237 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 19 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref. O.JA1900 1

Jakarta: for Woolcott; Lisbon: for Cooper; New York UN: for Minister and Harry; Kuala Lumpur: for Parsons

We have carefully considered the arguments in paragraphs 1 to 6 of your reference telegram, but feel that it would be best if you could proceed along the lines of our O.CH267336. 2 We leave it to your judgement how you make the points which we have asked should be put to the Indonesians and to whom you or an officer of the Embassy should speak. We would be grateful, however, if it could be made clear to the Indonesians that the Embassy is acting on instructions from the Australian authorities. We are considering calling the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra in to the Department to give him a piece of paper setting out the main points in our O.CH267336 and we shall advise you of our decision. But we should prefer that you should not further delay action in Jakarta.

  1. It may be helpful to you to know by way of background to our O.CH267336 that we had in mind the following considerations:-
    1. The views which Mochtar conveyed to you were conveyed not only by him orally but they were also reflected in the piece of paper from the Foreign Ministry. It would be unusual to leave this statement of Indonesian views without some response, especially as they misrepresent the Australian position. (We see from paragraph 4 of your reference telegram that you have already been making some of these points to the Indonesians but we think that it would be well to go over them again and if they have been made already to the Indonesians it would do no harm to repeat them.)
    2. We notice something of a tendency on the Indonesians' part to look around for a scapegoat on whom to put responsibility for developments in Portuguese Timor which are unfavourable to their interests. We want to make sure that Australia is not cast in this role.
    3. If the present situation in Portuguese Timor drags on the risks of misunderstanding between the Indonesians and ourselves will persist. It is important that they should have a clear understanding not only of Australia's policies but also of the political conventions (freedom of the press, independence of MPs and so forth) within which the Government in normal circumstances in Australia always has to work.

    We are grateful for what you have already done to explain to the Indonesians the political context in which the Government has to conduct its policy on Portuguese Timor. It occurs to us, however, that there may be some advantage in making some of the points in our O.CH267336 not only to the Foreign Ministry but also, for instance, to HANKAM. Perhaps your service advisers might be an appropriate channel. We might add that remarks like those attributed to General Panggabean in yesterday's press (your paragraph 5) serve to increase suspicion of Indonesia here.

  2. We agree with the description of Indonesian attitudes in your paragraph 5. But those attitudes overlook a number of relevant facts and we do not feel that we should give up hope of influencing Indonesian officials to recognise some of them. For example, the Indonesians are ignoring the fact that, compared with the other countries mentioned in your paragraph 5, Australia is much closer to Portuguese Timor, has long served as a place of transit to the territory and contains certain persons and groups who take a close interest in its future. In these circumstances, domestic pressures for Australian involvement in Timor would always be much greater than pressures on the other countries in question. We had hoped also for some greater degree of understanding among the Indonesian authorities concerned with Portuguese Timor of the extent to which the Australian Government has avoided being drawn into Portuguese Timor. As already noted political traditions in Australia, but not in most of the other countries you mention, preclude the Government from preventing Members of Parliament from visiting Portuguese Timor or from controlling the press or from doing anything beyond advising Radio Australia about its reporting. (We have, however, told Radio Australia of the reputation which its broadcasts have earned it in Jakarta, cf. last sentence of paragraph 5 of your telegram.) Thirdly, unlike the leaders of the other countries you mention the Prime Minister has made public statements which have been sympathetic to the Indonesian interest in Portuguese Timor. The Government has gone a long way to reflect an understanding of Indonesia's interests and it is disappointing that this is apparently not wholly recognised in Indonesia.

[matter omitted]3

  1. We find little to disagree with in your paragraphs 13 and 14 (but see the final paragraph below). In comment on your paragraphs 15, 16 and 17, we should say that we still need to keep some balance in our policies on Portuguese Timor and to be circumspect in our public exposition of them. The right of the people of Portuguese Timor to decide their own political future cannot be ignored. The recognition of these rights indeed offers some protection for Indonesian interests, for it enables both Indonesia and Australia to oppose FRETILIN's claim to be recognised as the sole negotiating party among the Timorese.
  2. We recognise the force of the arguments in the first three sentences of paragraph 17 of your telegram. But we do not think that now is the time to make the sort of public explanation which you advise. We take it that the Indonesians will continue to present their policy on Portuguese Timor as being designed to ensure that the people of the territory are allowed to decide their own political future. We can scarcely do less. We need to keep in mind the sorts of attitudes we should want to express should the question come to the United Nations. Another point is that we should keep open for possible use in the future the policy option that if the military situation in Portuguese Timor should deteriorate and the Indonesians show no sign after some time of being able to master it, then it may even become necessary for them to accept some sort of autonomous status for Portuguese Timor rather than to continue military action (but this consideration is very much in the background of our thinking for the moment-and we note Santos' view that in the longer term FRETILIN cannot possibly win).
  3. As general background to how we see things at present and as explained in our O.CH267536 paragraph 4 we should say that it still seems to us that more time is what is chiefly needed. Despite the Indonesians' distrust of Santos and their apparent view that another round of talks would be a mere charade, does not this path offer them the best way forward? If Santos is to be believed he sees it as a way of bringing FRETILIN to accept union with Indonesia but by 'respectable means'. But even if this were not so the prospect of talks would act as a hindrance to any unilateral grant of independence to FRETILIN. If talks were held and broke down, the position of the other two parties would have been reasserted in a forum which would give them more credibility than at present, there would have been an opportunity to strengthen their position in other ways as well; and in sum the Indonesians would seem to have lost nothing but rather to have the opportunity of making progress.4

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