39. Memorandum of Conversation, Washington, July 31, 1973.1 2

Memorandum of Conversation
DATE: 31 July 1973

SUBJECT: Secretary’s Meeting with Australian PM Gough Whitlam


  • Australia
  • Mr. Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
  • Sir James Plimsoll, Australian Ambassador to US
  • Sir Keith Waller, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs
  • Dr. P. Wilenski, Principal Private Secretary to PM
  • Mr. R.A. Woolcott, First Assistant Secretary, South Asia, DFA
  • Mr. B.D. Hill, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific & Western Division, DFA
  • Mr. D.H. McKay, Secretary, Departmment of Overseas Trade
  • United States
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • Deputy Secretary Kenneth Rush
  • US Ambassador to Australia Marshall Green
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and the Pacific, Richard L. Sneider
  • Director, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, Leo J. Moser

PLACE: Secretary’s Office, July 30, 1973, 2:30 p.m.

COPIES TO: EA, EUR, IO, S/PC, PM, S/5, Canberra, Wellington, Djakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Saigon, an, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Manila, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, CINCPAC FOR POLAD, US Mission USUN New York, London, Paris, Peking, Ottawa, Moscow, Mexico, New Delhi H, ARA, NSC, DOD, CIA

The meeting opened with Prime Minister Whitlam describing his schedule for the day as a very full one. He noted that after seeing the Secretary and signing the science agreement, he would be going over to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There was a brief discussion of the role of that Committee in the American political system. The Secretary commented that many in the Senate had serious reservations about our system of alliances generally — and that what Mr. Whitlam said in respect to such matters would, therefore, be particularly significant.

[Page 2]

Mr. Whitlam stated that he understood that the executive branch of the United States Government would probably have great difficulty in negotiating any new security treaties, given the present attitudes of Congress. Therefore it seemed in his view important to keep the present ones, “even if they are not perfect.” In his view, he stated that the only “perfect” alliance was the ANZUS one. Australia had great difficulty in its participation in ASPAC because Taiwan was in it; Japan, he felt, had much the same concern as Australia. Australia had some difficulties with SEATO as well; Britain, Australia and New Zealand all had recognized Peking and the United States was moving toward much better relations with the Communist Chinese. As an example of the kind of difficult position Australia was put in by its membership in SEATO, Mr. Whitlam mentioned the SEATO exercise that had been planned in the South China Sea. This was due to come off at the precise time that he was to be in Peking; and therefore Australia felt that it could not participate in that exercise. Mr. Whitlam stated, however, that his government would not pull out of SEATO, since he realized that it represented the only formal security link between the United States and Thailand; and he would not want his action to upset that relationship.

Mr. Whitlam stated that he did not know where things stood on the proposed ANZUS Council meeting. He knew that Prime Minister Kirk of New Zealand was anxious to have a meeting in Wellington and he agreed that the ANZUS Council meeting should be scheduled in such a way as to make it clear that ANZUS was not ancillary to any other treaty. It is a self-contained treaty; as a matter of fact, as far as Australia is concerned, it is the oldest treaty relationship in force. The question of the ANZUS Council meeting was one of “where, when and who” would attend. Mr. Whitlam stated that his government would like attendance by the Secretary.

The Secretary responded by saying that although each country with which the United States has a security treaty arrangement tends to think in terms of its own treaty with the United States, it is necessary for the US to think of its alliances as a general “alliance system for mutual security.” Today this system includes 44 nations. Many people in the field of foreign affairs in the United States, including some members of the Senate, feel that this system is “outmoded.” The United States Government does not share this view. The Secretary stated that if any of our treaty relationships would start to crumble, it would have eroding effect on all remaining. If, for example, SEATO should be seriously denigrated, the whole treaty system would come under increased criticism. This could have a snowballing effect on all other treaty relationships including ANZUS. The SEATO agreement is in place, the Secretary said, and is not presenting any major problem. The United States has shown that it can improve its relations with both the Communist Chinese and the USSR without having to loosen its relationships with its allies. The Chinese Communists have not importuned us to change our position on such matters as SEATO; to the contrary, they seam relaxed on this issue. Mr. Whitlam added that they (the Chinese Communists) obviously want no more new uncertainties in the area.

