Meeting with President Soeharto
For Renouf from Woolcott
I called on the President this morning.
- I handed to him the Prime Minister's message1 which he read immediately. I said I was sorry that I had not repeat not been able to see him earlier as the Prime Minister had wanted to move as quickly as possible to prevent any misunderstandings stemming from press reports affecting relations with Indonesia. The President said he had seen me as soon as he could and that he appreciated the Prime Minister's prompt action.
- I then gave the President as much background as I could along the lines that you have provided in recent messages.2
- I said the Prime Minister in discussing the Asian region had told the Chinese of the importance we attached to ASEAN and of the support which we gave to ASEAN. I also said that the Prime Minister had told the Chinese that we supported ASEAN's objective of preventing the domination of South East Asia by any of the major powers, adding that competition between the major powers in the area could lead to instability.
- I said in this context the Prime Minister had referred to the 'progress' being made under the 'present government' of Indonesia.
- I said also that the Prime Minister had not repeat not used any words such as 'ineffective' to describe the Indonesian leadership or government. He had referred to there being a possible question mark over the future of Indonesia because of the nature of the regime but that what the Prime Minister had in mind was the importance of President Soeharto's own role in maintaining stability in Indonesia in the future.
- Although I had said I did not repeat not intend to do so (our JA75703), President Soeharto was appreciative and relaxed by this stage and so I did add that, as far as the use of the word 'regime' was concerned, it had no unfavourable connotations when used in Australia. It was synonymous with the word 'government' which the Prime Minister had in fact used in respect of Indonesia earlier in the discussion on South East Asia. (In fact somewhat to my surprise the President used the word regime himself to describe the Indonesian Government later in the conversation.)
- I said one of the main purposes the Prime Minister had during the discussion was to get the message over that China should not repeat not interfere in the internal affairs of Indonesia or other ASEAN countries and that the Prime Minister was also hoping to obtain a reaction from the Chinese of support for ASEAN, which in fact he did.
- The Prime Minister attached importance to the assurances that he had received from the Chinese Premier that the Chinese would not repeat not let party-to-party relations harm state-to-state relations. The President did not repeat not react, as I had expected he might to this, simply nodding.
- Finally, I told the President that the Chinese Premier had raised the question of the re-establishment of relations with Indonesia. He might be interested to know that Hua had said there were no difficulties from the Chinese side but that China was not impatient and if Indonesia still had difficulties China would not repeat not press the matter. The President thanked me for passing this on but made no direct comment.
- The President said he would like me to pass on to the Prime Minister his 'heartfelt appreciation and thanks' for the Prime Minister's message. He added that he was very grateful for the useful background which I had been able to give him. All of this put the press reports which had caused concern into a completely different perspective.
- The President said he could understand the embarrassment created for Mr Fraser by inaccurate press reports. There was of course embarrassment for him and Indonesia too. He said he was very pleased that we had moved so quickly to remove any misunderstandings before they gathered momentum.
- The President added that some western journalists harboured illfeelings towards Indonesia and wanted to upset relations between Australia and Indonesia. They had tried to use the Timor question to do this and would use any issue which came to hand. The President said there were a number of foreign journalists who reported negatively about progress and development in Indonesia and about the 'leadership of the present regime'. Their purpose was to stir up international opinion against Indonesia and to create dissatisfaction and a lack of confidence in the Government, if possible, within Indonesia as well. The President said that he had noticed that I had now visited more than half of the 26 provinces of Indonesia. I would probably have observed during these visits that these hostile influences were not repeat not succeeding. There was considerable progress and general stability in the country and he was determined that this would be maintained. Indonesia was not repeat not a perfect society and there were many areas which needed improvement. But the Government was both aware of this and acting accordingly.
- The use of the phrase 'ineffective leadership' in the 'Straits Times' and some other papers had been unfortunate as such references could do damage to relations between our two countries if people were to believe them.4 A number of prominent Indonesians had expressed surprise and disappointment at the use of this phrase, if it had been used. It would be made clear to those concerned that this report was false.
- The President recalled Mr Fraser's message5 to him in November during the period of the caretaker government and said he had the fullest confidence that the Prime Minister wanted to strengthen relations between Australia and Indonesia.
