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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

1 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1 to the Governor-General of New Zealand2

page 1

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1 to the Governor-General of New Zealand2

26 June 1940

Circular telegram. Following for your Prime Minister:3

1. His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo4 has suggested that some readjustment of our Far Eastern policy which takes account of the impact on Japan of recent developments in Europe is now urgently necessary.

2. His Majesty's Ambassador has expressed his doubts whether the aim of preventing Japan from being drawn into the war on the side of her former Axis partners can be achieved without the adoption of some more positive methods than those followed hitherto. He feels that the United States policy, designed so to wear down Japanese resistance that the Army in Japan would be deposed from its paramount position, is now in view of the French collapse certainly ineffective.

3. Sir Robert Craigie considers that the issue by the United States Government of a declaration to the effect that they will not tolerate any change in the territorial status quo in the Pacific area would be valuable if it means more than a repetition of non-recognition of the aggressor, but that if an eventual head-on collision between the United

1 Secretaries of State for Dominion Affairs in the United Kingdom Government during the war were:

28 Jan 1939–3 Sep 1939Rt. Hon. Viscount Caldecote, PC, CBE, KC (then Sir Thomas Inskip).
3 Sep 1939–12 May 1940Rt. Hon. Anthony Eden, PC, MC.
12 May 1940–3 Oct 1940Viscount Caldecote.
3 Oct 1940–19 Feb 1942Rt. Hon. Viscount Cranborne, PC.
19 Feb 1942–28 Sep 1943Rt. Hon. Clement Attlee, PC, CH.
28 Sep 1943–3 Aug 1945Viscount Cranborne.
3 Aug 1945–7 Oct 1947Rt. Hon. Viscount Addison, KG, PC.

On 2 Jul 1947 the title of this office was changed to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

2 Governors-General of New Zealand during the war were:

1935–41Rt. Hon. Viscount Galway, PC, GCMG, DSO, OBE; died 27 Mar 1943.
1941–46Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Cyril Newall, GCB, OM, GCMG, CBE, AM. (Created Baron, 18 Jul 1946.)

3 Prime Ministers of New Zealand during the war were:

28 Nov 1935–death, 26 Mar 1940Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage, PC.
1 Apr 1940–13 Dec 1949Rt. Hon. P. Fraser, PC, CH. (Died 12 Dec 1950.)

4 Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Craigie, PC, GCMG, CB; Ambassador to Japan, 1937–41.

page 2 States and Japan is to be avoided there should also be a more positive side to Anglo-American policy in the Far East. Hence it is important to know without delay:

Whether in the growing emergency in the Far East the United States are prepared to co-ordinate policy and to act with us more closely than in the past.


If so, whether it is possible to discover some common policy capable of dealing with the German drive to secure Japan's involvement in the European war. As to (2), he considers our object should on no account be to involve the United States in the war in the Far East on our behalf. Such involvement would be disastrous to our most vital interests since it would divert United States attention from Europe and seriously diminish the extent of United States material assistance at a crucial point. On the contrary he feels that we should seek a plan which would lessen the chance of United States involvement in the Far East by offering some alternative to that policy of stark aggression for which extremists and younger officers in Japan are now pressing so strongly.

4. He believes that if Great Britain and the United States were to agree upon it promptly an understanding might yet be reached with Japan along the following lines:


Joint assistance to Japan in bringing about peace with the Chinese Government on the basis of the restoration of China's independence and integrity.


Japan formally to undertake to remain neutral in the European war and to respect to the full the territorial integrity not only of the Netherlands East Indies, but also of British and of French and of American possessions in the Pacific so long as the status quo of these territories is preserved.


The United States and the members of the British Commonwealth to give Japan all financial and economic assistance and facilities in their power, both now and during the post-war reconstruction period.


The Allied Governments to receive full guarantees against reexport to enemy countries.


The question of the future status of settlements and concessions in China to be left in abeyance until the restoration of peace in Europe and China.

5. On the present procedure he thinks that such proposals should emanate from the Japanese themselves, and he has reason to believe that this might be quickest if Japanese intermediaries were to be definitely assured in advance that a settlement on these lines would page 3 be acceptable in principle both to the United Kingdom and United States Governments.

6. If, however, the United States answer to both questions in paragraph 3 were to be negative, and if the United States Government were unable to give us more active support, even as regards the International Settlement at Shanghai, he feels that at best we could seek to gain time by concessions on the points not considered of capital importance.

7. A telegram has been sent to His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington1 suggesting that there seem to be two courses of action open to the United States:


To increase their pressure either to the extent of a full embargo or of the despatch of ships to Singapore, in full realisation that this may result in war with Japan.


To seek to wean Japan from aggression by a concrete offer on the lines suggested by Sir Robert Craigie.

8. The United Kingdom Government appreciate that if the United States of America were involved in war with Japan she would be unable to furnish the material assistance which we require in Europe at a crucial moment (though it is not known to what extent this would apply to fleet action only). If the United States Government share this view then we are anxious to know whether they are prepared to give early and serious consideration to the second alternative mentioned in paragraph 7.

9. While there is no doubt an element of bluff in the Japanese attitude, and wiser elements in Japan cannot but be conscious of the adverse effects upon their economy of an extension of the policy of aggression, we cannot ignore the possibility that interventionists may before long gain complete control. If anything can be done to prevent this it must be done soon.

10. In the meantime we are faced with the necessity of returning a reply to the Japanese demands which we understand have just been presented through the Ambassador:


To withdraw our garrison from Shanghai;


To close the Hong Kong frontier;


To close the Burmese frontier to supplies to Chiang Kai-shek.2

11. As to (1), we feel that as the United States are not in a position to promise armed support, and as our own territories in the Far East are now in some danger of attack, we may well desire to withdraw troops to reinforce the garrisons of our colonies. We should, however, prefer not to appear to be giving way to a Japanese demand and to

1 Lord Lothian, PC, KT, CH; British Ambassador at Washington, Aug 1939 – death, 12 Dec 1940.

2 Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Chairman of Chinese Supreme National Defence Council, 1939–47; President of China, 1943–49; resumed presidency, Taiwan, 1950.

page 4 take this step in return for definite undertakings by the Japanese, possibly as a part of a general settlement on the lines of paragraph 7 (b). It is questionable, however, whether we could delay our reply for very long.

12. As to the second demand, we may be able to satisfy Japan without in fact making any concession in principle. But the third demand presents serious difficulties and is one which we feel we should endeavour to resist. At the same time we have to recognise that the Japanese, if they persist in their intention, have the means to enforce it. The situation is further complicated by the fact that by far the greater part of the traffic to which objection is taken is United States. Put bluntly, our problem is whether we are to incur both United States and Chinese odium by stopping traffic or face the consequences of refusal without United States support.

13. His Majesty's Ambassador has been asked to put these considerations before the United States Government at the earliest possible moment and to invite their observations.

His Majesty's Ambassador has been authorised to add that if there is war in the Far East we shall resist it to the best of our ability. The slenderness of our resources must however already be apparent to the United States Government, and the effect upon our operations in Europe of the severance of our communications, the loss of supplies and possibly also of shipping, would be obvious. If, on the other hand, the United States Government feel able either to come to our assistance or to undertake a policy directed towards the termination of hostilities between China and Japan, then we should be prepared to offer our full contribution. If conciliation is the alternative to be adopted then it is obvious that reinstatement of our position [group mutilated–with?] Japan renders it undesirable that we should take the initiative in the matter.