Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia, to Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 191 CANBERRA, 11 September 1939


Your telegram No. 191 of the 8th September. [1] following message from the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. [2] Begins.

Your suggestions will be considered by the Cabinet tomorrow and full reply sent to you as soon as possible.

As your suggestions are based on the assumption that Japan will remain neutral, I should like to receive from you if possible by tomorrow your reasons for this assumption.

As the matter stands it appears to me that neutrality of Japan for indefinite period is open to extreme doubt. She will probably play a purely selfish game and at any time during the war may engage actively without notice on either side and more probably with the enemy. We cannot overlook her approach to open hostility during 1917 when she was our ally.

If Japan by any chance comes to terms with Russia the danger of her entering the war against us would be greatly increased.

I fully recognise that you are most actively engaged in every possible effort to come to a friendly settlement of current difficulties with Japan with a view to reaching an understanding or some closer bond with her for the duration of the war.

Nevertheless I venture to impress upon you the extreme urgency of such efforts from both the purely Australian standpoint and the wider Empire significance. Upon the Japanese relationship and prospects, I am sure you will agree, must depend almost absolutely the part other than defensive which Australia will be able to take in the war, though the question of a possible Australian force for Singapore is not being overlooked.

I am fully mindful of all the problems you have to face in approaching a settlement with Japan. I recognise that acquiescence in Japanese suggestion that the British Navy and Army units should withdraw from the concessions and settlements, together with cessation of supplies and other assistance to Chiang Kai Shek [3], are excessive price to pay for a so-called friendly relationship with Japan especially as the latter may not prove in the least binding.

If in the last resort the concession of Tientsin alone must be evacuated by armed British forces, it should be, as I see it, under duress and not by agreement. This would leave the way open for adjustment at the end of the war whereas any agreement now entered into by H.M.G. in the United Kingdom could not be subsequently broken. I cannot escape the thought that at the end of the war and when the Western peoples generally are restored to normal relationships, there will be an irresistible combined move to restore European and American rights in China. No steps taken now should close the door to such a readjustment however long it may be delayed.

It is equally desirable Chiang Kai Shek should continue to receive sufficient support to keep China fighting unless indeed Japan is forced to peace (settlement) really satisfactory to Chiang Kai Shek. The importance of keeping Chiang Kai Shek in the field lies in the fact that if Japan during the war actively joins Germany it would seem obvious strategy for ourselves and the French to associate ourselves as strongly as possible with Chiang Kai Shek in supplies or even with reinforcements. It would appear sound to fight Japan as strongly as possible in co-operation with the Chinese and so limit her striking powers against any part of the British or French Empires.

In advancing these necessarily bald views I am aware that I am piling up obstacles to your efforts to bring about with Japan friendly relationships which may develop into something better. I wish to impress upon you that while I and my colleagues place the highest value upon settlement with Japan we believe that unless great care is exercised an excessive price might be paid for it.

Peace with Japan would prove not only a measure of relief to Australia and make it easier for us to fall in with your proposal retrospectively but without that peace I cannot escape the thought that communications between Australia and New Zealand and the United Kingdom, so vital to your supplies and our exports and internal economy, must rest upon a dangerous basis.

I do not overlook the consideration and take it for granted in the event of evacuation by British troops being decided upon, United States would be asked to take over and protect British interests.

Further while open [sic] [4] might in the event of Japan entering the war against us intervene in the event of major Japanese operations aimed at acquisition, American public opinion might tolerate great Japanese activities against British Mercantile Marine in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Your views upon points I have raised above by tomorrow would greatly help our considerations. Ends.


1 Document 214.

2 R.G. Menzies.

3 Commander-in-Chief of Chinese armed forces and member of Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang.

4 United States.


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