[Page 3]

Turning to Korea, the Secretary stated that much of the same type of criticism of our relationship with the Republic of Korea came up from time to time in Congress and elsewhere. He told them, he said, “why should we change, everything is going okay in the area.” Overall US military forces have been reduced in the world, and it does not cost any more to maintain a small portion of those troops in Korea than it would to have the same troops in, say, Georgia. Of course, we should not do any “contentious things” in the Korea area. Both the Chinese and the Russians, the Secretary stated, appear to respect us for maintaining a consistent and responsible policy in the world — whether they agree with us or not.

Mr. Whitlam said that perhaps he had “overstated” the case in same of his Comments at the National Press Club on SEATO. The Secretary responded by saying that “you can’t have it both ways”; pot shots at SEATO will encourage the critics in the United States to take pot shots at other alliances, including ANZUS.

In way of explanation of his previous statements on the subject of SEATO, Mr. Whitlam stated that the whole SEATO relationship had been “exploited” in the past in Australia by previous governments. That alliance had been “used” by his predecessors as if it involved some sort of “coalition” with the United States. This, he said, was an “explanation — if not a justification” of same of his previous statements on the subject of SEATO.

The United States must realize, Mr. Whitlam stated, that one party had been in power in Australia for 23 years. There was, therefore, a tendency for the opposition to overreact to issues that had been used against them. The only longer span in the English-speaking world during which one party had maintained power had been that between the Presidencies of Lincoln and Cleveland.

The Secretary stated that he understood this situation. Mr. Whitlam had to understand, however, that the United States felt particularly sensitive about criticism from Australian sources precisely because our past relationship had been so very good. During his own service in the Pacific during the Second World War, he recalled how strongly all Americans felt about Australians as allies. For that reason, criticism from Australian sources was particularly noted in the United States. He hoped that the Prime Minister’s visit would get our mutual relationship back on to its traditional basis.

Mr. Whitlam stated that same of his colleagues (in the Labor party) were characterized from time to time by the press as “anti-American”; in fact, they were not. Many of the most “pungent” critics of the United States in Australia were people who felt very positively about the United States and considered show that “you had let them down.” Many did not understand the nature of President Nixon’s foreign policy.

Mr. Whitlam stated that he felt that President Nixon’s policy of detente with China, removal of troops from Vietnam, and the like, was very clear and consistent in its objectives. In fact, these policies permitted the [Page 4] Labor Party to win its elections. He mentioned that he could not control the appointment of ministers under his system of government; but he added in defense of his ministers that “I don’t think my crowd is hostile to the United States.” Much of the problem was created by the way in which the “press worries an issue to a rag” once it gets on to it.

The Secretary stated that he had found at the European conference in Helsinki that there had been general agreement that US foreign policy had been exceptionally successful in the past few years. All countries (except Malta) had praised our general posture. Mr. Whitlam stated that he also felt that US policy had been very successful.

The Secretary stated that Australia had a great reservoir of goodwill in the United States. Our desire to maintain those close relationships had been the primary reason for assigning Marshall Green as our Ambassador to Canberra. Mr. Whitlam responded that the Green assignment had indeed been “very flattering” to Australia. Ambassador Green commented that he had to be sent in order to match the assignment of Ambassador Plimsoll to the United States, who set a kind of plimsoll line for measuring diplomats.

Ambassador Green stated that he was happy to see in Mr. Whitlam’s speech a reference to the need to “remove ideology” as the major consideration in relations between states. Mr. Whitlam stated that he felt it was rather pointless to cavil at non-democratic states. This was a consideration in Australian relations with Indonesia and Thailand, both of which have governmental traditions quite alien to countries like Australia, New Zealand or the United States. If the Australians wanted to maintain good relations with the Thais, for example, it would have to accept them for what they were.

