123 Record of Conversation Between Whitlam and Soeharto

Townsville, 4 April l975



Record of the second discussion, at Brandon, 1.00 p.m. Friday 4 April 1975

Portuguese Timor

  1. The Prime Minister said that Viet-Nam was one of the issues exploited by the Opposition to criticise the Government's foreign policy. Portuguese Timor was another such issue. He said that the President would be aware of the recent publicity in the Australian press about reports that Indonesia was about to invade Portuguese Timor. There had been a regrettable over-reaction from the Australian people to those reports. The Prime Minister said that he made this point in the letter he had sent to the President in March 1975.1 The Prime Minister went on to note that since the letter had been sent there had been two changes to which he would like to invite the President's attention. First, there had been a further shift to the left in Portugal. Second, in Portuguese Timor itself, the FRETILIN and UDT parties were in fact demanding immediate independence.
  2. The Prime Minister said that he should emphasise first of all that he strongly believed that it was in the best interests of Indonesia and Australia to maintain good cooperative relations. There were elements in Australia, however, which might seek to disturb the good relations he had tried to develop with Indonesia. On the one hand, there was the extreme Right, people who believed that Australia's foreign policy interests still lay predominantly in Europe. These people would go so far as to suggest that Papua New Guinea should remain in Australian hands, that the Dutch should never have abandoned Indonesia and that the Portuguese ought to retain control of Portuguese Timor. On the other hand, there was the Left. There were people who had a different attitude to relations with Indonesia. They tended to be paternalistic, patronising and wholly convinced of their purity and of the soundness of their own views. From this basis they assumed the right to criticise the domestic politics of other countries and to find fault with certain aspects of the social or political structure of other countries, including corruption or the fact that there were too many Generals in government departments.
  3. The Prime Minister said that he was not worried about the people of the extreme Right. But he might on occasion have to take account of the people on the Left. He recalled that during his talks with the President in September last year he had affirmed that, if the Australian Government ever wished to convey criticism of Indonesian Government policy to Indonesia, it would do so through the official channels, namely through our Ambassadors. The President should understand that the Australian Government did not use the Australian press to convey criticism of the Indonesian Government. The Prime Minister asked the President to be wary of those newspapers which claimed to report his personal views based on sources 'in his private office', 'in his Department', or 'close to the Prime Minister'. Often he was quoted by different newspapers as having completely different views on the one subject. He mentioned the case of the proposed visit of the PL02 delegation: some newspapers reported him as supporting the visit, while others said he was opposed to it.
  4. The Prime Minister remarked that Indonesians had been very tolerant of certain aspects of Australian life with which they might not fully agree. A number of Indonesians, for example, might object to the situation in the Cocos Islands or to our treatment of aboriginals, particularly in the days before a Labor Government. Indonesia, however, had never publicly criticised Australia on these counts.
  5. The Prime Minister referred to his discussions with President Soeharto last September on Portuguese Timor. He said that he still hoped that Portuguese Timor would be associated with or integrated into Indonesia; but this result should be achieved in a way which would not upset the Australian people. The Prime Minister mentioned in this context the possibility of United Nations consideration of the Timor question and noted that the Indonesian Ambassador to the UN, Mr Anwar Sani, would become Chairman of the Committee of Twenty-Four this year. He suggested that this circumstance presented opportunities for cooperation between Australia and Indonesia in the formulation of measures for the ascertainment of the wishes of the people of Portuguese Timor.
  6. The Prime Minister added that Australia would also be pleased to help Portuguese Timor in terms of economic assistance and aid.
  7. The Prime Minister said that one problem with Portuguese Timor was that the educated, those who were most able to talk to the press and so forth were the sons of Portuguese fathers and Timorese mothers. They were the group who had economic interests to protect or who sought to retain a European life-style in Portuguese Timor. Newspaper men who sought sensational stories naturally gravitated to the people, in Portuguese Timor, who were most able to give them stories they thought worthwhile. The Prime Minister said that he could not help feeling that the majority of the people of Portuguese Timor had no sense of politics, and that in time they would come to recognise their ethnic kinship with their Indonesian neighbours.
  8. The Prime Minister referred to the recent publicity in the Australian press about the possibility of an Indonesian invasion of Portuguese Timor. He noted that the elements on the Right, which he had referred to earlier, were exploiting these rumours to suggest that Australia was militarily unprepared to face an expansionist Indonesia. Those on the Left were, in their own way, seeking to put distance between Australia and Indonesia and were calling on the Australian Government not to condone those aspects of Indonesian society which they personally did not like. Though their numbers were small and their influence limited, Communist elements in Australia were also seeking to bring about tensions in Australian society and to embarrass the Government on the issue of Portuguese Timor. The Prime Minister said that he did not like the way in which the Australian people, in the face of the rumours of an invasion of Portuguese Timor, had been shown to be overly nervous and fearful of Indonesia. It was an unnecessary and unwarranted reaction to rumours in the press.

