In an editorial of June 11 {"The Tragedy of the Boat People"}, The Post called on a number of countries, including Australia, to be "more generous" in resettling Vietnamese boat people.

Yet Australia already leads the world in that regard -- Australia per capita has resettled more refugees from Vietnam since 1975 than has any other country, including the United States. For instance, compare the commitment of Australia (a country of 17 million people) to accept 11,000 Vietnamese refugee long-stayers with the pledge of the United States (a country 15 times as populous as Australia) to accept 18,500.

Besides, the problem is less one of resettlement than of first refuge. That is so for two reasons.

First, all involved countries, including the United States, agree that Vietnamese boat people who are taken in by countries of first refuge, but who are not genuine refugees, should not be resettled.

But, second, not all involved countries agree on what should happen to those who are found not to be genuine refugees, and if agreement cannot be reached by July 1, the countries of first refuge have reserved the right to withdraw first asylum.

First asylum is a vital principle of refugee protection, and its collapse in Southeast Asia could lead to significant loss of life. The hard fact is that preservation of first asylum in the region requires the orderly return of those who are not genuine refugees.

That may seem tough -- and indeed is opposed by the United States, though supported by most other countries. But the alternative is to impose suffering on all who seek to leave Vietnam -- particularly the genuine refugees.

MICHAEL J. COOK Ambassador, Embassy of Australia Washington