§ 41. Mr. Edelman
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what communication Her Majesty's Government have received from the Peking Government concerning the loss of an Indian aircraft bound from Hong Kong on 11th April; and what reply he has sent.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
On 13th April, Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Peking was handed a Note by the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs which contained grave allegations that the Indian aircraft which left Hong Kong on 11th April had been sabotaged, and that the British authorities in Hong Kong were in part responsible for this disaster. On 17th April, in the absence of Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Shanghai, the Counsellor at Peking was instructed to deliver a reply. Her Majesty's Government, while deploring the incident and the loss of life involved, made it clear that they did not accept any responsibility for the accident or the consequences thereof. Her Majesty's Government also protested strongly against the Chinese accusations against the British authorities, which had been made before time had been allowed for any investigation.
The reply went on to refute the Chinese claims that Her Majesty's Embassy in Peking had been warned in advance of arrangements to sabotage the aircraft, and 26 recited in detail the extensive precautions which had been taken by the authorities at Hong Kong to safeguard the aircraft. The Note concluded by stating that Her Majesty's Government could not accept any suggestions by the Chinese Government that the British authorities in Hong Kong or elsewhere had failed in their duties. Her Majesty's Government offered their full co-operation in any investigation—which I understand is to be conducted by the Indonesian Government—and naturally a full inquiry will be conducted in Hong Kong.
I will, with permission, make arrangements for full summaries of the Chinese Note and of our reply to be published in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. Edelman
Whilst welcoming Her Majesty's Government's repudiation of these unworthy charges, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the inquiry will be held in public, and, if so, whether all those interested will have the opportunity of giving evidence?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his suggestion, but I understand that under the rules of international law the Indonesian Government have the duty of holding the inquiry. We have no responsibility but we shall offer to give any assistance that we can.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Note from the Peking Government specifies in any detail any grounds for thinking that there was any sabotage in fact, no matter who was responsible? If so, will those parts be included in the summary of the Note which he proposes to publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I think that the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we shall publish as full a summary as possible and that, if necessary, the whole of the text on both sides will be published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. An official inquiry into the accident will be held by the Indonesian Government but we intend, on our own part, to make perfectly sure, to hold an inquiry into exactly what happened to the aircraft while it was in Hong Kong.
§ The following are the full summaries of the Chinese Note and Her Majesty's Government's reply:
§ The Chinese Note of 13th April stated that the aircraft left Hong Kong at 12.15 hours (Peking time) on 11th April for Djakarta. The 27 aircraft had been chartered by the Chinese delegation to the Afro-Asian Conference. There were 11 passengers on board, eight of them Chinese. While flying over the sea near Sarawak, North Borneo, the passenger aircraft burst into flames and fell into the sea. It was stated that the whereabouts of the passengers was not then known.
The Note continued by alleging that this wasa case of completely inhuman, premeditated murder, solely engineered by the Special Service Organisation of the United States and the traitor Chiang Kai-shek.
§ The Note added that, long before the departure of the passengers the Government of the People's Republic of China had learned that the Special Service Organisation of the United States and Chiang Kai-shek were actively making arrangements to sabotage the aircraft to be used by the Chinese delegation in order to carry out their plot to assassinate the Chinese delegation led by Premier Chou En-lai.
§ Therefore, the Note continued, at 19.30 hours (Peking time) on 10th April the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China informed Her Majesty's Embassy at Peking about this matter, and requested them to bring it to the attention of the British authorities in Hong Kong and to ask them to take measures to safeguard the members of the delegation and Press correspondents aboard the aircraft. The Note stated that the members of the staff of Her Majesty's Embassy at Peking, to whom this warning was conveyed, promised to notify the British authorities in Hong Kong by telegram. Nevertheless
§ "the plot of the Special Service agents still succeeded."
It was alleged that the British Government and British authorities in Hong Kong bore a grave responsibility for this unfortunate incident which could not be evaded. The Chinese Note went on to demand thatthe British Government should immediately inform the British authorities in Hong Kong in order that they may take urgent measures to place under strict supervision the staff of the airport concerned in the incident and all other persons concerned, conduct a thorough investigation and arrest and punish, according to the evidence, the Special Service Agents taking part in this case of conspiracy and murder in order that responsibility may be determined, and instruct the appropriate authorities to ascertain the whereabouts of the aircraft which met with this accident and the persons on board.
§ The Chinese Government's Note ended by requesting a speedy reply.
§ The reply of 17th April stated that Her Majesty's Government had been informed of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs communication of 13th April. While Her Majesty's Government deplored this incident and the loss of life involved, they were bound, in view of the serious allegations which had been made by the Chinese Government, to make it clear at once that they did not accept any responsibility for the accident or for the consequences thereof. Her Majesty's Government protested strongly against the 28 Chinese Government's accusations against the British authorities which had been made before time had been allowed for any investigation.
