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

2 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Governor-General of New Zealand

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

2 July 1940

Reference my Circular telegram of 26 June.

The following telegram has been received from His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia:

‘The Commonwealth Government has given prolonged consideration to the questions in issue, and is in full agreement with the conclusion of the British Ambassador at Tokyo that a readjustment of Far Eastern policy is urgently necessary.

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‘From reports and information from various quarters it seems to us that Japan will take advantage of the present European situation to further her extreme interests, even to the extent of war with the Empire, if immediate steps are not taken to meet the new position.

‘To our mind it is imperative at the outset to have a clear indication of United States policy, how far she is prepared to act beyond her recent negative policy and, at the same time, her intentions regarding the future disposition of the fleet. From the point of view of holding our position in the Pacific and the Far East, the continued maintenance of the fleet on Hawaii is essential, and so long as the British Fleet, the main defence of America on the Atlantic, remains undefeated, there would seem no reason outside American sentiment for it to be transferred to the Atlantic.

‘We consider that the present three Japanese demands do not in themselves vitally affect the future or present security of the Empire. French acceptance of similar demands has further strengthened the Japanese position, and we can only arrive at the conclusion that if the United States is not prepared to give most complete support, these demands should be conceded. The alternative is a grave risk of war against Japan, which cannot be contemplated in our present position.

‘As to the suggestions of Craigie for a general settlement, the basis of negotiation so far as they visualise the complete independence and integrity of China appears to us as quite impossible of acceptance by Japan. They would put her in a worse position than at the commencement of hostilities in 1937.

‘We cannot believe that Japan would herself make an approach to the United States of America and the United Kingdom on such a basis. In this respect it is strongly urged that if there is to be mediation, the [group mutilated–original?] proposal should go to the limit of concessions at the outset of the [group omitted–negotiations?] rather than raise the stakes when it is too late.

‘At the same time, we see virtue in this proposal of mediation for the termination of the Sino-Japanese war, only if the specific object and result is a tripartite declaration regarding the status quo in the Western Pacific and guarantees as to respective territorial integrity in the designated spheres, to which the United States must be definitely committed.

‘This latter may in fact prove difficult to obtain but, failing it, the United Kingdom herself should not offer to mediate.

‘Generally we agree with the view that it would be contrary to the successful prosecution of the war for the United States to become involved in war in the Pacific, and policy therefore must be based on the realities of the situation and the common sense that we should not at the moment take such action, or by omission of reasonable page 6 action, as will cause Japan to become involved in this war.’

The following reply has been sent:

War Cabinet this morning considered the Far Eastern situation and had before it your telegram of 27 June, for which we are much obliged.

‘After full consideration the War Cabinet came to the conclusion that it would be desirable to reply as follows to the Japanese demands:


To agree to the withdrawal of the Shanghai garrison provided the Italians also withdraw, and on the assumption that British lives and property will be protected and that the Japanese Government will not seek to alter the status of the Concession except in consultation with the parties concerned.


To make inquiry as to the precise grounds for complaint at Hong Kong, and,


With regard to the Burma Road, to point out that the passage of arms and ammunition to Chungking does not offer any very material contribution to the armed strength of China, that war material from the United Kingdom has been insignificant in recent months, and that owing to their own war effort His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are in fact unable to supply China with munitions of war. As to the stoppage of fuel, fuel oil and petrol, trucks and railway materials, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would state that in making this request the Japanese Government was asking them to take action inconsistent with their obligations to India and Burma, for whom the Burma Road constitutes a legitimate trade route. Relations with the United States would also be affected, inasmuch as the route is largely used for United States products. It is proposed to [group mutilated–say that?] in strict neutrality [group mutilated–compliance with a?] request to cut off these materials from China should involve a similar stoppage of supplies to Japan, though of course this is in no way the intention.1

‘Finally, it is proposed to say that, far from being instrumental in prolonging hostilities, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have always deplored them and have on various occasions expressed their readiness, should both parties so desire, to use their endeavours to bring the conflict to a close.

‘In arriving at the above conclusion His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have been influenced by the fact that, while it page 7 is obviously desirable to avoid trouble with Japan at this moment, it is doubtful if concessions from Burma on points of principle, apart from other considerations, would bring any lasting improvement in Anglo-Japanese relations. Furthermore, in any attempt to find a way of accommodation with Japan, care must be taken not to destroy confidence in the United States and China in British policy.

‘As the Commonwealth Government are aware, the United States have indicated that they are prepared neither to increase pressure which might involve them in war nor to take the initiative in a policy of conciliation. On our part we are quite prepared to adopt the latter policy if it is capable of producing any results. But the United States Government appear to hold the view, which we are inclined to share, that the Japanese nation is in no mood to be weaned from a policy of aggression, and in these circumstances it seems more than likely that any concessions which we may [group mutilated–be?] ourselves ready to make will fail to deter Japan from her objective.

‘We are inclined to agree with Sir Robert Craigie that a refusal to close the Burma Road will not directly lead to war, and that the Japanese will in the first place have recourse to less violent measures. Unless Great Britain were to be defeated in Europe, moreover, it seems to us doubtful whether Japan would have recourse to total war. Japan's resources are not inexhaustible and, should she ultimately resort to hostilities, it seems much more probable that they would be limited and local and that, provided we ourselves did not declare a state of war, she would terminate them whenever it became apparent that a further advance would tax her resources beyond their machinery. If Japan is bent on a policy of this kind it is unlikely that anything can be done at this stage to deflect her. Nevertheless, Sir Robert Craigie is being authorised to explore the possibilities, and if these exist His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will naturally do what they can in consultation with Dominion Governments to exploit them.

‘In the light of the above, and in view of the very bad effect which the closing of the Burma Road would have upon India, Burma and Malaya, which would be directly affected, we feel that we should not close the Burma Road.

‘We fully appreciate the considerations advanced by the Commonwealth Government from the point of view of Australia. It will be understood that it is necessary for us to take into account all relevant factors, and we hope that in the light of the wider considerations mentioned above the Commonwealth Government will feel able to concur in the terms of the reply which it is proposed to send to Japan. We should be grateful for a very early reply.

page 8

‘We are repeating your telegram and this reply to His Majesty's Governments in Canada, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa with a request for any observations so far as they are concerned.’

We should be grateful if we could be informed as soon as possible whether His Majesty's Government in New Zealand concur in the terms of the reply which it is proposed to send to Japan.

1 On the recommendation of Sir Robert Craigie, who considered that ‘there would be a serious risk that a reply on these lines would lead to a state of war with Japan’, its terms were subsequently modified.