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233 Note by Department of External Affairs

Canberra, [August]1 1952


Note on Australian Political Objectives and Methods in Asia

Broad objectives of Western policy

The four broad political objectives which must underlie 'Western' and consequently Australian policy in Asia might be stated briefly as follows:

(a) To ensure that China does not become inseparably linked with the U.S.S.R. (short range) and that it is detached from the Soviet orbit (long range);

(b) To ensure that Japan remains peaceful and aligned with the Western world (short range) and becomes progressively a more reliable member of the Western group;

(c) To ensure that India does not become aligned with the U.S.S.R. but continues to adopt an independent policy (short range) and is attracted towards active alignment with the Western world (long range);

(d) To ensure that the countries of South East Asia retain their independence (short range) and that they are developed into fully independent states aligned with the Western world and capable of contributing to the economic, political and military strength of the West;

Australian policy

The opportunities for Australian policy in pursuit of the above four objectives vary considerably. There is less scope for direct Australian diplomacy in the case of objectives (a), (b) and (c) than in the case of (d). Even in the case of China, however, Australia can exercise some influence, through its association with the United States and the United Kingdom, and in the United Nations. In South East Asia, because of Australia's geographical position and the relatively greater importance of our economic stature, Australia can play a significant and perhaps even primary role. Whether our effort is direct or indirect, however, certain lines of action constitute the foundations on which any influence on policies of defence must be based. It is suggested that these essentials are:

(1) The most efficient possible political representation in the countries concerned. This is clearly desirable both from the point of view of direct access to and influence on the governments of the countries concerned and from the point of view of giving to the Australian Government the expert knowledge and opinion which alone will enable it to speak with authority on problems of the area. The relatively strong and effective representation of Australia in Indonesia and in Korea has assisted in the establishment of an Australian reputation which has enabled us to win the confidence of the Indonesian and Korean Governments to an extent scarcely matched by any other country. It is important that our representation in all the capitals should be at the highest possible level and well supported by an adequate and efficient headquarters establishment. It is equally important from the point of view of confidence that the representatives of the countries in the area accredited to the Australian Government in Canberra should be at an equally high level, and that such representatives should be brought into consultation and given such attention that their governments will continue to maintain high calibre officers in Australia.

(2) Every opportunity should be taken of supplementing the work of permanent diplomatic missions by interchanges of visits at the head of state, prime ministerial, ministerial and official levels. Visits have recently been paid to the United Kingdom by the heads of state of a number of Western European countries. There would seem no reason in principle why the Governor-General should not, on behalf of His Majesty, exchange visits with the heads of state of countries adjacent to Australia. It is understood that the Governor-General of Canada has paid such visits to the United States. The possibility might also be borne in mind of a visit by His Majesty personally to one or more of the countries of East Asia following his visit to Australia. The visit of the Minister for External Affairs to the countries of South-East and East Asia might be followed by return visits by the foreign ministers of those countries to Australia at a later stage. Senior Australian officials might as a matter of policy occasionally visit countries in East and South-East Asia instead of confining their attentions almost exclusively to North America and Western Europe.

(3) The special plans for economic and technical assistance should not be regarded as the only or even the chief means by which Australia can assist the economic development of these countries. The basis for economic development will always remain the normal process of trade. Special politico-economic plan should be able to assume that every effort is being made to develop and expand normal trade exchanges.

(4) In the same way special policy moves in the field of public information, education and communications should similarly rest on the foundation of developed public information and communications. So far as may be consistent with our established immigration policy it should be the objective of the Department of External Affairs to ensure that there is freedom of movement for people and ideas throughout the area to and from Australia. It will be assumed in discussing, for example cultural exchanges with individual countries, that there is or will be no bar to the entry of students into the Commonwealth.

It is further assumed that in pursuing Australian policies in this vital area our policies in other areas will be subordinate, and, in other words, that policies in Europe and the Middle East will normally be regarded as requiring adjustment to our policy in Asia rather than vice versa. This does not mean that all Australian resources, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, will be devoted to South and South-East Asia. It is suggested, however, that this area should have a degree of priority.

The following is a brief examination of the possibilities of action in pursuit of the four major objectives set out below.


