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

6 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)1

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)1

14 July 1940

Your telegram of 12 July, No. 285.2

We entirely sympathise with the general attitude of the Prime Minister of New Zealand; in particular, the importance of not taking any action which would antagonise United States opinion has been fully present in our minds. The situation with which we were faced was one in which we were advised by His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo that there was a serious risk that a reply to the Japanese demands which would be interpreted by the Japanese Government as tantamount to a refusal would gradually lead to war with Japan. Even if the present Japanese Government were to shrink from this course, there is the possibility that, if it were considered to have failed in upholding page 12 the Japanese position, it might at any moment be succeeded by a more extreme and pushful Government which would feel no similar hesitation. In that event it is clear from discussions which have taken place with the United States Government that we should not have their active assistance, and in the present phase of the war the possibility of having, single-handed, to carry on hostilities, including the serious threat to vital Imperial communications, against Japan, in addition to our other enemies, is one which our military advisers consider must be avoided if at all possible.

His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington has moreover expressed the view that United States opinion would probably regard action as to the Burma Road of the kind now proposed as imposed upon us by the necessities of the European situation. He has been asked, when informing the United States Government of the action contemplated, to point out to them that in arriving at our decision, which although only temporary is distasteful to us, we have been influenced by their attitude as described above, and that, in the circumstances, we assume that they would not wish us to expose ourselves to war between Great Britain and Japan with all its complications. He has also been asked to make it clear that we should welcome any assistance which they may feel able to offer in making clear our difficulties, and it has been suggested that it might be possible to let it be known that the United States Government are concerned about supplies from the United States being cut off from China and are seriously considering whether, from the point of view of strict neutrality, they should themselves take steps to stop supplies from the United States going to Japan.

Please speak to the Prime Minister in the above sense.

1 Sir Harry Batterbee, GCMG, KCVO; High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in New Zealand, 1939–45.

2 Not published. Sir Harry Batterbee reported a conversation with Mr Fraser in which the latter had expressed his concern that concessions to Japan would not prevent aggression and might have an effect on public opinion in the United States.