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Historical documents

38 Minute From Pyman to Watt

Minute, [Canberra], 23 January 1951


General Considerations Affecting a Pacific Pact
The following general considerations, many of which have been stressed in recent discussions here and in the United States on the Pacific Pact proposal, may help to delimit the area to be covered by such a Pact. Telegram No. 108[1] from Washington, received on 22nd January, has been taken into account.

(a) The uncertain political, military and social position in most of the Asian and South-East Asian countries and the fact that the assumption of commitments by these countries could lead to an under-writing of unstable and in some cases unpopular regimes, for example Thailand, Burma and Indo-China.

(b) The inability of most Asian and South-East Asian governments to make sizeable and reliable military contributions in any defence arrangements.

(c) Reluctance at the present stage of some countries in the area, for example, Indonesia, to assume military commitments which carry obvious political implications.

(d) The consideration that if you exclude some Asian or South-East Asian countries you give the impression that you are abandoning such countries because you feel that they do not represent a sound investment from a military point of view, for example, if you include the Philippines and exclude Malaya, Indo-China, Thailand and Burma.

(e) The importance of Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia in Australian defence planning.

(f) The reluctance of the United States to include Hong Kong as well as Singapore and Malaya in the arrangement, thus underlying the lack of confidence in regard to the future of this territory.

(g) The presence of certain British territories (British North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei) in the off-shore region mentioned by the United States in recent discussions with the Australian Embassy, Washington.

(h) The desirability of extracting as much co-operation and aid as possible from France, United Kingdom, New Zealand and United States in respect of their island territories in the South Pacific, to which Australia will undoubtedly assume as it did in the Pacific certain defence obligations.

(i) Complications raised by the Dutch New Guinea[2] situation and the possibility which would at the present time be a real one of antagonising Asian opinion by including the Dutch in any Pacific Pact. In this connection Indonesian apprehensions would need to be measured.

(j) The problem for Australia arising from the apparent intention of the United States to include Japan as a signatory to any such arrangement. Such a proposal raises extremely awkward issues in view of the undoubted bewilderment and perhaps indignation of many sections of Australian opinion if Japan is at least at the present time included in any mutual defence pact.

(k) The strategic importance of Portuguese Timor for Australia and the possible desirability of including Portugal in any arrangement with the idea of persuading the Portuguese authorities to make some provision for their own defence with the possible assistance of Australia, and also committing other signatories to the pact to assist in the event of aggression against Portuguese Timor. This would require very careful handling, however, in view of possible Indonesian apprehension that such arrangement was directed against alleged Indonesian ambitions.

2. It is difficult to see any arrangement which will meet all these considerations. Perhaps the proposal which is closest to meeting most of these considerations is that made tentatively and at a low level by United States officials recently that a strictly off-shore regional arrangement might represent a meeting point between Australian and United States ideas. Certainly an arrangement for a South-west Pacific Pact, although more modest than was envisaged in the original suggestions, would raise fewer complications and would at least have the merit of being squarely based on commitments by governments in a position to make reliable contributions to any arrangement for mutual defence in the area. Presumably such an arrangement would resemble the wartime co-operation between the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, France and the Netherlands. Inclusion of Portugal in respect of Portuguese Timor would have to be carefully considered. Presumably such an arrangement would not exclude bilateral arrangements with certain other governments, for example, Indonesia, and would of course not affect the arrangements made between Australia and the United Kingdom in regard to the defence of Malaya and Singapore.

3. Mr. Harry has mentioned that there are several considerations derived from existing provisions governing United States aid to Asian countries as well as other parts of the world in areas considered vital to the defence of the United States. He has pointed out, and correctly, that these special arrangements being implemented by the United States in the Pacific area including Asia should be borne in mind in giving consideration to the Pacific Pact proposal.

1 Document 37.

2 The Netherlands had transferred sovereignty over the entire territory of the former Netherlands East Indies except for Western New Guinea to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia on 27 December 1949 with the stipulation that within a year from the date of the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia the question of the political status of New Guinea be determined through negotiations between the Netherlands and the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (see Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. XV, Document 521).

[NAA : A1838, 532/11, ii]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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