Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
3. Japan's ultimate aims are the exclusion of Western influence from the Far East and the control of raw materials in that area. These could not be secured without the capture of Singapore, which will always be a potential threat to her southward expansion so long as the British Fleet remains in being in any part of the world.
4. We are advised that Japan is determined to bring the China war to an end. There have been reports of indirect peace discussions, but there is no reason to suppose that they have produced any result. Even if they did, the termination of the war would bring no early economic relief to Japan. On the other hand, with the closing of one after another of the arms page 541 routes into China, the capacity of China to resist is hampered. The war in China cannot therefore be relied on to provide a serious deterrent to Japanese activity elsewhere, though the value of Chinese resistance as a deterrent would be increased if the Burma Road were to be reopened for military supplies.
5. Fear of Russian action will compel Japan to retain certain forces at home and in Manchuria despite the present Russian preoccupation in Europe. She knows that, if she were in difficulties, Russia would take advantage of the situation.
6. An attempt on the formidable Singapore defences would involve a combined operation of the first magnitude, and Japan must also reckon on the possibility of the collaboration with us of the substantial Dutch forces in the Netherlands East Indies against any southward threat.
On the other hand, the forces in Malaya are still far short of requirements, particularly aircraft; and Japan must know that, in the present circumstances, we could not send an adequate fleet to the Far East.
7. Japan may gamble on the United States not resorting to armed opposition, provided that no direct action is taken against United States citizens or possessions, and on the probability that the United States fleet would be kept in the Atlantic if our position in Europe should deteriorate. Though the defended base of Manila is not comparable with Singapore, and United States sea communications with the Philippines are more vulnerable than our communications with Singapore, nevertheless Manila lies on the line of Japanese advance to the south and the Japanese cannot be certain that the United States would not intervene and send the fleet to the Philippines.
8. The knowledge that further aggression might lead to the rupture of trade relations with the United States and the United Kingdom must have considerable influence, and the United States has already made clear her interest in the status quo in the Netherlands East Indies.
On the long-term view, Japan cannot stand the strain of a break with the British Empire and the Americas, upon whom she depends for markets and essential raw materials. Only if she could rapidly gain complete control of raw materials, especially the oil, rubber and tin of Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies, would she have a chance of withstanding British and American economic pressure. The recent restriction placed by the United States Government on the export of petroleum products and, in particular, the embargo on aviation spirit, may influence Japan in the direction of seizing alternative sources of supply in the Netherlands East Indies.
9. Japan may argue that any main advance on her part should be postponed until the outcome of affairs in Europe is clearer, and that, if Germany succeeded, she could achieve her aims quickly and without risk. Although direct attack upon Singapore cannot be ruled out, it would appear more likely that Japanese steps in the near future will be limited to local military action without resort to a formal declaration of war in the hope of evading the far-reaching effects of war with the British Empire and possibly the United States. This would enable Japan to limit her action and ‘save face’ if local results or wider reactions were unfavourable.
10. To sum up, it appears that, until the issue in Europe becomes clearer, Japan will probably confine her attempt to the elimination of British influence from China and Hong Kong to the greatest possible extent without incurring a rupture with the United States and the British Empire.page 542
11. Our own commitments in Europe are so great that our policy must be directed towards avoiding an open clash with Japan. It is doubtful whether piecemeal concessions will have more than a temporarily alleviating effect, to be followed after an interval by further demands.
It is most desirable that a wide settlement in the Far East—including economic concessions to Japan—should be concluded as early as possible. The immediate possibility of such a settlement is doubtful, but every effort should be made to this end.
12. Failing a general settlement on satisfactory terms, we should play for time, cede nothing until we must, and build up our defences as soon as we can. (Assumption 3 begins.) One aim of our policy should be ultimately to secure full military co-operation with the Dutch. This is dealt with further in telegrams which follow. (Assumption 3 ends.)1