Australian Interest in Portuguese Timor

  1. The Prime Minister affirmed that Australia did not want to be seen as having a primary responsibility for the outcome in Portuguese Timor, an issue which was essentially the responsibility of the people of Portuguese Timor, Portugal and Indonesia. The question of Portuguese Timor was simply not the responsibility of Australia. The Prime Minister said that in this regard he should explain to the President the possibility that Australia might re-open the Australian Consulate in Dili. He wished to explain quite frankly his position both in the Labor party and in the Parliament. He did not wish in any way to be seen as supporting the FRETILIN-UDT parties, but there was pressure on the Labor Government from within the Labor party to re-open the Consulate. If the Consulate were re-opened, it would not be allowed to become the instrument of the UDT and FRETILIN parties. Nor should the re-opening of the Consulate in any way go against the basic principle that Australia's interests in maintaining a good relationship with Indonesia were paramount.
  2. The Prime Minister went on to refer to reports from Indonesian intelligence officials to the effect that Communist elements in Australia might be intending to smuggle arms to the FRETILIN-UDT parties in Portuguese Timor. The Prime Minister said bluntly that such a thing was not possible, mainly because the Communists here in Australia had little money to finance operations of this sort. The Prime Minister said that he had been interested to know what links there were between Communist elements in Australia and Ramos Horta of FRETILIN in particular. As far as he could see, the Prime Minister knew of no influence on Ramos Horta from these elements; but he noted that Horta had been anxious to seek support from any quarter and that Communist elements here, anxious to embarrass the Australian Government and to create a rift between Indonesia and Australia, had acknowledged his written requests for support. The Prime Minister reiterated that, ever since the events of September 1965, Communist elements in Australia had been hostile towards Indonesia and had sought to create a rift between the two countries. Their support for independence for Portuguese Timor was another move in this play. But these elements had little, if any, support among the mass of the Australian people. The Prime Minister said that he hoped that the President understood the various elements within the Australian society which sought to influence our relations with Indonesia. There would always be those who sought to frighten Australians about Indonesia, just as there were people in Papua New Guinea who sought to undermine the efforts of the Foreign Relations Minister, Sir Maori Kiki and the Chief Minister, Mr Michael Somare, in developing closer relations with Indonesia. The Prime Minister said that he had attempted to identify issues, including Portuguese Timor, which could be used by those within Australia opposed to good relations with Indonesia. He wished to re-affirm, however, that he strongly desired closer and more cordial relations with Indonesia and would ensure that our actions in regard to Portuguese Timor would always be guided by the principle that good relations with Indonesia were of paramount importance to Australia.

