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

16 — The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1

page 27

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

25 September 1940

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have now given careful consideration to your Circular telegram dated 4 September [No. 14] from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs concerning the closing of the Burma Road. As they have already stated in various telegrams to the Secretary of State, and notably in their telegrams of 30 July [No. 8] and 7 August [No. 10], they are averse to the policy of making concessions to Japan on this issue, and they still feel obliged to maintain the view previously expressed that such a course is unwise.

They hold this belief on the grounds that such a concession at the expense of China, whom we are pledged to assist, must constitute a most damaging breach of solemn obligations; that it must incur widespread resentment and loss of sympathy in our own cause among the people of the United States at a time most critical to ourselves; and that it must, by weakening China, contribute in some degree to the further aggrandisement of Japan and thus increase the immediate as well as the ultimate threat to Britain's territories in the Far East and the South Pacific.

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand realise full well the difficulties now confronting the United Kingdom and the other countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the manifold weaknesses and deficiencies in their defensive position at this particular time. But they feel that a continuation of this concession would neither conciliate Japan nor turn her from such further aggressive intentions as she might be contemplating against British interests. On the other hand a display of firmness, for which the ground has been adequately prepared by the British Ambassador in Tokyo, on the lines set out in Circular telegram of 3 September [No. 13] and paragraph 8 of Circular telegram of 4 September [No. 14], may prove to be a course of much greater practical worth.

In any case, the war position of the British Commonwealth is no worse than it was in July last and, indeed, prospects seem likely to be better in a few weeks' time than they are today. Should the United States adopt the stronger line which their Secretary of State2 professes, according to your telegram D. 477 of 20 September,3 to be their page 28 immediate intention, then this support, together with our renewal of transit facilities over the Burma Road, should stimulate the Chinese to continue the struggle, and this resistance His Majesty's Government in New Zealand regard as a major safeguard to the remaining British interests in the Far East and in the South Seas.

Since Japan has made no attempt whatever to comply with the understanding that the period of the agreement should be used to explore the terms of a general settlement, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand consider that the Governments of the British Commonwealth are justified in claiming that their concessions have met with no corresponding response. In actual fact, of course, the Japanese have taken, and are continuing to take, full advantage of British and French weakness to make further gains and thereby to prosecute the war against China with greater vigour. It seems, therefore, that any further steps that the Japanese may be permitted to take will merely strengthen them in their determination to press for yet more concessions, and enable them to complete their fixed policy of crushing entirely all Chinese resistance under Chiang Kai-shek.

The danger of adding to the numbers of our enemies at this critical time must obviously be taken into consideration, and it is of course more dangerous to open the road now than formerly it would have been to decline to close it, but His Majesty's Government in New Zealand feel that the risk of converting the enmity of Japan into a form more active than it has now assumed is outweighed by the disadvantages that must result from the continuance of the policy of making concessions.

1 Repeated to the Governments of Australia, Canada and South Africa.

2 Mr Cordell Hull, Secretary of State of the United States of America, 1933–44.

3 Not published. On 16 September His Majesty's Ambassador in Washington and the Australian Minister had asked the United States Secretary of State what assurance there would be of United States support, both for the Commonwealth and the Netherlands East Indies, in the event of Britain reopening the Burma Road and encouraging the Dutch to resist unreasonable Japanese demands. Mr Hull's reply had indicated that the United States administration was considering taking a much stronger line against Japan once it became clear that Britain had met the threat of attack from Europe.