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

87 — 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

6 December 1941

My telegram of 5 December [No. 82]. The following reply has been received from Lord Halifax this afternoon (Friday):

‘1. I had a long talk with the President this evening (Thursday) and gave him the message in your second paragraph.

‘2. On the question of warning in your third paragraph, he was very doubtful about the wisdom of including attack on the Burma Road. Apart from the fact that the Chinese war stood on a different footing to some new aggression, his recollection was that in the summer of 1940 the Japanese had blocked the Indo-Chinese route to China at Hanoi, where the United States had supplies for China, which had consequently been obstructed without, he thought, any serious page 95 protest in the United States. This precedent made it difficult for him to take so much stiffer a line now as regards an attack on the Burma Road. Moreover, if hostilities come he will have to make his case solely on defence grounds, which he feels he can well do on the other cases you mention but not on the Burma Road issue. He hopes, therefore, that you may not think it necessary to include this in the warning.

‘3. Subject to the above and to paragraph 5 below, he agrees to the warning covering any attack by Japan on Thailand, Malaya, or the Netherlands East Indies. He thinks that if warning is given by the United States, ourselves and the Dutch, we should act independently all within twenty-four hours, using different language to mean the same thing. I read him again the language in the second paragraph of your telegram [No. 78], which he thought quite all right. He would prefer the United States to get in first. On account of the political consideration here it was important that their action should be based on independent necessities of United States defence and not appear to follow on ourselves. He assumed you would be concerting with the Dutch

‘4. He said, however, that he had received an indirect communication from Kurusu that matters were not yet hopeless and that a direct approach to the Emperor1 might produce result. Kurusu had also said that if the President would make the move it still might not be impossible to secure a truce and even a settlement between Japan and China. Kurusu had sketched possible lines of a meeting provided the President would endeavour to act as “introducer” between China and Japan with a view to their dealing directly with each other. These possible lines of [group mutilated – action?]: a truce and withdrawal of the bulk of the Japanese [group mutilated – troops?] in Indo-China and withdrawal of the Japanese troops [group mutilated – from?] North China on a timetable to be agreed between the Japanese and Chinese military, with an American assessor or arbitrator (he was not clear which). The President said that the Japanese would obviously want some economic relief. He did not attach too much importance to this approach, but was naturally reluctant to miss any chance and thought a communication to the Emperor would strengthen his general case if things went wrong. He asked my opinion.

‘5. In answer, I said in the question of the approach to the Emperor the main point seemed to be the danger of delay in putting in a warning on the assumption that Kurusu's approach was worthless. Could he make his communication to the Emperor if he made it serve as a definite warning? The President agreed and said he could, and would include such a warning, if he decided to do it, tomorrow morning after he has received the Japanese reply to his question two

1 Emperor Hirohito.

page 96 days ago. As to the treatment of Kurusu's approach generally, I said no doubt he would be particularly careful not to put a foot wrong with the Chinese after last week's experience, and, therefore, it might be wiser to avoid any detailed suggestion at the first stage, merely confining the message and warning to a hint; if the Emperor gave him any reason to think it would be helpful he might be able to make a suggestion that would assist the maintenance of peaceful relations. The President agreed.

‘6. He will decide whether he does or does not communicate with the Emperor tomorrow (Friday) morning, and meanwhile wishes us to suspend delivery of the warning while making all preparation for it with the Dutch. If he does approach the Emperor he would hope that the three-power warning might be deferred till he had the Emperor's reply, for which he would ask urgently.

‘7. Your paragraph 5.1 He agrees on the proposal in the last sentence, and promised to instruct the State Department to give Thailand the assurance there suggested. But he still thinks it would be useful if you told Thailand that whatever happens now, and even if their sovereignty is temporarily destroyed by Japan, His Majesty's Government in conjunction with the Allies would restore it.’

1 No. 82.