakistan
will say that their position there is now stronger than it ever
was. Industrialists particularly made this point and you find
scattered everywhere English advisers invited by the Indian
Government. The same is true in Malaya, the general belief being
that in order to preserve the political integrity of the native
peoples the continuance of British influence is essential
otherwise the place is handed over to the Chinese and not one of
the countries of the South East Asia region wishes to see this.

Looked at from this point of view the Delhi group is of tremendous
importance to Australia and New Zealand, particularly since recent
changes in China and the use which will. be made of Chinese
minorities throughout South East Asia and the Western Pacific.

I feel that this question as to how we approach South East Asia is
probably the most fundamental and vital Australia and New Zealand
have to face. I feel it would be most unfortunate if we pursued
different policies and it is not enough for us to understand each
other's point of view and agree to differ. It is true Australia
and New Zealand are differently placed but not much so. New
Zealand's fate will ultimately be determined probably by
Australia's relations with South East Asia in the years to come.

For that reason I am concerned about this exchange of telegrams
which reveals a difference in point of view, though Mr. Chifley's
reply was meant to be reassuring. I think it is something we
should get down to in detail because every day the question is
before us in one form or another, for example, the question of
Burma, the future of Malaya, the question of India and Pakistan in
British Commonwealth relations, not to say the old question of
Indonesia. Policy in respect of each one hinges on this basic

Not unrelated is the important defence question as to the use, if
any, of Australian and New Zealand forces in the event of a
European conflict. Whatever the experts down the line might be
planning my own view is that it is politically unthinkable for
Australia to send one man outside the area of South East Asia and
the Western Pacific. The assumption of a contribution in the
Middle East is not only unrealistic but may be in the ultimate
misleading in the sense that assistance might be counted on and
might not be forthcoming.

I do not know how these questions should be discussed between our
two Governments, but it is clear they should be discussed in all
their aspects. I suppose the first step is for us, on an
administrative level, to put forward some clear proposition or to
be clear on our points of difference prior to seeking definite
policy decisions. On this subject there is no definite Australian
policy, though we are, I think, moving towards a greater degree of
co-operation with the countries of South East Asia based on a
greater respect for the leaders we have come to know. There is,
however, no over-all policy decision which suffices to integrate
foreign policy and defence policy. I assume that it is the same
with your Government and therefore it would be appropriate for
some consultations, first on the administrative plane and then at
the highest level. If this subject is to be discussed, as has been
hinted at an early meeting in London, it is all the more necessary
for us to clarify our views. Frankly, I think it would be a great
pity for discussions to take place at this stage in London. If
Australia and New Zealand are not quite clear in their own minds
and are not in full agreement, the trend of discussions at a
conference in London will pay little respect to Australia's and
New Zealand's long-term interests in this area and we will find
the problems of this area once again becoming a by-product of
Western union.

I do not wish to put forward any proposals, but if you agree with
me that this is the fundamental issue and if any good purpose
could be served by discussions at one level or another, I am quite
sure the Prime Minister would react favourably to a follow-up on
his telegram suggesting discussions at one level or another, at
one place or another.

1 Document 145.

2 Document 146.

3 W.M. Hughes, member of the House of Representatives.

4 R.G. Menzies, member of the House of Representatives and Leader
of the Opposition.

5 E.J. Harrison, member of the House of Representatives and Deputy
Leader of the Opposition.

[AA:A1838/278, 383/1/2/1, iv]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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