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6 Cablegram From Department of External Affairs to All Posts

Cablegram, Canberra, 2 January 19[50]

137. Australian Relations with Asia.

On the eve of his departure for the Conference of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers which opens at Colombo on 9th January, 1950, the Minister for External Affairs, the Hon. P. C. Spender, K.C. said that Australia must orientate its foreign policy towards Asia.

'The vast and far-reaching events of the last ten years', said Mr. Spender, 'have led to a shift of the centre of gravity of the world's affairs - at least for the time being - from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and this movement has been and still is proceeding with gathering momentum. Geographically, Australia is next door to Asia and our destiny as a nation is irrevocably conditioned by what takes place in Asia. This means that our future depends to an ever increasing degree upon the political stability of our Asian neighbours, upon the economic well-being of Asian peoples, and upon the development of understanding and friendly relations between Australia and Asia. Whilst it remains true that peace is indivisible and that what takes place in any part of the world may affect us, our vital interests are closer to home. It is therefore in Asia and the Pacific that Australia should make its primary effort in the field of foreign relations.

The rising and menacing tide of Communism in the East presents us with a definite threat - and not a remote threat either - to our national existence. But the threat is also a challenge. Australia, who with New Zealand has the greatest direct interest in Asia of all Western peoples, must develop a dynamic policy towards neighbouring Asian countries, whose people we must live with, not only to-day and to-morrow, but for all times. We should give leadership to developments in that area.

This in no way implies a lack of recognition of the extreme importance the Government attaches to our continued intimate association with the British Commonwealth; on the contrary, it reinforces it. It must be made stronger, not weaker, Commonwealth relations themselves strikingly manifest the movement of the world's centre towards the East. Of the eight countries of the Commonwealth, there is not one without vital territorial and strategic interests in either the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. The location of the forthcoming Commonwealth Conference at Colombo reflects the importance attached to this area. This Conference, it is to be hoped, will produce a positive contribution by Commonwealth countries towards securing the peace of the world. And in our deliberations we should not forget - Australia is certainly not likely to do so - how much our security has depended in the past on the friendly and generous assistance of the United States of America. The events of the last war are too close for that. The United States is the greatest Pacific power. Her policy towards Asia is accordingly of supreme importance to Australia's future.

Australia and the United States of America are the two countries which can, in co-operation one with the other, make the greatest contribution to stability and to democratic development of the countries of South-East Asia. Because of our common British heritage and long experience with democratic institutions of government, we can offer valuable advice and assistance to the newly formed governments of South-East Asia. Because of greater technical and industrial development, we can not only offer advice and assistance in financial and industrial matters, but in fact supply much needed industrial equipment and finished goods.

By concerted action, we, the countries which have had greater opportunities in the past, can help the countries of South-East Asia to develop their own democratic institutions and their own viable economies and thus protect them against those opportunist disruptive and subversive elements which take advantage of changing political situations and low living standards'.

On 9 March Spender gave a comprehensive speech to the House of Representatives, stating that the aims of Australian Foreign Policy are to preserve peace and our way of life and to do so by asking 'What are Australia's interests and how best can they be served?' Spender stated that these aims rely on maintaining the peace and security of Australia through four avenues: the Pacific, in Western Europe through co-operation with the British Commonwealth, the United States, and the United Nations. Spender did not believe that a growing interest in the Pacific region and Asia relieved Australia of the obligation to follow closely the situation in Europe, or that our relationship with the United Nations would be lessened if alternative security machinery were adopted. Spender discussed the United Nations as follows: 'we must take no action inconsistent with the principles of the Organisation. We must try to foster the influence of the Organisation by giving it the opportunity to provide solutions. But where the United Nations is manifestly unable to protect Australian interests it is the duty of the Government to follow simultaneously a policy of making supplementary arrangements among those we know to be our friends'.

Spender was no doubt referring to the possibility of alternative machinery such as the Pacific Pact, an arrangement on which he had firm views: 'What I envisage is a defensive military arrangement having as its basis a firm agreement between countries that have a vital interest in the stability of Asia and the Pacific, and which are at the same time capable of undertaking military commitments. I would like to think that Australia, the United Kingdom, and I fervently hope other Commonwealth countries might form a nucleus, and that such other countries as might wish to do so should be given the opportunity of associating themselves with it, providing as I have said that they are capable of contributing military commitments. I have in mind particularly the United States of America, whose participation would give such a pact a substance that it would otherwise lack. Indeed, it would be rather meaningless without her'.

Although Spender examined the different views of Australia and the United States on the question of Japan, he focused on the possibilities for a future relationship between the two countries, highlighting the fact that present circumstances had placed Australia in a unique position to take advantage of them. 'I have emphasised how essential it is for Australia to maintain the closest links with the United States of America for vital security reasons. But, our relations with the United States go further than that. We have a common heritage and tradition and way of life. During the war we built up a firm comradeship with our American friends. This friendship must, however, never be taken for granted. We propose actively to maintain the official and personal contacts and interchanges which resulted from the urgent needs of a common military effort. I am confident that, on the great issues affecting the maintenance of peace and security in this area, Australia and the United States can act in concert to our mutual advantage and the advantage of other countries concerned'.[1]

1 Current Notes, vol. 21, 1950, pp. 153-72.

[NAA : A6366, WL1950/1 OUT]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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