Indonesian policy towards Portuguese Timor

  1. President Soeharto thanked the Prime Minister for his survey of Portuguese Timor. He said that Indonesia was well aware that there were those in Australia who had cast doubts on the real intentions of Indonesia towards Portuguese Timor and who had speculated about the possibility of an Indonesian invasion of Portuguese Timor. The President said that as a country which endorsed the principles of freedom and democracy, Indonesia would never contemplate such a course of action. Like Australia, Indonesia sought to resist those tendencies which would divide Indonesia from Australia and prejudice the good relations existing between them. The President said that he was happy to see that Australia, too, had the same goal of preserving good relations between the two countries. The President mentioned in passing that the issue of Portuguese Timor was, in fact, much less significant than the much more momentous and serious problems posed by recent developments elsewhere in the region.
  2. President Soeharto re-affirmed that Indonesia had no territorial ambitions to include the territory of Portuguese Timor into the Republic of Indonesia. The process of decolonisation in Timor had, however, produced some who sought the integration of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia. Indonesia had studied the three possibilities open for Portuguese Timor:
    1. independence;
    2. continued links with Portugal;
    3. integration with Indonesia.
    Indonesia had concluded that integration with Indonesia was the best solution.
  3. Indonesia had recently discussed the future of Portuguese Timor with the Portuguese Government during discussions in London. During these discussions it had emerged that the Portuguese Government supported the integration of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia provided the people of the territory desired it. But the question arose of what in fact were the wishes of the people of Portuguese Timor. There were those who sought integration with Indonesia, but there were also those who wanted independence. The latter group had in some cases sought to oppress those seeking integration with Indonesia, and there were many who had fled across the border seeking asylum in Indonesia. The President returned to the London talks between Indonesia and Portugal. The most important conclusion was that Portugal did not regard the problem of decolonisation in Timor in the same light as the process adopted in the Portuguese African territories. In Portuguese Timor, Portugal would not adopt the procedures evolved for Africa. A particular reason for this Portuguese attitude was that in Timor there were not the mature politicians who had developed over a long period of time in the African colonies. At the London meeting, the Portuguese had proposed the formation of a provisional government composed of the three parties in Portuguese Timor (UDT, APODETI and FRETILIN). This provisional government would have control for three or five or even possibly eight years. Alternatively, the Portuguese Government had proposed that Portugal should retain sovereignty and control of the government, which would be in the hands of the Governor, who would in tum be assisted by a consultative body comprising the three parties in Portuguese Timor. Indonesia had firmly rejected the former and had accepted the latter.
  4. At the London meeting, the Portuguese had said that they believed that integration with Indonesia was the best outcome, provided, of course, that this was what the people of the territory wanted. The Portuguese had also agreed that there should be no 'international interference' in Portuguese policy towards decolonization in Timor. It would be for Indonesia to achieve the integration of the territory. To this end Indonesia had the approval of the Portuguese Government to assist and to develop the pro-Indonesia APODETI party, and to make approaches to, and to influence the line of policy of, the UDT and FRETILIN parties.
  5. The President went on to mention the planned meeting in Macao between all three parties-FRETILIN, UDT as well as APODETI which Indonesia had expressly asked to attend. Indonesian delegates would be available for consultation. The purpose of the meeting would be to begin the process of assisting and developing APODETI and to come to terms with UDT and FRETILIN. The meeting was secret because Indonesia did not want to be seen to be assuming a principal role in Portuguese Timor which might lead it to be charged with interfering in the internal affairs of Portuguese Timor.
  6. The President went on to comment that APODETI was at present still under extreme pressure from the other political parties in the territory and many of its supporters had accordingly sought refuge with the Indonesian Consulate in Portuguese Timor. This had led to the criticism that the Indonesian Consulate was playing a provocative role in Portuguese Timor. Indonesia believed, however, that there was ample evidence that APODETI was being discriminated against by the other parties.
  7. President Soeharto concluded by saying that Indonesia appreciated the understanding shown by Australia towards Indonesia's goal of integrating Portuguese Timor into Indonesia. He expressed the hope, however, that if Australia were ever to give aid to Portuguese Timor, then the provision of aid should not give rise to interpretations which could eventually put a distance between Australia and Indonesia. The President said that he hoped that Australia and Indonesia could work towards a peaceful solution of the Timor problem in the interests of peace and stability in the region.

[matter omitted]

Portuguese Timor and China

  1. At the conclusion of the talks President Soeharto returned briefly to the question of Portuguese Timor. He said that Indonesian intelligence reports suggested that Chinese Communists were trying to go to Portuguese Timor via Australia. They were being helped in this by the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. The President asked whether Australia had any evidence of traffic of this nature. The Prime Minister said that we had been advised by General Yoga of Bakin of these reports but that Australia did not have any evidence of such traffic nor of the involvement of the Chinese Embassy in Australia in it. He mentioned, however, the recent attempt by two members of the South Moluccas separatist movement to travel to Portuguese Timor via Australia. He explained that the Australian Embassy in The Hague had issued visas to the two men but when subsequently advised of their affiliations, we successfully sought to withdraw their visas. We understood that they had not succeeded in travelling to Portuguese Timor. The Prime Minister assured President Soeharto that steps were now being taken in our Embassy in The Hague to ensure that this did not happen again.

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, x]