119 Brief for Whitlam

Canberra, 31 March 1975


Portuguese Timor

Public interest in the Soeharto visit to Australia will focus on your discussions with him about Portuguese Timor. After the Yogyakarta talks speculation arose that you had reached an understanding with President Soeharto that Timor was to be 'handed over' to Indonesia. This speculation has subsided. But there will be close public interest in whether you take the occasion of President Soeharto's visit to reaffirm the importance Australia attaches to self-determination in Portuguese Timor and to register with him Australia's opposition to military intervention there.

[matter omitted]1

  1. In your forthcoming discussions with President Soeharto we suggest that you follow the line of your letter of 28 February to him. Some suggested talking points are set out below which are based on the letter, taking account also of subsequent developments. The note attached gives some policy background on Portuguese Timor.

Talking Points

You might wish to begin by inviting an expression of President Soeharto's views on Portuguese Timor in response to your letter of 28 February. By way of introduction you could summarise the main points of the letter thus referring to the importance we attach to self-determination in Portuguese Timor and to our opposition to military intervention there, as well as to our understanding of the Indonesians' important national interest in the security and stability of the territory and in its close association with Indonesia.

Early in the conversation you would also no doubt wish to thank President Soeharto for his message to you through Mr Woolcott affirming that Indonesia had no intention of attempting to integrate Portuguese Timor by military force. This reference would no doubt serve the useful purpose of inviting President Soeharto to repeat the assurance he gave to Mr Woolcott.

Our assessment, which you conveyed to President Soeharto in your letter, was that the drift to the left in Portugal seemed to have been arrested, at least temporarily. Recent developments belie that assessment; there has clearly been a fresh shift to the left. The Indonesians will be worried by the risk that this change carries ... a spread of extreme left-wing influence to Portuguese Timor. But so far we have seen no evidence of it: the Governor and his senior advisers are anti-Communist.

While it is still too early to judge all their implications, recent developments in Portugal could add to the risk that the Portuguese Government may abandon its responsibilities in Timor, rapidly transferring power to the pro-independence groups without an act of self-determination. (Hints of such Mozambique solution have been evident in earlier Portuguese attitudes.)

But it would be wrong to see such a change as inevitable. On the contrary, the arrangements still being discussed, both in Portugal and Timor itself, envisage a gradual progress towards self-government. The political parties, including APODETI, would assume a greater role in the government, and there would eventually be an act of self-determination in which incorporation into Indonesia would be one of the options. UDT-FRETILIN have themselves proposed that meanwhile there should be a rational ordering of relations with Indonesia. They have proposed an agreement of non-aggression and cooperation with Indonesia. This program would seem to reflect not only an awareness of Indonesian fears that Timor could become a vehicle of external interference, but also a desire on the part of UDT-FRETILIN to allay these fears. It is also clear that the approaches of the UDT-FRETILIN and the Portuguese administration towards decolonisation have not yet been finally settled. We feel that they are open to influence on points of importance to Indonesia.

We welcomed the outcome of the recent talks between Portuguese and Indonesian representatives. We regard it as significant that these talks were attended by an important AFM officer, Major Vitor Alves, who has also now been promoted to membership of the Portuguese Revolutionary Council. His endorsement of the concept of gradualism in constitutional development in Timor offers prospects that this policy will continue to guide Portuguese actions. In any event, it is clearly in the interests of both Indonesia and Australia that Portugal should be encouraged to maintain its responsibilities in Timor. The policy implication is that we should both be trying to influence Portugal to adhere to the kind of timetable and approach adopted by the Portuguese representatives in London.

We understand that Indonesia regarded the terms and language of the communiqué of 22 January 1975 announcing the coalition between UDT and FRETILIN as provocative. Australia too was singled out for critical mention in the communiqué.2 We believe that these criticisms of Indonesia and Australia were at least partly a response to our own attitudes, and that the more strongly the idea of independence is thought to be rejected or under attack, the more extreme the supporters of independence may become. We need to avoid arousing radical and irrational attitudes among the present Timorese leaders, attitudes which they might not otherwise adopt, and which could colour their outlook for years to come, whatever the final constitutional status of the territory may turn out to be.

We understand Indonesia's abiding concern that there be stability in its border regions and we have welcomed its constructive policies to this end: for example, in relations with the Malaysians, in the maritime approaches, in Borneo, and as regards the situation in Sabah and the Southern Philippines. (The same concern to help maintain stability in South East Asia is reflected in Indonesian policies in ASEAN and its membership of the ICCS in Viet-Nam and its efforts to bring about negotiations in Cambodia.) Do not these processes and institutions point the way for handling the question of Timor? The Timorese themselves have already spoken of an understanding or 'pact' with Indonesia on cooperation and good neighbourliness. This idea would seem well worth studying and developing.

We feel that if Indonesia and Australia were to embark on cultivating good and influential relations with the Timorese there could be favourable prospects for stability in the territory. There would be obvious advantages to Indonesia and Australia in terms of both security and goodwill. The Timorese themselves would feel under less pressure to look outside the region for comfort and support. And Indonesia would have established the basis for shaping events in ways that ensured that the contingencies which currently give rise to fears and anxieties about an independent Timor did not materialise.

Australia would be willing to work with Indonesia in such an approach. One thing we should like Indonesia to consider with us is whether our shared objective of 'containing' the Timor problem might not be served through a coordinated program of economic assistance to Timor. Australia has already offered to consider such assistance partly as a means of encouraging the Portuguese to maintain their own involvement. But aid can be looked at in a broader p[er]spective. If Indonesia were to join Australia in providing aid to Timor it could be represented as assisting the Timorese to emerge from their isolation, making it unnecessary for them to look beyond Indonesia and Australia (and Portugal) for support.

In general a positive approach for both Indonesia and Australia would be to accept the challenge of helping in the process of decolonisation in Timor, preferably in a cooperative effort. The Timorese leaders have been looking anxiously to Indonesia and Australia for some sign that we would be prepared to help them in their political and economic development. We should now put their professions of good-neighbourliness to the test.

You may also wish to go over with the President the domestic pressures on the Government to take a more forward position on Portuguese Timor. You could refer to the recent visits to Portuguese Timor of Australian delegations, including one from the ALP Caucus committee on defence and foreign affairs. These visits, which were without Government sponsorship, reflect Australian public interest in Portuguese Timor. In this context, you might wish to explain in particular the pressures to re-open the Consulate in Dili, which could draw us more deeply into the internal affairs of Timor than we think is desirable at least for the moment. You might also take the opportunity to reaffirm that the Australian Government in no way encouraged the establishment of the party favouring incorporation into Australia, and does not support its stated aims. You could add that Australia has no intention of taking on new quasi-colonial responsibilities at a time when it is divesting itself of its responsibility in PNG.

You may wish to recall briefly that we had acted swiftly and decisively to prevent the two South Moluccan dissidents from passing through Australia on their way to Timor. We now know that the Portuguese Government has cancelled the visas authorising the two to enter Timor. Warnings are being sent to Australian posts against issuing visas to anyone with South Moluccan or Irian Jaya dissident connexions and who appear to be seeking entry to Timor.

INAA: Al838, 3038/10/1/2, i]