51 Telegram from Australian Government to United Kingdom Government
Canberra, 19 April 1950
95. IMMEDIATE SECRET
We have received from your High Commissioner Canberra1 the views of the United Kingdom Government on the draft agenda2 which we communicated to you informally and your counter suggestions as to the form of the agenda.
2. We note that the United Kingdom approach to this question is to base items for discussion on the Colombo recommendations. The Australian Government would agree with this approach. It would of course be necessary to allow for a full discussion of the practical implications of each item in the recommendations. It was this that the Australian Paper sought to achieve. However it is noted that the United Kingdom's list of items for discussion does not include all the Colombo recommendations.3 In particular it omits any specific reference to recommendation A(I) of the Colombo Conference (examination of the possibility of making financial assistance available for essential productive purposes) and also A(IV) (examination of the possibility of making supplementary bilateral arrangements for the provision of direct technical and other assistance). The United Kingdom list together with the comments made in the course of the letter from your High Commissioner's Office to the effect that a shortage of commodities is not the crucial issue seems to imply that the United Kingdom Government has in mind confining the discussion primarily to questions of longer term development in the area.
3. South and South East Asia is gravely threatened by Communist pressure. This was the whole tenor of the Colombo discussions out of which arises the Consultative Committee. At Colombo it was recognised that economic measures taken immediately to stabilise Governments and promote production are the primary means at our disposal to meet this urgent threat. Economic measures necessarily take time to have their effects. There is thus the more reason to begin at once to apply them, even if we find that what we can do immediately is limited.
4. We do not question the advantage of progressively drawing up a comprehensive long term plan for the area if you believe that this technique is likely to assist in persuading the United States to take a continuing and consistent interest in its economic development. But we believe that it is also necessary to demonstrate to the United States that a serious attempt has been made to take immediate action in the area within the existing capacities of the Commonwealth. We therefore maintain that the agenda should provide for–
(A) a general review of the area as a whole and of its first priority economic requirements including a review of the situation in individual countries even though the conclusions may only be tentative
(B) discussion in the light of the Colombo recommendations of the possibilities of providing supplies and finance.
5. We necessarily look to the United Kingdom with its long established diplomatic and exchange relations with the region to provide information on urgent economic requirements and we hope that you will be able to assist the Committee in this way. In any event however even without full knowledge of needs it is possible and in fact politically imperative to agree to set aside funds and resources and to arrange technical assistance programmes for immediate implementation. The Committee might approach its task from the point of view of defining limits within which Commonwealth countries might work rather than endeavouring in the first instance merely to determine needs in detail.
6. We consider it both practicable and desirable to have some discussion of the work of international organisations in the area. As was recognised at Colombo the work of these organisations will contribute to the objectives we are seeking. However bilateral arrangements have to be co-ordinated with the work of international organisations and could not be discussed in the abstract. Moreover if Commonwealth Governments can agree on the desirable lines of operation for these organisations they can through their membership in them exert a strong influence for the benefit of the area.
7. We hope that you will be able to reply immediately to this telegram as it is most desirable that we reach within the next few days closer agreement on the text of the draft agenda before we circulate it formally for the comments of yourself and the other Governments concerned.4
[NAA: A3320, 3/4/2/1 part 1]
1 E.J. Williams.
2 A draft agenda for the Commonwealth Consultative Meeting in Sydney was prepared by the Department of External Affairs on 14 April for circulation to Commonwealth countries attending the meeting. The Australian draft agenda proposed ten items for the meeting: 1. election of Chairman; 2. a review of the economic situation of the area as a whole and of first priority requirements in the area; 3. detailed examination of the economic situation in individual countries; 4. possible individual and mutual action; 5. examination of other international sources of aid for the region; 6. Japanese trade policy in the area; 7. consideration of an approach to other interested Governments; 8. the methods of approach to potential recipients of assistance; 9. the relations of the Consultative Committee to the UN Commission for Asia and the Far East; 10. the future work of the Committee.
3 See Document 19.
4 In a telegram dated 24 April, the UK Commonwealth Relations Office replied that its omissions of specific reference to recommendations A(l) and A(4) in comments about the draft agenda had not meant to imply that the UK government did not wish them to be discussed. It added that the UK Government was not overlooking the question of short-term aid and that lack of finance and technicians, rather than physical shortage of supplies, were factors limiting aid. The telegram recommended the insertion of a new item in the agenda: 'short-term course of action'.