460 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 7 June 1976


East Timor: The Dili Meeting and the Process of Incorporation

Ref O.CH3610891

For the Secretary from Woolcott

It is too soon to give a definitive account of Indonesia's reaction to our decision not to attend the Dili meeting but we expect it would be fairly strong (but see JA70342). Initial comments by our main Indonesia contacts are not promising for our relations with Indonesia, particularly as regards Timor, in the coming months.

  1. The Indonesians really wanted us to go to Dili, both because of our active interest in the Timor issue and because they knew other countries would be influenced by our decision. They made strong representations to us to go. They also know that our decision was the critical factor in the American and Japanese decisions. This remains so even though we stress that this was not our intention.
  2. Former Ambassador Her Tasning told me on 31 May that General Moerdani was very angry about our decision (I have not seen him since my return from Kalimantan and he has not sought to see me), particularly after the pressure we had applied to get the Taylor mission to East Timor and the extent to which he had used his influence to help in this. Given Moerdani's very close relations with the President on Timor, Her Tasning said that the President too would, no doubt, be upset with Australia's decision. Tasning also said that he believed the Canberra post would now be left empty for some time (possibly until after August). (We are attempting to check this.)
  3. One problem we face is that we shall now be less well-placed to seek to influence Indonesia. We must expect the Indonesians now to be less responsive than they have been towards our representations on issues relating to Timor, such as our wish to see a genuine act of self-determination, the journalists killed at Balibo, the return of the ICRC and the resumption of humanitarian aid.
  4. There have been several hints (but no more than hints so far) that Indonesia may decide to limit serious discussion in future with us at government level about Timor. They may also become less tolerant of what they see as continuing assistance to Fretilin in Australia. (One example mentioned to us is the continued existence of the Fretilin Information Office.)
  5. This may sound somewhat excessive as we were in good company on our decision on the Dili meeting and as the arrangements for the meeting were so poorly handled. But from the comments we have had so far I sense that the Indonesians have difficulty understanding why we chose not to attend and are angered by the decision, especially as they are aware it kept others away.
  6. They ask, for example, why, if we saw the meeting as only one step in the process of self-determination3 (a process we continued to be interested in) could we not have taken the opportunity to observe it, without commitment, at first hand? We could have made it clear that we were not condoning the process. One of our regular contacts has argued that the Australian Government has now 'forfeited' its right to comment on the process. Other contacts maintain that the decision was another example of the Government being led by what they regard not as public opinion as such but as a vociferous anti-Indonesian section of public opinion, including the media.
  7. Apart from Her Tasning's reference to the Canberra post and some other recent allusions to the possibility that 'labour pressure' might be applied to Australian joint ventures in Indonesia, there have been no indications that the Indonesians intend to widen the dispute with us beyond the Timor issue. But some leading Indonesians-Panggabean for instance-consider that the dispute cannot be isolated from our wider relations. Ali Murtopo, on the other hand, believes it can continue to be isolated. It is the President's attitude which would be decisive.
  8. We also need to keep in our minds that, during the Minister's April visit, it was General Panggabean and Dr Salim who put to the Minister Indonesia's basic concerns about Australian policy.4 By prior agreement the President had placed himself above such comment and Panggabean and Salim were, we have since learned, acting under presidential instructions in saying what they said to Mr Peacock. (Malik is I am afraid not particularly relevant in all this.)
  9. Our present assessment is that our total relationship with Indonesia has slipped somewhat since the Minister's visit, mainly as a result of the decision not to go to Dili and that it will deteriorate further if the Indonesians were to decide that our policy had become:
    1. A real obstacle to integration, to which Indonesia is totally committed regardless of our reaction and which it regards as being in its vital national interests as well as in the region's interests;
    2. Harmful to Indonesia's relations with third countries, especially in Asia;
    3. A means of keeping alive the issue when, as far as Indonesia is concerned, it is virtually settled.
