Sir Henry Gullett, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Memorandum CANBERRA, 7 June 1939


In a conversation I had with the Japanese Consul-General this morning, Mr Akiyama asked me the following questions:-

1. Following upon recent statements by the Prime Minister and my External Affairs speech in the House [1], was the Commonwealth Government prepared to make to Japan concrete proposals which might become the basis of an international agreement? 2. Could I give him, if only privately, some idea as to when the Commonwealth Government proposed to establish a Legation at Tokyo? 3. He also raised the question of- (a) Residential permits for Japanese merchants in New Guinea and Papua; and (b) The hostile attitude of the Australian press to Japan with respect to the Sino-Japanese war.

I replied:-

1. While the Commonwealth Government had at the present time no concrete proposals to advance to Japan as a basis of an international agreement, the ‘gesture’ made in your speeches and broadcast statement and in my speech in the House was a sincere one, and the decision to make it arose out of much deliberation and represented the considered view of Cabinet. (I asked him if Japan had any ‘concrete proposals’ towards the same end, and he said that they had been ‘very pleased at our statements’.) 2. I told him, with the reservation that I was expressing only a personal view, that the Government was fully in earnest to establish Legations at Washington and Tokyo at an early date and that possibly a Minister would be located in Washington by the end of this year, and that the delay between the Washington appointment and the Tokyo appointment would not be a protracted one. I explained that the proposal to send a Minister to Washington had been discussed by Australian Governments some years earlier than the discussion of a similar proposal for Tokyo, and that this explained why we were opening at Washington first.

3(a). Upon the position of Japanese merchants in Papua and New Guinea, I told him the matter was under consideration.

(b). As to the attitude of the Australian press I pointed out that the sympathy of neutral countries in almost every war was against ‘the big fellow’, and reminded him of the extraordinary sympathy there was for Japan when she was engaged against Russia. He laughed and seemed to think the explanation satisfactory.

I assured him there was not the least hostility in this country towards Japan, apart from some feeling over the Sino-Japanese war, and that the Australian press and public had warmly approved the ‘gesture’ made in the speeches already referred to.


1 In a debate on international relations in the House of Representatives on 9 May 1939 Gullett said: ‘Not without some confidence does the Commonwealth Government, of which at the moment I am the mouthpiece, look forward to a nearer and more auspicious relationship with the great Japanese people than that which prevails today’ (Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 159, P. 197). On the same day Menzies reaffirmed the Government’s intention to exchange diplomatic missions with Japan (ibid., P. 236). The phrase ‘international agreement’ may be a reference to the Japanese desire for a commercial agreement with Australia.


[AA: A981, JAPAN 101, ii]