HC Deb 23 January 1951 vol 483 cc38-42
Mr. Churchill

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make about the present position in the Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly in respect of its policy towards China.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

Yes, Sir. Before dealing with the position which has been reached in the Political Committee of the Assembly, I would ask the permission of the House to summarise very briefly the events which have taken place since I made my statement on 14th December.

Hon. Members will recall that on my return from Washington I reported to the House on the very full and useful discussions which I had had there with the President of the United States. We agreed that aggression must be halted, but equally that the conflict should not be extended; and that our long-range objective was to reach a stable position in the Far East.

This in effect was a re-statement of the policy which has been followed by His Majesty's Government in regard to the Far East ever since we assumed office. It can perhaps be best defined as applying certain basic principles to the facts of the situation. In connection with China, it appeared to His Majesty's Government that the basic fact to he faced was the emergence of a new Government which was in effective control of the mainland territory of China. Chinese intervention in Korea produced a new and most serious situation which jeopardised the attainment of the objectives of the United Nations in Korea and threatened the success of our efforts to confine the conflict to Korea and to reach a stable position in the Far East.

His Majesty's Government welcomed the initiative taken by a number of Asian and Middle Eastern States in December to bring about a cease-fire in Korea in order to explore the possibilities of a negotiated settlement. Their first proposals were rejected by the Chinese People's Government on 22nd December on the grounds not only that the ceasefire principles were unacceptable in themselves, but that the Cease Fire Committee was an illegal body because of the exclusion of representatives of the Central People's Government from the United Nations Organisation.

In the face of this rejection, which coincided with strong military pressure endangering United Nations forces in Korea, obviously a new and very dangerous situation was created. Despite the rejection of their proposals for a cease-fire, the Cease Fire Committee displayed the utmost patience and perseverance and proceeded to draft a set of general "principles" which in their view might form the basis for a settlement in the Far East.

Before however these "principles" had been tabled at the Political Committee, Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth met in London in accordance with longstanding arrangements. It was, I venture to think, of the greatest value that at this difficult stage in the development of the Far Eastern situation, Prime Ministers of the free countries of the British Commonwealth representing so many races and points of view, should have met in London for the purpose of discussing international affairs and the maintenance of world peace.

In point of fact, much of the time of the Prime Ministers was given to the affairs of Asia, and I personally found it encouraging and stimulating to note the unanimity of purpose which animated us all. We all recognised that the problem of peace was that of removing the causes of war, of easing tension and promoting understanding, of assisting those less-developed nations which needed our aid, and of being at all times willing to discuss our differences

We agreed also on the urgency and importance of promoting a satisfactory settlement in the Far East and expressed our earnest hope that the fresh approach which had then been made in the First Committee of the Assembly might lead to a settlement of outstanding issues in the Far East. This fresh approach referred to the principles for a settlement which had been tabled by the Cease Fire Committee by an overwhelming majority, though I regret that the Soviet delegate and the delegates of the satellite countries, despite all their protestations about peace, saw fit to vote against these principles. They were then referred to the Central People's Government of China.

The Chinese reply was received on 17th January. It seemed to His Majesty's Government that the reply, though most disappointing, did not finally close the door to negotiations. It seemed, however, to us that before we could decide on the interpretation to place upon the Chinese reply, it would be necessary to try to elucidate it, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs accordingly on 20th January instructed His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires in Peking to put to the Chinese Government certain points in their reply and to request an explanation. The most important issue was the reference to a cease-fire and on this point the Chargé d'Affaires, who was received by the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs on 21st January, was informed that as the Chinese Government saw it there should be two steps in regard to concluding the war in Korea and reaching a peaceful settlement of the Korean problem. The first step should be a cease-fire for a limited period which could be agreed upon at the first meeting of a conference of the powers and immediately put into effect so that negotiations might proceed.

The second step, in the Chinese view, was to discuss a number of problems, among them the withdrawal of foreign, including Chinese, troops from Korea, proposals for the future of Korea itself, the withdrawal of United States armed forces from Formosa, and other problems concerning the Far East. At the same time the Vice-Minister made it plain to the Chargé d'Affaires that the Central People's Government of China must be given their rightful place in the United Nations organisation.

This then is the point which we have reached in regard to Korea. We must decide whether the Chinese reply genuinely holds out any prospect of a peaceful settlement of the Korean problem and of relations between China and the rest of the world on a basis in harmony with the great principles of international conduct enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. At the same time it is necessary to study the Chinese reply in the context of what they are in fact doing and have done in Korea. Do their actions in Korea support the view that they are prepared to accept normal principles of international conduct?

This is not an easy decision to take. The wording of the Chinese reply, even with the help of the further explanations now given to us, is not altogether clear, and we cannot be certain as to their real intentions. In a situation of this sort it is essential that we should continue to take counsel with our friends. In particular we must give all weight, in this Asian dispute, to the views of Asian countries. As I read it, there is a general feeling amongst the countries of Asia that we must patiently pursue every possibility of a peaceful settlement with China so that the new emerging China may be given an opportunity should she so desire to play her part in the community of nations on equal terms with other members.

These are the considerations which we have in mind in considering what our policy should be in view of the resolution now tabled in the Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. For our part we have not lost hope of a negotiated settlement of the Korean war, nor have we lost hope that China may yet be ready to play her traditional part in world affairs and live on friendly terms with other members of the world community. We are, therefore, of the opinion that the United Nations should not at this stage take a new and important decision. The resolution at present before the Political Committee of the Assembly seeks to condemn Chinese actions in Korea as the acts of an aggressor, to invite the Collective Measures Committee to study what additional measures can be taken against China, and to set up a committee of good offices.

It follows from what I have said before that His Majesty's Government welcome the proposal to set up a committee of good offices which will provide machinery for exploring every possibility of a negotiated settlement. His Majesty's Government likewise recognise the stark facts of the situation in Korea and agree in condemning Chinese intervention in support of an aggressor which has thwarted and frustrated the purposes of the United Nations. But we do not believe that the time has yet come to consider further measures. To do so implies that we have abandoned hope of reaching a peaceful settlement, and this we have not done.

Mr. Churchill

While thanking the Prime Minister for the fullness of his reply and for the broad survey, in retrospect, which he has given us, may I ask him to bear in mind constantly the grave dangers which will fall upon us all should any serious divergencies occur between our policy and that of the United States, and should any serious division in the United Nations—

Mr. Ellis Smith

We are not going to be trapped into war.

Mr. Churchill

—be brought about by manoeuvres which are obviously to the interest of Soviet Russia?

The Prime Minister

We have that in mind. It is of the greatest importance that we should preserve unity with the Commonwealth, the United States of America, and with all other peace-loving nations. And we have to be on our guard against attempts to divide us. At the same time, we should never abandon recklessly or thoughtlessly any hope that there may be of a peaceful settlement in which the whole of the world is interested.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the initiative shown by the Conference of Prime Ministers, in which he himself played so notable a part. may I ask him to bear in mind that the overwhelming opinion in this country is that there is nothing whatever in the Chinese claim about Formosa, and about a seat in the Security Council for China, which would justify us in continuing these hostilities?

The Prime Minister

The hostilities do not arise out of the question of Formosa; they arise out of an aggression committed by the North Koreans on the South Koreans.

Mr. Silverman

But will not my right hon. Friend agree that in the stage which the negotiations have now reached, the differences of opinion which make those hostilities continue do not surround Korea so much as Formosa and the Chinese place in the United Nations?

Hon. Members