  10. It has been clear for a long time that Australia, short of direct military intervention, could not have and cannot now prevent Indonesia achieving its objective of integration, even if it was assessed to be in our national interest to do so. Integration will take place most likely in August, no matter what the international community does. Point (a) above is therefore not a real problem although Indonesian irritation will grow according to the difficulties we make for them.
  11. Point (b) is more important now the international community has been asked to become more closely interested in the process of self-determination in Timor. While it was not our intention, our decision not to go to Dili determined the position of at least the United States and Japan. Whether we wish it or not others will now take considerable account of our attitude in determining their own. A further dimension has therefore been added to the Timor problem. We are now very much a party principal.5
  12. Moreover, as Washington has stressed (dispatch no.6/75) 'in regional policy and in relation to other relevant security issues, Australia should avoid actions that needlessly undercut American interests, such as it took in the United Nations in the past few months in relation to Korea and Timor'. This is consistent with the attitude of the United States embassy here, namely that the State Department would be very concerned by any serious deterioration in Australian/Indonesian relations.6
  13. Point (c) above is potentially our most difficult problem. As I see it our decision on the Dili meeting makes it more difficult than before for us to come to terms with the reality of East Timor's inevitable integration into Indonesia and to put the dispute behind us.
  14. As explained on your O.CH360998,7 the key to the decision was the state of Australian public opinion on the Timor issue. Seen from here the main elements of vocal public opinion are unlikely to be satisfied by any process of self-determination that could conceivably now occur.
  15. On the assumption that sooner or later Australia is going to have to live with East Timor's integration we seem to be faced with a choice between two general approaches.
  16. First, to have nothing to do with the proposed process of self-determination, but, some time after it is over, tacitly to accept its result. This approach may allow the Government to avoid commenting publicly on the validity of the process.
  17. The absence of United Nations involvement would provide an umbrella for such an approach. Should the United Nations decide to observe a later stage of the process, I assume the chances of our observing would also be enhanced.
  18. Secondly, we could agree to observe the process at a later stage-such as the proposed Indonesian delegation visit to assess the wishes of the East Timorese at the end of this month-and, without prejudicing our support for self-determination, seek to get first hand information on what the process represents in terms of the situation in East Timor. Of course the 'bad' aspects of the process would attract attention and require official comment. But this could probably be done without causing unacceptable damage. Also that comment might not be as completely damning of the process as the rejection of invitations to observe it appears to be, especially as this time we would be rejecting an Indonesian invitation to observe conditions in a number of districts rather than a PGET invitation for a very brief visit only to Dili. This approach might also provide an opportunity for the Government to explain publicly the complex background to developments in Timor and the difficulties of holding a 'genuine' act of self-determination in East Timor, afflicted as it has been by civil war and political backwardness.
  19. We consider the second approach would make it easier for the Government to come to terms eventually with East Timor's integration into Indonesia. In terms of our future relations with Indonesia, as seen from Jakarta, this would also be the preferable approach.
  20. We are afraid that sooner or later we have to come to grips with the issue of how long and far we pursue a policy which, while soundly based on principle, is unrealistic in that two of its three stated goals and possibly all th[ree] will prove unattainable. Also, if pursued beyond a certain point, they must erode the other broader aim of our policy, namely the maintenance of generally sound and close relations with Indonesia.
  21. We know Indonesia is not going to withdraw all its forces from East Timor or admit to there being more than 'volunteers' there. What in Australia would generally be regarded as a 'genuine act of self-determination' will not take place (although Indonesia will maintain that the best process of self-determination possible in the complex circumstances of Timor has been carried out with some foreign observation). The third leg of our present Timor policy tripod, the return of the ICRC, is the only aspect of our policy which might be realised but here too the prospects now seem dim and our own capacity to influence the issue reduced. (Refer our O.JA7052.8)9

[NAA: Al838, 3038/13/2/1, xiv]