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

35 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand

22 July 1941

Circular telegram. Japan. My telegram M. 166, paragraph 1 (a) special.5

My immediately following telegram6 repeats a telegram from His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington containing an account of detailed steps which the United States authorities propose to take in the event of a Japanese move to the south. Before this information had been received we had considered our general policy in the light of the earlier report summarised in the telegram under reference. We were advised that the freezing of Japanese assets, if rigidly applied, page 44 would be likely to result in the stoppage of all current trade between the United States and Japan, and the report contained in my immediately following telegram shows that the United States authorities are themselves prepared for this. The position may thus arise under which the Japanese would be confronted with a choice between the alternatives of reversing their pro-Axis policy or of proceeding with their southward move, if necessary to the point of war with the Netherlands East Indies and ourselves, in an endeavour to obtain control of the sources of raw materials. The question, therefore, which we are called upon to consider is whether we are prepared to act with the United States if they desire to take such drastic action, and if not whether we should attempt to restrain them.

Our policy has hitherto been to do everything possible to avoid war with Japan in the absence of a formal guarantee by the United States that they will support us if attacked. At the same time the danger inherent in our lagging behind the United States in dealing with Japan and thus weakening the ties between us and them is very real. The issue with Japan must be faced sooner or later, and the question is whether we should join the United States in forcing the issue now over Indo-China or whether we should try to dissuade the United States from forcing the issue until Japan makes a further move, e.g., in Thailand or against Russia. We do not, however, know whether the United States would be prepared to go so far in economic action in the last two eventualities; indeed, we have an indication that in the former case they would not.

Weighing these considerations, the conclusions we have reached are:


That we must on no account discourage action which the United States may wish to take in putting pressure on Japan, and must as far as possible associate our action with theirs.


That we must in the paramount interest of co-operation with the United States be prepared to follow a United States lead in forcing the issue with Japan over Indo-Chinese bases.


That if we are called upon to go to lengths which involve a plain risk of war with Japan, every effort should be made to obtain the clearest possible indication from the United States that we can count without reservation on their active armed support.

We hope that these conclusions will commend themselves to His Majesty's Governments in the Dominions.

In view of the expected imminent Japanese move south we are most anxious to make our [group mutilated – intentions?] known to the United States Government at once and should be grateful for the earliest possible expression of views by immediate telegram.

5 Not published. Paragraph 1 (a) reads: ‘In response to inquiries as to the economic action the United States Government contemplate in the event of Japan committing an overt act, the United States Secretary of State said on 19 July that the necessary orders were now before the President. He expected them to include—(a) the freezing of all Japanese and Chinese assets, the latter at the request of the Chinese Government.’

6 Not published. This telegram, M.173, despatched on 22 July, was delayed in transmission.