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

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

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

30 July 1940

My Prime Minister asks me to convey to you the text of the following communication which has today been despatched to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia:

‘I am very much obliged to you for your telegram of 27 July1 and for the opportunity of perusing the instructions you have forwarded to your High Commissioner in London2 with reference to the Far Eastern situation. Our own views remain very much as expressed in my telegram of 3 July,3 and while we entirely agree that it is in the highest degree advisable to avoid hostilities with Japan in our present circumstances, we have never felt that concession to aggression and threats is the best or indeed at all a promising way of achieving that end. We have never believed, and we do not now believe, that it was either wise or proper to attempt to placate Japan on the question of the Burma Road, especially as any concession in this respect was necessarily at the expense of China, was a violation of international undertakings to which we are a party, and involved a grave risk of misunderstanding and resentment in the United States of America.

‘We have never understood why the policy set out in the Secretary of State's telegram to us of 2 July4 (containing the British reply to your telegram of 27 June), which seemed to us to be as reasonable and sensible as circumstances would allow, and with which we, and I believe you also, expressed agreement, was changed without further consultation with us to one of retreat and concession. The policy of “appeasement” is in our view no more likely to be successful in the Far East than it was in Europe, if indeed, as evidenced for example by the recent change of government in Japan,5 it has not already page 15 failed; and we would be most reluctant to associate ourselves with any further attempts of this nature which would we feel be wrong in principle, and in practice more likely to precipitate aggression even against us than to provide a solution of the difficulties between Japan and China, or still less form a foundation for a better international order in the Far East. It may well be, however, and we say it with regret, that having now adopted a policy of concession, any alteration, and particularly any reversal of that policy, may now have become very dangerous.

‘In short, while we neither understand nor sympathise with the policy that has been adopted vis-à-vis Japan, we are nevertheless unwilling, by stressing this view, to add unnecessarily and perhaps uselessly to the difficulties of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, whose decision on this difficult and delicate matter we have accepted in the past and will no doubt accept in the future.

‘We have no specific comments and no objections to make to the considerations set out in your telegram, except that we gravely question the possibility of enlisting United States support for any concession to Japanese aggression, and while we would support your suggested attempt to obtain United States and Russian collaboration in this matter, we would not feel that this offers any substantial promise of success.

‘We warmly endorse your suggestion that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom should be requested to afford to us in future the opportunity of considering and commenting upon any further proposed action in the Far East and, particularly in respect of any further negotiations with Japan, in ample time to allow the expression and consideration of our views before the position is compromised.

‘Finally, we attach the greatest importance to the fullest possible exchange of views in this matter between New Zealand and Australia, of which we for our part fully assure you and which we confidently assume is the policy of Australia also.

‘In our opinion the position in the Far East, whatever its day to day fluctuation, is very serious.’

1 Not published. In this telegram the Commonwealth Government expressed its views on the Far Eastern situation and requested the observations of the New Zealand Government and, if it concurred, its support.

2 Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, PC, CH, MC (then Rt. Hon. Stanley Bruce); High Commissioner for Australia in London, 1933–45; Australian representative in United Kingdom War Cabinet and on Pacific War Council, 1942–45; created Viscount, 1947.

3 Repeated in No. 3.

5 On 16 July the Japanese Cabinet resigned. Prince Konoye became Prime Minister and Mr Matsuoka Foreign Minister.