124 Record of Conversation Between Murtopo, Moerdani, Feakes and Curtin

Townsville, 4 April 1975


Indo-China & Portuguese Timor


In the light of President Soeharto's comment to the Prime Minister on 3 April that resistance in Cambodia could continue even after the fall of Phnom Penh, Mr Feakes invited General Ali Murtopo to comment on Indonesia's attitude towards events in Indo-China.

[matter omitted]

  1. A recurring theme behind Ali's views on Indo-China was that Indonesia was not yet ready to meet the challenge of an undivided Viet-Nam or a Vietnamese-dominated Indo-China. Even if Indo-Chinese Communism was not by nature expansionist, subversive forces in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia would receive a strong moral boost from its final victory. Ali and Moerdani said flatly that neither Thailand nor Indonesia (nor Malaysia) had the necessary 'national resilience' to withstand a serious challenge: Thailand (as in 1941) would bow to any strong alien force, and Indonesia, with eighty million in total poverty, was still too fragile to stand up to an ideological contest. According to Ali, Indonesia had based its 'strategic assessments', and its national economic planning, on the assumption of 20 years of divided Indo-China. He agreed that the assumptions would have to change, but made it clear that a good deal of thinking had yet to be done.
  2. Moerdani asked whether Australia could accept a Communist Indo-China. When he was told that we would, he professed deep disappointment at the prospect of Australian acquiescence and he would have nothing of the argument that further fighting would serve little purpose other than to prolong the suffering of the Indo-Chinese people. He also seemed unimpressed by arguments that the countries of South-East Asia should avoid policies of confrontation in dealing with North Viet-Nam, especially in the initial period following the cessation of hostilities in Indo-China.

Portuguese Timor

  1. Ali said that his talks with the Portuguese in the first half of March, 1975, had produced several important areas of agreement:-
    1. the Portuguese had agreed not to set up a Provisional or Transitional Government, and to defer establishment of a Constituent Assembly for at least several years ('five to eight years');
    2. there would thus be a long drawn-out process towards a decision (via the Constituent Assembly?) on the political future of the colony;
    3. Indonesia would be consulted on the appointment of APODETI members to an Advisory Assembly/Council which would be set up a year or so into the long drawn-out process ('we will choose them');
    4. APODETI officials to train in Indonesia;
    5. Indonesian 'economic affairs' and tourist offices to be established in Dili.
  2. The main thing, according to Ali, was time. Indonesia accepted that the battle would be one of votes and that time would be needed for APODETI, admittedly not strong at the moment, to be sure of securing the necessary number of them. Ali seemed to be keen to get on with the contest. He was not greatly worried about FRETILIN's call for 'immediate de jure independence' (in the context of a long drawn-out process of decolonization): the final decision on the status of the colony would not really be taken until the end of the process. Ali said that the Indonesian Government had no problems with the use of the expression 'self-determination' in relation to Portuguese Timor.
  3. Moerdani mentioned the Australian reaction to the March, 1975, press stories alleging that there were Indonesian plans to invade Timor. He said that Indonesia was worried by the sharpness of the reaction. (Another member of the party mentioned that the Indonesian Embassy had spoken to Peter Hastings.) Moerdani said that he had hoped that we would have seen the difference between preparations and actual intent to act. He said that Indonesia was 'hoping for the best but preparing for the worst' (other members of the party used this formulation in speaking with us); the worst, he suggested, being hasty Portuguese withdrawal and a reneging on the understandings reached with Ali. Moerdani was told that the Australian Government understood the distinction he was making. The Prime Minister had also noted President Soeharto's assurances to Mr Woolcott.
  4. Ali said that Indonesia would have no objection to the reopening of the Australian Consulate in Dili, but asked that the Indonesian Government be advised before any announcement, and that there be no announcement until after his second (May) round of talks with the Portuguese. Both he and Moerdani said that the Consulate should only cover East Timor.
  5. Ali said that there might be problems with proposals for Australian aid to Portuguese Timor. Indonesia would not be able to contribute as generously as Australia, and the provision of aid might encourage Timorese thinking on (aid-supported) independence. Ali said he would write to us on the subject of aid.


  1. Both Ali and Moerdani seemed grateful for an opportunity to speak 'frankly'-if at times a little unscientifically-about their views on Indo-China and Timor. They both seemed at a loss to understand how things could have gone the way they have in Indo-China; and they both went out of their way to assure us that their understanding with the Portuguese on Timor was to their satisfaction-if all went according to the book.

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