116 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 27 March 1975

O.JA8533 SECRET PRIORITY

Portuguese Timor:ASEAN Views

I have now made my initial calls on the four ASEAN Heads of Mission here. In each case I have asked their Governments' views on Timor. All four Ambassadors said their Governments had made no public comment on the issue, including the possibility of Indonesian military intervention.

  1. The Malaysian Ambassador said that Britain had helped Malaysia effect the incorporation of Sabah and Sarawak although the Sarawak United People's Party had initially held out for independence as FRETILIN was doing in Timor now. It was essential for the Indonesians to persuade the Portuguese to help them prepare Timor for association with Indonesia. I asked the Ambassador (Zainal Abidin bin Sulong) whether this represented his Government's policy. He said that he was not entirely sure of the latest thinking in Kuala Lumpur but that it was inevitable sooner or later that Portuguese Timor would become part of Indonesia one way or another. Notwithstanding possible difficulties in the United Nations and over the principle of self-determination, Malaysia's relations with Indonesia were far more important to it than what happened in Portuguese Timor. Moreover, Malaysia needed to think of the situation in Brunei. Malaysia itself was likely to make another attempt in the near future to draw Brunei into Malaysia.
  2. The Thai, Singaporean and Philippine Ambassadors generally took the view that while the use of force or undue pressure by Indonesia would be embarrassing, their relations with Indonesia and the need to maintain ASEAN outweighed other considerations. None thought that international reaction would be particularly hostile to Indonesia or sustained for very long if Indonesia were to opt for military solution.
  3. I said to each Ambassador that Australia would be very concerned if Indonesia were to resort to force and that the public reaction in Australia to such an event might place a considerable strain on our bilateral relations. None of the four thought that this would be the case in respect of their own relations with Indonesia. Naturally they would prefer to see such a situation avoided but, if it were to happen, each thought their Governments would be as helpful to Indonesia as they could be in the circumstances. The Malaysian Ambassador in particular saw any act of self-determination simply as a means to a desirable and inevitable end. He added that the problem with insisting on a proper act of self-determination was that it could be equated with advocacy of independence for Timor which was not in Indonesia's interests nor in those of other countries in the region.
  4. No doubt Heads of Missions here are influenced by the local environment and the importance of Indonesia in the context of ASEAN but, if they are accurately reflecting their Governments' thinking, then I think we can expect the other four ASEAN countries not to involve themselves in this issue and to avoid public criticism of Indonesia.

WOOLCOTT

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, viii]