§ The Chinese Government's Note of 13th April had seemed to suggest that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had informed Her Majesty's Embassy in Peking in advance of arrangements to sabotage the aircraft in order to carry out a plot to assassinate members of the Chinese delegation to the Bandung Conference, led by the Chinese Foreign Minister. This was not the case. The facts were that the Acting Head of the European Department informed the Counsellor on 10th April that the Chinese Government had received information that the Nationalists might make trouble for the party of Chinese journalists, when they left Hong Kong the following day for the Bandung Conference. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had requested that appropriate precautions might be taken.
§ This information had not been amplified in any way. There had been no suggestion of sabotage. The Counsellor had undertaken to inform the Governor of Hong Kong at once and had asked for supplementary information to assist the Hong Kong police; the number of the party, where they were staying, the name of the airline concerned and the route to be taken. The Acting Head of the Department had been unable to answer any of these questions at the time.
§ It was agreed that a telegram would be sent at once to Hong Kong, and that any supplementary information which the Ministry could supply would be telegraphed later. Shortly afterwards the Ministry had telephoned to say that the aircraft was Indian and that the New China News Agency representative in Hong Kong would know where the party were staying. This information had been immediately telegraphed to the Governor of Hong Kong with a request that appropriate precautions should be taken.
§ The Note continued by stating that at about 11.20 hours on 11th April the representative of the New China News Agency had telephoned to the Director of the Special Branch of the Hong Kong police to inform him that 11 journalists and a Viet Minh delegate would be travelling by an Air India aircraft which was due to leave Hong Kong early in the afternoon of the same day. No mention had been made by the representative either then or later of any suspicion of trouble, and the communication was made in a routine manner to which the Hong Kong authorities had become accustomed. But in the light of a message from Peking, steps had been taken to ascertain the time of arrival and departure of the aircraft.
§ It had been learned about 12.00 hours that the aircraft was then due and would be leaving about 13,00 hours. The aircraft in fact had arrived at 12.15 hours. Additional police precautions had been taken to ensure that the party were not molested at the airport. During the time that the aircraft was in Hong Kong it had been under police guard under the command of an inspector and no unauthorised person had been allowed or attempted to approach or board the aircraft. The local manager and other officials of Air India and members of the crew of the aircraft had been present, and had supervised every aspect of 29 refuelling and servicing. A member of the crew had remained on board throughout.
§ The actual handling of the luggage and the passengers had been done under the supervision of China Travel Service and senior officials of Air India. The only articles placed on board the aircraft were baggage belonging to the party and normal refreshments for passengers. The latter had been supplied by a local firm but were checked on loading by the steward of the aircraft.
§ The passengers had been brought to the airport by airline motorbus and, though this was an exception to normal practice, had been taken straight to the airport without having to go through Customs or immigration formalities. Similarly, without passing through Customs, the baggage had been loaded straight into the aircraft under the supervision of Air India. The aircraft had taken off about 13, 26 hours without incident. Police watch at the time and subsequent detailed inquiries have revealed nothing suspicious.
§ The Note also contains details of the steps taken by the British authorities after news of the crash had been received. As soon as this was known the British authorities in the area had taken energetic steps to assist in the search and rescue operations. Two Sunderland aircraft, belonging to the R.A.F. and a high-speed launch had immediately been despatched to the scene of the incident and these had been closely followed by H.M.S. "Dampier" of the Royal Navy. H.M.S. "Dampier" had carried out a search of the area, and had cared for three survivors who had been able to make their way to a small island.
§ The Sunderlands carried out an all-night search for the crashed aircraft centred on Great Natuna Island. Later two Sunderlands, two Lincoln aircraft and four Valetta aircraft, all belonging to the R.A.F., had continued the search, assisted by two aircraft of the Indonesian Air Force until the wreckage was located. H.M.S. "Dampier" had remained in the area in search of further survivors and had assisted in salvage operations.
§ The Note pointed out that it was clear that the British authorities in Hong Kong had taken all steps to ensure the safety of the passengers and of the aircraft while it was in Hong Kong. Her Majesty's Government could not, therefore, accept any suggestion by the Chinese Government that the British authorities in Hong Kong or elsewhere had failed in their duties. Pending a full investigation it was premature to assign a cause for the crash.
§ It was also pointed out that since the aircraft belonged to an Indian airline and the crash did not occur within British territory or territorial waters, it was not for Her Majesty's Government to conduct a formal investigation into the causes of the incident. Her Majesty's Government would, however, offer their full co-operation in any investigation which was to be carried out by the competent authorities concerned, and investigations would be carried out in Hong Kong by the Hong Kong police.
§ Our Note concluded that if these investigations were to succeed in establishing the real cause of the crash which had occasioned the death, not only of Chinese, but of other 30 nationals, it would be necessary for the interested parties to furnish all the information available to them about the circumstances of this crash. Her Majesty's Government assumed that the Chinese Government would be prepared to co-operate in doing so: the information they had so far provided was clearly inadequate for this purpose.