Any clear thinking on Asia must take as a starting point certain assumptions as to the character and potentialities of the Chinese People's Republic. If it is assumed that China is irrevocably linked with the Soviet Union, and that in the course of time China will become a major industrial power capable, in association with the U.S.S.R., of dominating the mainland of Asia, the possibilities of political action are extremely limited. If, on the other hand, it is accepted as a premise that historical, economic and other factors might produce in time divergences between China and the U.S.S.R., a completely different approach is suggested. Without much more complete information on the present relationships between the Chinese People's Republic and the U.S.S.R. it is impossible to give a general appreciation of the prospects for a 'split' between China and the Soviet Union. It is submitted, however, that the following would be a reasonable working hypothesis. For the moment the leaders of the Chinese People's Republic are closely linked with Moscow and the broad masses of the Chinese people, having received from the Communist regime efficiency of administration and sense of purpose unparalleled in recent Chinese history, are unlikely to take any organised action against the loss of personal liberty and overriding of traditional concepts inherent in the Communist system. At the same time the logic of Communist control opens possibilities of friction in such border areas as Korea, Manchuria and Sinkiang, while the presence in China of large numbers of Soviet 'advisers and technicians', combined with the traditional Chinese xenophobia, may in time promote revulsion and even active controversy. It should be a major part of Australian external policy to study every possibility of divergence between China and the Soviet Union, to suggest to our Allies ways in which such divergences can be accentuated, and to discourage policies and actions of our Allies which would consolidate the links between the Soviet Union and China. Such differences may be accentuated neither by appeasement on the one hand nor by a show of force on the other, but rather by the creation of situations in which the self-interest of China and of Chinese leaders will be opposed to the interests of the Soviet Union and Soviet leaders.


The conclusion of a Peace Treaty with Japan will mark a new stage in Australian-Japanese relations. There will undoubtedly be a tendency on the part of the Australian public to limit contacts with Japan and some resistance to any positive programme of cultivated close relations with Japan. Yet, if Japan is to be aligned with the Western world, it is essential that the attitude of Australia should be one not of grudging concessions, or reluctant dealings with a former enemy, but of positive co-operation. This will impose on the Government a responsibility of leadership and education. Questions of timing and presentation are likely to arise with increasing frequency in the coming months and, in particular, after the Japanese Peace Treaty has entered into force. It is assumed that Australian official relations will be established promptly and at a high level. If possible, without public misunderstanding, it would seem desirable that our Mission in Japan should be an Embassy, and that we should3 no barrier to the establishment of a Japanese Embassy in Canberra. Normal trade relations and channels of trade should be established and Japanese business men allowed to visit Australia in connection with their commercial interests. Japanese shipping should be permitted to return to Australian ports and Japanese goods, particularly materials in short supply, which have already been invaluable in the reconstruction period, should be encouraged. These are the elements of a positive policy with regard to Japan, and, despite the deep-rooted and legitimate distrust of Japanese intentions and the memory of Japanese aggression and atrocities, the national interest would seem to require substitution of a calculated co-operation with Japan rather than sentimental aloofness.


In pursuing our objectives in relation to India we are faced with the problem of Kashmir and Indian relations with Pakistan. A settlement of this problem is basic to any attempt to attract India closer to the West. Immediately Pakistan is more ready to cooperate with the West e.g. in the Middle East. However in the long-run India, because of its size and industrial capacity would seem likely to be a more important power factor. We should therefore guard against the temptation to adopt calculated to cause Indian hostility.3

We may also be tempted to resist India's proposals because of Indian claims to leadership in Asia. We must not reject such proposals simply because they are Indian, but must consider them on their merits, making every effort to convince India that we regard their proposals and representations as important. Much United Kingdom policy has clearly this background–though we must of course resist United Kingdom efforts to 'court' India at our expense, or at the expense of Pakistan. Apart from such economic assistance as we can give under the Colombo Plan our main effort must be political–to avoid isolating India in the United Nations and elsewhere, and to avoid giving the U.S.S.R. any opportunity to 'move-in'. The Interviews granted by Stalin to Indian ambassadors in Moscow are some slight indication that the U.S.S.R. will not be slow to cultivate India–we should be equally active, and should encourage United States and United Kingdom to be active in counter-attracting Indian leaders.

South-East Asia

With Australian missions established in Rangoon, Bangkok and Saigon as well as in Djakarta and Manila we shall be in a position to take a greater political initiative in South-East Asia. We have an interest not only in ensuring that the various Governments have suitable composition, so far as we can achieve this, but also in assisting the countries concerned in building up efficient administrations. We should sponsor any initiative which can be taken by Australian Departments to improve air and other communications and increase trade. We should maintain the closest possible liaison with the United States and United Kingdom area offices in Manila and Singapore and with the French High Commissioner in Indo-China. At the same time we must guard against actions which would be interpreted in South-East Asia as attempts to intervene or dominate. We should seek their co-operation e.g. in relation to Japan (fisheries, trade, etc.). We should encourage any tendency towards closer political and military relations with the West. We should not rule out the possibility of military consultation and help where this would be welcome as in Indo-China–or of an area security agreement.

[NAA:A1838, 3004/11 part 1]

1 This document is undated but was most likely written in August 1952.

2 A word or words are presumably missing here.

3 A word or words appear to be missing from this sentence.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017
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