Asian Membership of the Commonwealth
DOI link for Asian Membership of the Commonwealth
Asian Membership of the Commonwealth book
Many delegates felt in their hearts that Asians should march alone when that dawn came and independence was theirs once more. The ending of Western imperialism would, and in the opinion of many should, bring to an end all formal relations with the West. There was a marked disposition to think in terms of an Asian bloc and of the neutralization at least of South and South-East Asia as a protection against future wars which were presumed to be Western alike in origin and interest. Asia for the Asians was thus deemed synonymous with an exclusive continentalism. Asian peoples should be united against war, against colonialism, against racial discrimination in all its forms, and in a resolve to promote the unity of Asia. These were ideas which did not lose their force and, despite the fears of smaller South-East Asian states when they contemplated their greater neighbours, India and China, and despite rivalries and bitter antagonism between India and Pakistan, the sense of an underlying unity of interest of Asian peoples long subject to Western rule was something that survived its passing. Yet the most remarkable feature of the Asian Conference of 1947 was the moderation, especially of the spokesmen of most South and South-East Asian countries in this hour
240 SURVEY OF B R I T I S H C O M M O N W E A L T H AFFAIRS of nationalist triumph.1 They were resolved to assert their sovereign independence; they were not for the most part desirous of severing such ties with their former rulers as were deemed by them to be consistent with that independence. The distinction was of much moment for the future of the British Commonwealth. In 1947, apart from scattered island territories in the Indian Ocean, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and Ceylon as well as the Indian subcontinent lay within its confines. What was to be their future relationship with it? Would their peoples wish to remain within or to go without? On the longer view, was it possible to reconcile nationalism, and more especially non-European nationalism, with Commonwealth membership ? And if it were, did dominion status in its conventional form, worked out in relation to the needs and aspirations of colonies of European settlement overseas, offer a congenial or appropriate symbolism? The Irish Free State had not found that it did, and it alone of the dominions could claim with these Asian states to be a mother country. If it did not, was the Commonwealth sufficiently flexible to accommodate nation states of non-British and non-European origin ? And even if proved to be so in constitutional terms, was it desirable that existing and well-tested cohesion of the Commonwealth should be risked in a venture into the politically unknown?