HC Deb 18 July 1940 vol 363 cc399-401
Sir John Wardlaw-Milne

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he can make a statement on the recent Japanese demand for the stoppage of supplies to China through Hong Kong and Burma?

The Prime Minister

On 24th June the Japanese Government requested His Majesty's Government to take measures to stop the transit to China via Burma of war material and certain other goods. A similar request was made in respect of Hong Kong. The continuance of the transit of these materials was represented as having a serious effect on Anglo-Japanese relations.

An agreement has now been reached with the Japanese Government as follows:

Hong Kong.—The export of arms and ammunition from Hong Kong has been prohibited since January, 1939, and none of the war materials to which the Japanese Government attach importance are in fact being exported.

Burma.—The Government of Burma have agreed to suspend for a period of three months the transit to China of arms and ammunition as well as the following articles: petrol, lorries and railway material.

The categories of goods prohibited in Burma will be prohibited in Hong Kong.

In considering the requests made by the Japanese Government and in reaching the agreement to which I have referred, His Majesty's Government were not unmindful of the various obligations accepted by this country, including their obligations to the National Government of China and to the British territories affected. His Majesty's Government were however also bound to have regard to the present world situation, nor could they ignore the dominant fact that we are ourselves engaged in a life and death struggle.

The general policy of this country towards the Far Eastern troubles has been repeatedly defined. We have persistently asserted our desire to see assured to China a free and independent future, and we have as frequently expressed our desire to improve our relations with Japan.

To achieve these objectives two things were essential—time and a relief of tension. On the one hand it was clear that the tension was rapidly growing owing to the Japanese complaints about the passage of war material by the Burma route. On the other, to agree to the permanent closure of the route would be to default from our obligations as a neutral friendly Power to China. What we have therefore made is a temporary arrangement in the hope that the time so gained may lead to a solution just and equitable to both parties to the dispute, and freely accepted by them both.

We wish for no quarrel with any nation in the Far East. We desire to see China's status and integrity preserved, and as was indicated in our Note of 14th January, 1939, we are ready to negotiate with the Chinese Government, after the conclusion of peace, the abolition of extraterritorial rights, the rendition of concessions and the revision of treaties on the basis of reciprocity and equality. We wish to see Japan attain that state of prosperity which will ensure to her population the welfare and economic security which every Japanese naturally desires. Towards the attainment of the aims of both these countries we are prepared to offer our collaboration and our contribution. But it must be clear that if they are to be attained, it must be by a process of peace and conciliation and not by war or threat of war.

Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne

May I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of that decision, to which apparently the Government have come with great reluctance, and in view of the possibility of far-reaching consequences he will permit a very early opportunity for a full-dress Debate on the situation in the Far East?

The Prime Minister

If the House desires a Debate on foreign affairs, it might be convenient that we should finish certain matters which I will presently mention, but which have been adumbrated for next week. Then we could perhaps find some time for a Debate. If the House could wait until the week after, the Appropriation Bill would give an opportunity without a further addition to the labours of the House. It is my wish that the House should have a Debate on anything that may be desired.

Mr. Noel-Baker

May we rightly interpret that statement as meaning that His Majesty's Government have no desire to impose peace terms on the Chinese people, or to urge them to accept peace terms which they regard as surrender to aggression?

The Prime Minister

I would not wish to add to my reply.

Mr. Noel-Baker

May we correctly interpret the statement as meaning that His Majesty's Government still adhere to their attitude in the Far East of founding their policy on the Nine-Power Treaty, as well as on the other treaties by which we are bound?

The Prime Minister

I have read out a statement, which I have very carefully prepared and considered. My views in the past on this matter are well known. I should hesitate to try to improvise any addition to my statement now.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that this concession made to Japan will, in fact, secure the good will of that country towards this country; and has he operated throughout in consultation and, in so far as that may be possible, in agreement with the United States and Soviet Governments?

The Prime Minister

I can give no such assurance as is asked for in the first part of the question. I do not know at all. I think all that happens to us in the Far East is likely to be very much influenced by what happens over here. Naturally, we have made sure that what we have done has not been done without taking into full consideration the attitude of the two very important great Powers mentioned by my right hon. Friend.