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Historical documents

286 Chifley to Fraser

Cablegram unnumbered CANBERRA, [14 June 1949] [1]


1. The question of Hongkong was brought by me before Cabinet today
and the suggested offer by New Zealand of three frigates for the
defence of Hongkong was taken fully into consideration.

2. The general policy of the government in relation to Hongkong
was set out in a personal message from myself to Mr. Attlee dated
30th May, 1949 [2] and contained in my immediately following

3. The Australian Cabinet has decided not to offer to send either
naval, air or land forces for the defence of Hongkong.

4. There are many practical difficulties associated with such
action one of which is Australia's present obligation to continue
to maintain certain air, naval and land personnel for the
occupation of Japan.

5. There is a danger of over simplification if the question is
regarded as making Hongkong the point to hold back Communist
aggression in the Far East. It seems certain that the United
States would take no active part in such resistance.

6. Nor can the Australian Cabinet overlook the fact that in 1945
Chiang Kai-shek had 'the ball at his feet' thanks largely to the
Pacific war effort of the United States, Australia, New Zealand
and Britain. However instead of putting his house in order by
providing essential political and economic reforms, Chiang Kai-
shek held firmly to his policy of reaction and his corrupt regime
seems now to be approaching disaster. We know you would agree that
the best way of resisting Communism is by positive action
recognising the rights of people to self-government and to better
economic standards of life.

7. This does not mean that we would favour British withdrawal from
Hongkong. On the contrary, we feel that the British are entitled
and bound to endeavour to retain their possession to vindicate
their sovereignty and that for this purpose some show of force may
be desirable. Moreover, we are prepared to provide certain
assistance in the form of supplies and medical equipment in order
that they may carry out their purpose.

8. However we have also in mind to take positive action to bring
the Chinese question, so far as it involves any threat of
aggression against Hongkong, before the Security Council of the
United Nations so that the whole situation can be clarified. The
authorities interested can be heard and so conciliation may
replace force.

9. It is a very different thing however for Australia, which has
important interests in this part of the world, not least of which
is the prevention of a full scale war between China and other
powers, to actively place itself in a situation which may drift
into full scale war. We feel we must keep our hands free for the

10. We are not satisfied that sufficient is being done to
regularise the position in China. We doubt whether there is any
present intention on the part of the Communist forces in China to
interfere with the territorial integrity of Hongkong. There is the
danger however that over publicised measures to defend Hongkong
will be interpreted as a challenge and may themselves provoke
organised attack. Even reluctance to have any dealings with the
Communist Government, which after all seems to be the future
government of a large part of China, may provoke just the
situation with respect to Hongkong and British interests in the
rest of China we wish to avoid.

11. If the New Zealand Government were to proceed with the
suggested offer of three frigates it will probably become
necessary for us to explain the reasons why we have not taken
similar action. There may be political misunderstandings and
unjustified criticism. I am sure you will consider most carefully
our view point before you reach a final decision.

1 Date ascertained from outward cablegram register, Volume 27.

2 Document 283.

[AA:A6768/2, EATS 70]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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