25 Cablegram from Furlonger to Whitlam

Jakarta, 2 September 1974


You may find it helpful to have, on the eve of your departure from Australia, the following up-to-date assessment of President Soeharto's personal position and of the political atmosphere in Jakarta, as well as some observations on matters relevant to your private meeting with the President.

  1. From the viewpoint of the Indonesians, President Soeharto has made a major gesture towards Australia and yourself in proposing a private meeting of a type which he has so far had only with Razak, Marcos and Ne Win. In the President's view, Australia is an important part of the Indonesian neighbourhood, and is destined to play a significant role, particularly in the resources and technological fields, in supporting the future development of the whole West Pacific region.
  2. The President, and indeed Indonesians generally, also believes that Australia is unique among countries of Western origin in the degree of understanding that we show towards the problems of Indonesia and the region. Soeharto thus fully shares the objective of closer Indonesian-Australian relations, which you identified in your 1972 policy speech as one of Labor's four major commitments in the foreign policy field.

[matter omitted]1

  1. The President already feels that he has a personal bond with you, and he and those around him admire your re-shaping of Australian foreign policy.With their new oil wealth, Indonesian leaders are seeking greater independence in their own foreign policy, although generally it will remain pragmatic, non-doctrinaire and primarily concerned with encouraging stability and cooperation in Indonesia's immediate regional environment. Towards the Americans, the Indonesians are currently somewhat disenchanted, due to the sharp aid cuts being forced by Congress and to the Indonesian belief that, philosophically at least, the Americans were in sympathy with the Westernised intellectuals and political figures who the regime alleges were the intellectual main-spring of the January riots. Towards the Russians and the Chinese, the government remains suspicious, although some gestures towards more even-handed treatment of Communist countries have recently been made.
  2. In our own case, we have made great progress in our relationship with Indonesia in recent years. But we would be wrong not to recognise that it is still fragile and unnatural in significant respects. Your meeting with Soeharto will be a critical test of whether, despite the internal political problems and sensitivities on both sides, a basis for an enduring relationship can be established. On the Indonesian side, there is a mood of enhanced sensitivity to outside criticism. This arises from resentment of foreign criticism of their internal affairs; from their new feeling of independence in foreign affairs produced by the oil bonanza; and from a revival of the nationalism, and even xenophobia, which is so much a part of the Javanese character.
  3. Although President Soeharto is naturally hard-headed and unsentimental, he has an almost uncritical belief in Australian good faith and understanding towards Indonesia. Given this attitude, he would, I think, be excessively sensitive to any sign that we might be considering backing off either him personally or his regime. I appreciate that the image in Australia of his government may now be such that over-identification with Soeharto personally may be considered undesirable. The problem, however, is that constitutionally he, like the U.S. President, is the Government, and there is a real danger that any attempt to appear more detached from Soeharto would, in this highly personalised country, be misinterpreted. The Indonesian Government has still not fully recovered from the shock of the January riots, and would be likely to over-react to what they would probably regard as an indication of declining Australian interest and sympathy. This is not a time for change. There would undoubtedly be voices that would say that any change in the Australian attitude derived from the foreseeable sympathy of a Labor Government for the Westernised PSI-type intellectuals who are under current attack by Soeharto's Government.

[matter omitted]

  1. Portuguese Timor will also be seen by Soeharto as a test of the extent to which Australian and Indonesian perceptions of South East Asia are shared. The President recognises that Australia, as well as Indonesia, has a major interest in the future of this territory, and he will be looking for an understanding with you on this subject. The Indonesians acknowledge the principle of self-determination but seek to avoid introducing into the region a weak and impoverished state which would be a tempting client for other major powers, particularly but not exclusively China. If it can be achieved, Soeharto sees union with Indonesia as the best way of achieving this, in the interests of the whole region and not merely of Indonesia (on which it would be an additional economic burden). He may well wish to discuss with you the scope for international initiatives on Portuguese Timor, for instance in the United Nations.

[matter omitted]

  1. Most of the discussions with the President will, I think, be in a broad philosophical vein. That is his normal way. The President will not be taking many advisers with him, and I expect that much of the time he will want to spend with you alone (except for interpreters). We understand that Malik, who will be accompanying Mr Kiki2 to Irian Jaya on 3-4 September, will not be present and that the main policy advisers will be Major-General Sudharmono (the head of the Presidential Staff who has the rank of a Minister), a senior official, as yet unnamed, from the Foreign Ministry, and probably Lieutenant-General Yoga, the head of the State Intelligence Agency, BAKIN.
  2. I regret inflicting on you a telegram of this length, but, in view of the importance of your first private meeting with the President, it seemed desirable to convey to you the local atmosphere in which your visit will take place.3

[NAA: A10463, 828/4/1, ii]