336 Submission to Peacock

Canberra, [13] November 1975


Relations with Indonesia: Portuguese Timor

Attached is a copy of my submission to you of 13 November about relations with Indonesia and the question of Portuguese Timor. The submission rehearses the difficulties which have arisen with the Indonesians over Timor and refers to the possibility of action in the United Nations on Portuguese Timor and to the plans for talks between the Portuguese and the three main political groups in Portuguese Timor.

  1. It may be that the talks will not take place or, if they do, will fail to reach agreement; it seems also likely that consideration of Portuguese Timor in the United Nations will not point the way to a solution in the territory which would ease the difficulties that have arisen in Australia's relations with Indonesia. We should not exaggerate those difficulties but they have affected our relationship, which otherwise remains very good.
  2. If the proposed talks do not take place or fail and the United Nations consideration of Portuguese Timor does not take matters forward, it may be that after the elections the Australian Government would wish to send the Foreign Minister to Jakarta for discussions with the Indonesians about our general relationship and the issue of Portuguese Timor. Even if the issue of Timor had not arisen, it would be normal for a new Australian Foreign Minister to make an early visit to Indonesia. For reasons which emerge from the attached submission, we should not be sanguine that a Foreign Minister's visit, while it will point to the importance the Australian Government continues to attach to relations with Indonesia, will be effective in easing the difficulties which have arisen over Timor. Many of the problems which have arisen have been caused by the well-publicized activities of private Australian groups. Scope for Government action is thus limited. It could be possible to recover ground with Indonesia by offering strong Government support for the integration of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia, as for example Malaysia has done. But if this is not possible—and, other problems apart, the Indonesians probably realize that it would be difficult for any Australian Government to give such support unequivocally­—then the Indonesians would prefer Australia to be as uninvolved and as unobtrusive as possible.
  3. The Indonesians might not be able to receive a Minister until some time after the elections, but I think that the Government should not take the initiative to raise the question of a visit until after the elections have taken place.





