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10 Minute from Burton to Spender

Canberra, 19 December 1949

The attached note has been prepared for Cabinet regarding the forthcoming Conference of British Commonwealth Foreign Ministers at Ceylon. No recommendations are made, and the submission merely points to the matters on which decisions are required.

2. Attached to the submission are notes on two matters in particular on which specific directions are sought, that is, the question of recognition of Communist China and the title of High Commissioners.

3. The first decision sought is the composition of the Australian Delegation, and no suggestions are made in the submission for this. The submission does indicate the delegations which are being sent from other members of the British Commonwealth.

4. It will be noted that, beside the main Conference of Foreign Ministers, there will be a conference at an official level on financial and particularly dollar questions. Most delegations have therefore included Treasury officials.

5. The broad questions of South-East Asian policy have been discussed between this Department and Defence for some time and it is suggested that the Australian Delegation should include a representative of the Defence Department.

6. My recommendation would be, beside the Minister and any personal staff he might take, the Head of the Pacific Division of the Department, Mr. McIntyre, the Head of the United Nations and Economic Relations Division of the Department, Mr. Tange2 who attended the London Conference of Finance Ministers this year, a representative of the Defence Department, and whatever Treasury officials are considered necessary by that Department.

7. In this connection, the transfer of sovereignty to the new United States of Indonesia will take place at Batavia on December 27th. There will be formal celebrations at which the United Kingdom and the United States, India, and several other countries will be formally represented. It is suggested that, beside Mr. Critchley3 a member of the Good Offices Commission who is an Australian, it would be appropriate for one or more members of the Ceylon Delegation to leave earlier and attend the celebrations.



Canberra, 19 December 1949

Department of External Affairs
Conference of British Commonwealth Foreign Ministers
Ceylon, January 9th–14th, 1950


At the British Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference held in London in October 1948, it was decided to hold regular meetings of British Commonwealth Foreign Ministers. It was then thought desirable to have one meeting during and at the location of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and one meeting, if practicable, at the Capital of one of the members of the British Commonwealth. It was then suggested that the first such meeting should take place at Ceylon.

Invitations have been received from the Prime Minister of Ceylon and formal acceptances, including the names of delegates, have been received from all British Commonwealth countries except Australia. The Department of External Affairs has sent no more than an acknowledgement and general acceptance, subject to the concurrence of the incoming Government.

The Delegations

Mr. Bevin4 represent the United Kingdom Government, accompanied by Mr. Noel Baker5 and Mr. Malcolm MacDonald6 three senior officers of the Foreign Office, the Head of the British Commonwealth Relations Office and senior officers of the Treasury and Board of Trade. The Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Pearson will represent Canada, together with the Right Honourable R.W. Mayhew7 and four senior officers of the Department of External Affairs and an officer of the Trade Department. Pandit Nehru8 will represent India, accompanied by senior External Affairs and Finance officers. The Honourable F.W. Doidge9 will represent New Zealand, together with the Secretary of External Affairs and a senior Treasury officer. South Africa will be represented by the Minister for Transport, Mr. Paul Sauer, together with the Secretary of External Affairs and senior Treasury and External Affairs officers. The Pakistan Delegation is not as yet known in full, but is expected to include Sir Zafrullah Khan, Pakistan Foreign Minister.

The Prime Minister of Ceylon has asked urgently for the names of the Australian Delegation so that, in order to prevent speculation, he might issue a communique giving accurate information regarding the commencing date, probable duration of the Conference, and the names of the delegates. He has asked for this information by Monday, 19th December, for the purposes of a press release on Wednesday, 21st December.


No formal agenda has been issued, but a number of topics have been suggested by member
countries. These include–

(1) Peace Treaty with Japan;

(2) Recognition of Chinese Communists;

(3) Problems of South-East Asia, with particular reference to Viet-Nam and Burma;

(4) The situation in Europe;

(5) Economic questions.

The Ceylon Government has suggested that economic talks should take place at an official level and separately from the main conference. These meetings would consider–

(1) The present balance of payments position;

(2) The general balance of payments outlook after 1950;

(3) Developments arising out of the Washington talks of September 1949;10

(4) Developments since the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' Conference of July 1949.11

Specific Decisions

The discussions will be mainly in the form of the usual exchange of views without commitment. At the same time, it is anticipated that delegates will be expected to express the views of their governments on two matters in particular, firstly, the question of recognition of Communist China, and, secondly, proposals to change the title of British Commonwealth representatives accredited one to the other. Notes on these two subjects are attached.

A decision is sought as to–

(a) the composition of the Australian Delegation;

(b) the attitude to be adopted in respect of Communist China;

(c) the attitude to be adopted in respect of title of High Commissioners;

(d) the general policy in respect of South-East Asia.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, 532/7 part 1]

1 P.C. Spender, Minister for External Affairs and External Territories.

2 A H. Tange, Counsellor, UN Division, Department of External Affairs.

3 T.K. Critchley, Australian representative, UN Commission for Indonesia.

4 Ernest Bevin, UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

5 P.J. Noel-Baker, UK Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

6 Malcolm MacDonald, Commissioner-General of the United Kingdom in South East Asia.

7 R.W. Mayhew, Canadian Minister of Fisheries.

8 Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.

9 F.W. Doidge, New Zealand Minister for External Affairs and Island Territories.

10 Beginning on 7 September, financial talks had been held in Washington DC between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

11 See Documents 31–42 and Document 50 in Volume XIV of DAFP.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017
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