Mr J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister, to Mr Torao Wakamatsu, Japanese Consul-General in Sydney

Letter 3 March 1939,


Your letter of 17th February, 1939 [1], with its exhibits, has been carefully considered by the Commonwealth Government. It is felt that the press extracts quoted by you do not represent the real view of the Australian people, who are appreciative of the old and friendly association between the British and Japanese nations, and who have a warm desire to live on terms of peace and goodwill with the people of your great country. The Goodwill Missions which have been exchanged between Japan and Australia [2] will be fresh in your memory, as will the fact that, on behalf of my Government, I sponsored a proposal at the British Imperial Conference of 1937 for the negotiation of a pact of friendship and understanding between all peoples in the region of the Pacific. [3]

The Commonwealth Government deplores the present unfortunate conflict between your country and China, and believes, as no doubt you do, that, until it is settled, instability and tension will persist in the Pacific to the disadvantage of all countries.

You will, I think, readily agree that the attitude of my Government towards the Sino-Japanese dispute has been entirely correct and impartial, pursuant to our policy of complete neutrality and non-interference in the disputes of other countries. So strictly have we adhered to this policy that in many instances the Commonwealth Government’s attitude has been regarded as pro- Japanese and inimical to China. A recent and striking example of this is to be found in the question of the export of pig and scrap iron to Japan, which, as you know, involved my Government in considerable industrial trouble, and which, I think you must agree, was handled by us with strict fidelity to the general policy to which I have referred.

I mention these matters because I do want to remind you that the service we have paid to the cause of good relations with Japan has not been merely a lip- service.

Following these general observations, I would now refer to some of the more specific questions mentioned in your letter:

As you are aware, the freedom of the Press is a fundamental British institution, and there is no control or censorship of the Press in Australia. For this reason the Commonwealth Government cannot take responsibility for comments on international affairs which appear from time to time in the Australian Press. At times the less responsible units of the Press do exceed the limits of propriety in their comments on wide and varied international subjects, and such excesses are greatly deplored by my Government.

You mention certain films, especially the American ‘March of Time’ series, and various American publications. It is the policy of the Commonwealth Government to discourage periodicals and publications of an immoral and objectionable nature, but you will appreciate that there is difficulty in controlling subject matter which is published in, and emanates from, another country. The ‘March of Time’ series, for example, has been the subject of complaint from other Consular representatives in Australia, and has, moreover, often deeply offended British sentiments.

In regard to the invitation to the women High School teachers to visit Japan, I desire to point out that the acceptance of this invitation was a matter entirely for decision by the various State Governments. I can say, however, that the Commonwealth Government advised the State Governments that, in its opinion, such visits would be productive of much good, and help largely to foster mutual understanding between the peoples of Australia and Japan-the objective of my Government.

As to your comments in paragraph numbered (3), I can say that at no time have responsible Ministers or officials stated that Japan has aggressive designs on Australia. During these days of tension and uncertainty I feel that all my Ministers and Government officials are imbued with a full sense of responsibility and are most careful not to suggest that any particular country has designs against Australia or any other member of the British Commonwealth.

As to the personal threats uttered against you, I feel, my dear Consul-General, that they should not be regarded seriously. Action of a personal nature against representatives of a friendly Power is quite foreign to the nature and traditions of the Australian people, and I feel sure that the threat mentioned had no substance. I note in one of the cuttings submitted by you that it was regarded as an effort to discredit the waterside workers. It may interest you to know that I personally and some of my colleagues have from time to time received threatening communications. Never, however, have such threats been followed by personal violence. Investigation of cases has shown that the persons concerned are invariably ones suffering from some mental abnormality.

You will, I hope, permit me to say that, while I have the warmest sympathy with your desire to avoid any bitterness between our two peoples, the statement in the penultimate paragraph of your letter is not one which I entirely appreciate. Surely you exaggerate when you seek to draw an analogy between the bitterly acidulated relationships between Japan and the Chinese immediately before the present hostilities broke out and the entirely occasional and irresponsible statements and publications of an anti-Japanese character which are made or appear in Australia. It may very well be that occasional statements of an anti- Australian kind are made or published in Japan, but it would never have occurred to me or my Government to think that they represented the real views either of the Japanese Government or of the Japanese people.

Your nation and mine, I have no doubt, both realise that they have much to gain by preserving peace in the Pacific, and much to lose by war. Interest therefore marches with sentiment in the direction of continued peace.

I regret that you should feel that the influences you mention are having a disturbing effect upon your functions as Consul-General, but I emphasise that feelings of friendship and understanding for your country strongly persist throughout Australia, and, so far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned, no effort will be spared to maintain and strengthen them. [4]



1 Document 27.

2 In 1934 Sir John Latham, Minister for External Affairs, led a Goodwill Mission to Japan. There was a return Mission led by a special Minister, Katsuji Debuchi, in September 1935 (see files AA: A981, Japan 58-75, especially Japan 59).

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. 1, Documents 29, 33 and 36.

4 This reply was approved by a sub-committee of Cabinet established on 2 March 1939, comprising Lyons, Sir Earle Page (Minister for Commerce), R.G. Menzies (Attorney-General) and R.G. Casey (Treasurer) (see AA: A2694, vol. 16, Minute 582).


[AA: A981, JAPAN 101, ii]