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

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

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

24 October 1941

Circular telegram. Japan.

The following is a repetition of a telegram sent to His Majesty's Ambassador, Washington, on 18 October:

‘Since your conversation with Mr Hull the Japanese Government have fallen,1 apparently on the issue of the Washington conversations,

1 In the new Japanese government formed on 17 October, General H. Tojo was Prime Minister and Mr S. Togo Minister for Foreign Affairs.

page 65 and the conduct of affairs has been put into the extremists’ hands. It is therefore necessary in conjunction with the United States Government to take stock of the situation in regard to (a) the stimulus which the German advance on Moscow is giving to those in Japan in favour of early action, and (b) the effective pressure of our economic embargo on Japan.

‘2. It is possible that the direction which the Japanese will take is southward, e.g., into Thailand, and we have had an urgent appeal from the Thai Prime Minister for co-operation. Japan knows, however, that this choice is likely to bring her into collision with the ABCD1 front. This risk is less in the north, where Japan has already a strong concentration of military forces. Japan may also hope that the departure of the Government from Moscow2 and the consequent weakening of its authority may lead to some disintegration of the Soviet forces in Siberia. We have to reckon therefore with the possibility of an attack upon Russia in the fairly near future.

‘3. Even though there is little effective action that we could take in this eventuality (and you should make it clear that we have taken no decision on the point) it is desirable that we should enter into consultation with the United States Government at once. So long as our Russian allies are resisting Germany in the west it is important that we should not weaken or discourage their resistance by a failure to support them to the best of our ability in the Far East. We have also to consider the position of our Dutch allies and the effect on the spirit of the Netherlands East Indies if we were to fail the Russians.

‘4. Still more important is the question whether we can afford to allow Japan to attack us “one by one” and, having disposed of the Russians, be able to turn on us, strengthened and freed from the Russian danger, at the moment which suited her best, and which would no doubt coincide with the moment at which Germany in the West should be free to do the same.

‘5. Indo-China has already gone3: Japan has established her bases there, and if she is allowed to free herself by an attack on Russia from the present threat to her rear, the danger to ourselves will be very serious indeed.

‘6. We have been well content to leave the handling of the Japanese problem to the United States and to follow the United States in their policy of maximum economic pressure. The Prime Minister made it clear, moreover, in his broadcast of 24 August, that should their attempt to reach a peaceful solution fail, we should range ourselves by their side. This remains the position. While, as stated above,

1 American, British, Chinese and Dutch.

2 On 16 October it was announced that the Soviet Government was evacuating Moscow owing to the rapid advance of German forces.

page 66 positive action by ourselves alone is unlikely to be very effective, we are prepared to support any action, however serious, which the United States may decide to take.

‘7. Naturally we should still prefer if possible to keep Japan out of the world conflict and to detach her from the Axis by some means short of war. If there is anything which the United States Government think we can do to deter Japan from war we should be glad to give it immediate consideration.

‘8. Please communicate the foregoing to Mr Hull and ask whether he can inform us of the action which the United States Government contemplates in the event of a Japanese attack on Russia.’

See also my immediately following telegram.