263 Record of Conversation Between Renouf, Miller, Zaiton Andazraai

Canberra, 16 October 1975




  1. The Secretary said that Timor presented a more complicated problem for Australia than it really warranted because of the internal political pressures in Australia. The Secretary explained that the left wing of the ALP, and some of the ALP moderates, support Fretilin's demand for the independence of East Timor. The Prime Minister, most of the Cabinet, as well as Mr Fraser and Mr Peacock, sympathise with Indonesia's integrationist aspirations. The Prime Minister gave expression to this view in his discussions with President Soeharto. However, the Secretary explained, it is a difficult policy to follow through in Australia. The Secretary reassured Tan Sri Zaiton that Australia had not aided Fretilin, although there could be no guarantee that there had not been some measure of private aid.
  2. Tan Sri Zaiton said that Malaysia had hoped Australia would have been more forthcoming in its discussions with Santos. A positive attitude from Australia may have brought the proposed joint arrangements into existence. Mr Miller commented that Santos was not prepared to exercise the powers vested in him by the Portuguese Government. Zain Azraai 1 remarked that the result had been to get the Portuguese 'off the hook', and to transform the problem from a post-colonial to a regional one.
  3. The Secretary said that Santos was basically afraid that if Indonesia intervened directly, Fretilin members would be massacred. This would be to deny what Santos sees as Portugal's 'mission to civilise'. He added that we had been surprised that Portugal had hung on so long, remarking that it seemed to be a question of Portuguese pride.
  4. Tan Sri Zaiton said that Portugal appeared to be playing a two-faced game, wishing to wash their hands of East Timor on the one hand, and prolonging their withdrawal on the other. He added that, for the time being, Indonesia seemed content to play only a legal and internationally proper role. Commenting on the Secretary's remarks, Tan Sri Zaiton said that Portugal seemed to be unwilling to abandon Timor, but was certainly looking for 'an easy way out'. He asked whether, in the event of a Liberal government coming to power, its approach to the Timor question would be 'more positive' than that ofthe present government.
  5. The Secretary replied that a Liberal government's policy would probably be much the same. He said that the Prime Minister had told Santos that Australia was not prepared to assume Portugal's burden. The Secretary added that Mr Fraser might well go further than Mr Whitlam in supporting Indonesia's wishes to integrate East Timor into Indonesia. Mr Miller said that it had always seemed essential to Australia that the Indonesians and Portuguese talk together seriously, and that this may happen at the forthcoming Foreign Ministers' meeting.2 Zain Azraai remarked that it is imperative that Portugal clarify its intentions regarding Timor, and that this must be resolved at the Foreign Ministers' meeting. Mr Miller said that according to sources normally regarded as reliable Portugal now accepts that eventual integration with Indonesia is the best solution to the Timor problem. The Australian and Indonesian Ambassadors in Lisbon have been so informed, but because of events and because of contradictory indications emanating from Portuguese officials in Lisbon and Jakarta, the Indonesians are very sceptical.
  6. Tan Sri Zaiton commented that Portugal's internal problems were an additional distraction, and that he feared that a new government may quit Timor altogether or hand the problem over to the UN. The Secretary replied that this would aggravate the situation for both Australia and Indonesia, principally because the African bloc is likely to support Fretilin. He said that Indonesia needs to prepare well in advance. Because Indonesia is not held in high regard in the UN in regard to colonial issues, discussion of Timor could be nasty.
  7. Mr Miller remarked that Fretilin seems to be in control oflarge areas at present. If Fretilin can hold on and maintain order, then the Indonesian case is weakened de facto. Tan Sri Zaiton said that he was very worried about the possible reaction in Indonesia, particularly were the Army to reduce or redirect its support for Soeharto because of the failure of his Timor policy. He said that the regional consequences of instability in Indonesia would be grave. Mr Miller asked whether an independent Timor would in fact represent a serious regional problem, or whether it would be so much a hostage to Indonesia that it would be effectively powerless. Tan Sri Zaiton replied that, although Malaysia and Australia are able to isolate the problem, Indonesia cannot. Emotion is involved: Indonesia could not tolerate an independent country in what it considers to be its area. It would also worry about the precedent for Ambon, the Moluccas, West Irian, etc. Zain Azraai added that the Timorese would not be prepared to lie low. They would inevitably aggravate the situation by provoking the Indonesians.
  8. Tan Sri Zaiton said that Indonesia has not moved for ASEAN support, and that, were it to do so, it could be difficult for ASEAN to respond. It is Indonesia's problem, and Indonesia would need to initiate any discussion on the matter in an ASEAN forum. He asked whether the Indonesians had expressed irritation to Australia about Horta's reception by, for example, the Minister in Australia, adding that the Indonesians are not always frank on such things. The Secretary told Tan Sri Zaiton that in regard to Portuguese Timor in general Australia was satisfied that the Indonesians had been completely frank, and that both sides had been quite open. Although the Indonesians did not really understand the Australian system, they accepted that freedoms exercised in Australia should not upset intergovernmental relations.


[NAA: A1838, 303817/1, iv]