  1. There has been a deterioration recently in our relations with the Indonesians over Portuguese Timor. The main elements in this deterioration are:
    1. Public reaction to the widespread and circumstantial reports of Indonesian military involvement in Portuguese Timor.
    2. Allegations of Indonesian involvement in the deaths of the five missing journalists in Portuguese Timor; and the Indonesians' unhelpful attitude towards clearing up the fate of the journalists.
    3. The Indonesians' feeling that, while the previous Australian Government's attitude towards the problem of Portuguese Timor has been correct, the Australian news media is pro-FRETILIN, anti-Indonesian groups in Australia have been lending material support to FRETILIN, including arms, and FRETILIN representatives have been allowed to whip up anti-Indonesian feeling here.
    4. The trades unions' bans on Indonesian shipping and on cargoes for Indonesia. These bans are disturbing our trade with Indonesia, to which we send exports worth about $100 million a year.
    5. The daubing twice of Indonesian properties in Canberra. The slogans have been particularly offensive, including one on the Indonesian Ambassador's house calling him a 'fascist butcher'; and while the Indonesians reluctantly accept that the Government can do little about trade union bans and demonstrations, they do believe that we should be able to protect their property here. The Director-General of Political Affairs in the Indonesian Foreign Office is reported as saying publicly that the Australian Government now has a responsibility to prevent further incidents of this kind. Mr Whitlam, as Prime Minister, directed on 6 November that the police ensure that there is no further defacement of Indonesian diplomatic premises in Canberra.
  2. [The previous Government was always mindful of the need to have the best possible relations with Indonesia and this has constantly been a basic consideration in the handling of policy over Portuguese Timor. However,] most of the damage to relations with Indonesia has resulted from the action of groups in Australia not directly susceptible to Government influence or control. The capacity of any Australian Government to contain that damage is, therefore, limited. The Government could come out in forthright condemnation of the activities damaging our relations with Indonesia. To do so would earn the Government credit with the Indonesian Government but may have little effect on the activities themselves and might well stimulate them.2
  3. A number of other courses of action have been suggested. They have to be considered against the background that the Indonesians have made it quite clear privately that they intend to incorporate Portuguese Timor into Indonesia and they have precise military plans to achieve this. They have remained unresponsive to suggestions for other ways of achieving a predominant position in Portuguese Timor and to suggestions that they might provoke military resistance among the inhabitants of the territory which would create dangers far greater than those of an independent East Timor.
    1. Australian Mediation
      Against this background of Indonesian determination to seize the territory of Portuguese Timor, an attempt at mediation by Australia is likely to put us on a direct collision course with the Indonesians.
    2. ASEAN
      The Department's reports indicate that the ASEAN countries take the view that the issue is one for the Portuguese Government to resolve with the Timorese. The other ASEAN countries also attach great importance to the views of Indonesia.Tun Razak, during his recent visit here, implied clearly that ASEAN would act only if Soeharto requested and he said that Soeharto had not done so. We know that the Indonesians are opposed to the regionalization of the problem of Portuguese Timor at least at this stage.It would be awkward, to say the least, for Australia, which is not a member of ASEAN, to pursue the question of Portuguese Timor with ASEAN when Indonesia, which is a member of ASEAN, has chosen not to do so. We think that there may be some scope for the regionalization of the question of Portuguese Timor at some later stage-and we have been in touch with the Indonesians from time to time on the subject.
    3. United Nations
      The Indonesians have made it clear that they want to limit UN involvement in Portuguese Timor. They do not want others to take the initiative on Timor in the United Nations. We have been discussing with them how the question might be handled when it does come up in the UN (as is inevitable this Session). At their recent meeting in Rome, the Indonesian and Portuguese Foreign Ministers agreed that 'under the present circumstances premature involvement by the UN and other forms of "internationalization" of the problem of Portuguese Timor would be inopportune'.It was acknowledged, however, that 'at a certain stage UN involvement and endorsement would be considered appropriate and necessary', that is, UN endorsement of the agreement reached between the Portuguese and the Indonesians in Rome and the results that would flow from it.
  4. Hitherto, there have been two strands in the Australian Government policy on Portuguese Timor: (a) a recognition that the territory was part of the Indonesian world and would best be incorporated in Indonesia, provided (b) this could be achieved in accordance with the right of the people of the territory to decide their own political future (a principle to which the Indonesians have also been committed publicly). The Australian Government's relations with Indonesia would, no doubt, be improved-at least in the short term-if the Government were now publicly to concentrate on strand (a) in the existing policy and exclude strand (b). Such a step would, in effect, represent a new policy towards Portuguese Timor. It would encourage the Indonesians in their military plans, which, as pointed out in paragraph 3 above, are not without dangers of provoking a prolonged guerilla warfare in Timor. It might also inflame anti-Indonesian sentiment among those sections of the Australian population who set greater store by the principle of self-determination.3

[4. In Australia the present position over Portuguese Timor is not unhopeful despite the effect of what has happened so far upon our relations with Indonesia. It was agreed at the recent Rome Talks between Portugal and Indonesia that round-table talks should be arranged between Portugal and all the Timorese political parties. Portugal is now seeking to arrange these talks with Indonesia's assistance. Australia has offered to provide a venue if all involved so wish (Portugal so wishes). It will be some time yet before it is clear whether the talks will take place or not. The chances that they will take place are not good as Indonesia in private has never been keen to see talks. Secondly, the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly is to discuss Portuguese Timor around the end of this month. We are attempting to concert a regional approach to this exercise (so as to control the situation which might otherwise get out of hand) and are trying first to talk to Indonesia.

5. The position is therefore 'held' for the time being. Should, however, the talks which Portugal is trying to organize with Indonesia's ostensible blessing not take place or take place and break down and once the UN exercise is over, the Government will need to consider what more, if anything, it should do. A first essential step in the right direction would be, in my view, for the new Minister to go to Jakarta and talk fully and frankly to the Indonesians should circumstances then prevailing permit (it is conceivable that should Indonesia resume military operations, Fretilin would collapse and withdraw into the hills; in this case a Ministerial visit might be unnecessary). Expectations could be aroused by such a visit but the Government could not be accused of inactivity.]


[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1/2, ii and iii; A11443, [14]]