Mr. Whitlam stated that he hoped to see an expansion of regional contacts in his area. He had no firm attitudes on form, but believed there ought to be a loose forum for Asian leaders to meet and discuss their problems. The OAS had been very beneficial in the western hemisphere; and it was his opinion that the Commonwealth was similarly beneficial, providing an opportunity for its leaders to get together from time to time and discuss common concerns. After the forthcoming meeting in Ottawa, he added, his opinion might change; but at the present he could see only benefit from such institutions.

One major problem that Australia faced in its relations with the other nations of its region was that it is an industrially advanced state and whenever it talks to some of the less developed countries, they evidence an immediate interest in finding out what type of economic advantage Australia might be willing to grant them. “Welcome to the club” remarked the Secretary. As an aside, Mr. Whitlam mentioned that even in Mexico during his recent visit there he had run into this same problem.

The Secretary stated that the US favored regional organizations of all types. We, for example, felt that the Andean Pact was an excellent idea. Recent policy developments had also shown that countries can have improved relations with both China and Russia without changing their regional relationships.

[Page 5]

A major issue today, the Secretary noted, is that of Japan. In the last several years, China has been much in the news. Japan, however, is presently a much more significant nation; the only thing that they do not have that would make for great power status is nuclear weaponry. The Secretary said that he hoped that the forthcoming Tanaka visit would help in assuring Japan’s proper role. Japanese initiatives in the field of regional organizations are welcome by the United States. If the United States does not make immediate public statements about such Japanese initiatives, this should not be considered lack of interest. It may simply be our desire to assure that a Japanese initiative rains a “Japanese initiative.” Mr. Whitlam remarked that if the Japanese raise the issue of talks, Australia will want to be responsive “otherwise they will think we are standoffish.” He noted than in terms of Australian politics, he had no record of being “anti-Japanese.” Both the Secretary and Mr. Whitlam agreed in the need for both governments to reassure the Japanese and help them to maintain self confidence in their role in the region.

Mr. Whitlam mentioned Japanese pride and referred to Japan’s sensitivity over US initiatives toward China. In fact, however, US policy had made the way much easier for Japan in resuming its relations with China, Mr. Whitlam concluded.

Ambassador Green asked if Australia had yet engaged in conversations with Japan on the subject of regional organization, and if so, what type of organization was envisioned. Mr. Sneider added that he felt that the Japanese were groping for much the same things as the Australians in the way of improved regional contacts. Mr. Whitlam replied that he had gotten no clear idea of Japanese concepts. The type of organization that he would have in mind would be one designed purely to meet and talk over mutual concerns on a regular basis. Thus far, he said, there has always been an unfortunate tendency to assume that any regional association would be interested primarily in matters of aid or mutual defense.

Ambassador Green remarked that one of the major problems in setting up regional organizations in Asia, as compared to other parts of the world, was that of the number of divided countries in the area. Mr. Whitlam agreed that this was a difficult issue. On the matter of Korea, he had favored the initiative of South Korea to have both Koreas seated in the United Nations — only to find that Kim Il Sung was inclined to charge Australia with being “insincere” on this matter.

The Secretary said that he thought that having two Koreas in the United Nations would be a wise solution. US policy on UNCURK, perhaps not yet made public, would be for UNCURK to delay until about August 15 and then recommend its own demise. In the meanwhile, the US hoped that the status of the UN command would not be disturbed in Korea — since to do so would be destabilizing. The Secretary stated that he hoped that the United States and Australia could work together in a three point policy: 1) to seat both Koreas in the United Nations; 2) to have UNCURK disband itself; and 3) maintain the UN command for the time being. Ambassador Plimsoll remarked that he felt that once both Koreas were seated in the UN, the UN command in Korea could be disbanded.

Mr. Whitlam noted that his government had recognized North Vietnam before anyone had the chance to raise the issue of the PRG. It was only after that point that the North Koreans had approached him.

[Page 6]

The meeting ended with a brief discussion of Mr. Whitlam’s schedule and reference to the science agreement that was to be signed in a few minutes.

Drafted :EA/ROC :LJMoser:jw 7/31/73
Clearance :EA: Mr.Sneider
Ambassador Green

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973, POL 7 AUSTL. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Moser; cleared by Sneider and Green.
  2. Rogers and Whitlam discussed the international relations of East Asia.