261 Record of Conversation Between Whitlam and Tun Abdulrazak

Canberra, 15 October 1975


Portuguese Timor1

  1. The Prime Minister introduced this subject. He explained that FRETILIN was working through Australian private institutions to try to bring pressure on the Australian Government to underpin FRETILIN's position in Portuguese Timor. FRETILIN was trying to manoeuvre Australia into providing food, communications equipment, even support for FRETILIN's embryonic administrative structure. The Australian Government was resisting this pressure. Australia would not allow itself to be manoeuvred into taking sides in Portuguese Timor. Still less would it allow itself to be pushed into anti-Indonesian attitudes. Preservation of the Indonesian relationship was much more important than relations with Portuguese Timor.
  2. The Prime Minister went on to refer to the activities of the Australian media. It had easy access to Dili and Baucau; it could not so easily visit the border areas. Thus it tended to present a one-sided picture of the situation. Radio Australia had been dubbed the 'Voice of FRETILIN'. In one sense Indonesia had itself to blame. It ran too closed a society. It denied access to journalists who had little idea of the plight of the 40,000 refugees who had fled into Indonesian Timor. Perhaps, of course, Indonesia was sensitive about its own activities; a few thousand Indonesian troops were probably now operating inside Portuguese Timor.
  3. Mr Whitlam felt that Indonesia would need to take diplomatic steps to present its case internationally. In the present situation, FRETILIN could gain the sympathy of a number of European countries. FRETILIN also had its links with the former Portuguese territories, now independent states, in Africa. Thus, for example, FRETILIN had managed to develop links with FRELIMO in Mozambique. It was possible that the Africans would rally to FRETILIN for the simple reason that Portugal had previously had colonies in Africa. The OAU might be induced to take up an attitude which would be contrary to Indonesia's interests.
  4. The Prime Minister suggested that all this exemplified a more general point, namely that the regional countries had to guard against a situation in which countries or institutions outside the region presumed to dictate solutions to regional problems. This had happened for example in regard to Cambodia at last year's UNGA. It looked as though it might happen if President Marcos persisted in his approach to the Islamic Secretariat in relation to the Southern Philippines issue. The Prime Minister was now worried that African opinion might be mobilised against Indonesia in regard to Timor.
  5. Tun Razak felt that Portugal was mainly to blame for the present position in Portuguese Timor. It should be doing more to try to retrieve the situation in the territory. The Prime Minister agreed: Portugal had acted irresponsibly.
  6. The discussion then turned to Indonesia's proposals of last August for a Joint Authority and the related proposal for an Indonesian intervention force. The Prime Minister noted that these proposals had caused Australia some difficulties. The Portuguese had wanted to shed their responsibility for inviting in an Indonesian intervention force on to Australia and Malaysia. This had been unacceptable to Australia. It had also seemed to us that the Joint Authority would have involved Australia, as a participant, in assuming part of Portugal's colonial responsibilities in Portuguese Timor. This had been equally unacceptable. Nor had we much liked those elements in the Portuguese proposals which would have involved Australia acting as a kind of guarantor of Indonesian behaviour in Portuguese Timor.
  7. The Prime Minister reiterated that Australia was not willing to take on a new colonial burden in 1975, the very year we had ended our colonial role in PNG.
  8. Australian officials2 asked about the possibilities of a regional initiative in relation to Timor. It was noted that the Opposition in Australia had proposed that Australia should have encouraged and supported an ASEAN initiative. Tun Razak said that the other ASEAN countries had not been approached by Indonesia to take any action. He implied that ASEAN would only act if President Soeharto requested this. The matter might be raised at the ASEAN summit or, before then, during the Foreign Ministers' meeting.
  9. Australian officials wondered whether there might still be a role for regional countries perhaps at a later stage. For example, were something positive to emerge from the current Portuguese attempts to get a new round of talks under way, there could be value in considering whether the outcome might not be subject to some form of regional endorsement. It might be possible, for instance, to weave into any regional declaration an endorsement of Indonesia's special status in relation to Portuguese Timor as well as something to the effect that regional stability should not be disturbed. The advantage of such an approach might be that, if and when the next crisis erupted in Portuguese Timor, there would already be a regional framework for approaching it and one which took account of the special interests of Indonesia. Tun Razak agreed that there could be value in these sorts of ideas.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1/2, ii]