- The President said that relations between the two countries should be further advanced by the Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia. The President said that the commencing date Mr Fraser had suggested was, barring some 'unforeseen or extraordinary circumstance', suitable to him. He hoped the Prime Minister would be able to pay more than a brief visit to Jakarta and would be able to see something of the country. We would follow up the details. In principle October was a good time. It was after the National Day celebrations in August and Ramadan in September.
- The President then said he would like to raise on issue which was not repeat not directly related to my call, (in fact I believe he was linking the two) and that was Timor. He said that he hoped the 'process of integration in East Timor' would 'not repeat not lead to a further deterioration of relations between Australia and Indonesia'. For about fifteen minutes the President went back over the background saying that while he was aware of the problems which had arisen in Australia he wanted to stress that Indonesia had no expansionist designs on any territory. It had not repeat not really wanted East Timor. East Timor was very backward and would create additional development problems for Indonesia. However, given the background of the failure of Portuguese policies there, the resort to arms by Fretilin, the civil war, the influx of 40,000 refugees into Indonesia, the appeal to Indonesia for assistance from other parties, and the alternatives to inaction, Indonesia had no choice but to adopt the course of action it had adopted.
- The President added that had Indonesia not repeat not acted bloodshed and chaos would have continued. In such a situation the sort of communist or major power interference about which the Prime Minister was concerned could occur.
- The President said he very much hoped the Prime Minister personally would understand Indonesia's concerns on this issue. A very small, unstable Fretilin-controlled state in East Timor would not repeat not [be] in the interests of Australia or of any other country in the region. While an Angola type situation may appear to be a remote possibility to us in Australia, East Timor was in the Indonesian Archipelago. After its long struggle for national unity Indonesia could not repeat not take the sort of risks which could well confront it in the next decade if it had permitted the situation to drift.
- The President then said that apart from this background he believed that the PGET was representative of a widespread desire to integrate with Indonesia. He said he fully understood the problems that the issue had generated in Australia and the problems caused for friendly European countries because of their relations with Portugal.
- He then said before the DPR mission had gone to Dili, a delegation from Lisbon led by General [da] Silva acting with the agreement of President-elect Eanes had held talks with PGET leaders and had visited the 23 Portuguese prisoners. The President outlined in some detail the background to this, about which we have kept the Department fully informed.
- The President clearly attaches considerable importance to the possibility that the new Portuguese Government, Indonesia and the PGET will come to terms and he seems optimistic that they will do so.
- The President said that he believed that in the next round of talks the PGET representative would try to convince the Portuguese Government that they were reflecting the present wish of the majority of the East Timorese people for integration.The President added that if agreement could be reached between the PGET and the Portuguese officials, he hoped Portugal could be persuaded to withdraw the issue from the United Nations. He also said that if Portugal, the PGET and Indonesia were able to come to some agreement about the integration of East Timor he hoped that Australia would accept this.
- The President then asked me to put it to the Prime Minister and the Australian Government that an agreement with Portugal now offered the best prospects for coming to terms with the integration of East Timor. He hoped we would see this and urge the Portuguese Government to acknowledge the PGET and to accept that integration was not repeat not only unavoidable but in the best interests of the East Timorese themselves, Portugal, Indonesia and he believed, of Australia. It would also be the best way to resolve the problem with the United Nations. The President said he was 'not repeat not seeking justification of the policies of the Indonesian Government on Timor' but he hoped we could move towards the acknowledgment of the PGET and its position as representative of the majority of the East Timorese and that we could assist behind the scenes in the discussions with Portugal. He said that if the new Portuguese Government acknowledged the PGET, and if the matters of the 23 prisoners and compensation were resolved, then diplomatic relations could be resumed between Portugal and Indonesia after the 17 August. In this way Portugal would automatically acknowledge integration.
- The President said that he was confident a 'good base' had been developed in the earlier talks between General [da] Silva and the PGET. He believed that the President elect of Portugal also supported this course. He repeated the hope that the Australian Government could now play a helpful role with Portugal. He said the Portuguese Government 'should not repeat [not] lose face' and it would be helpful if Australia and Western European Governments could help [P]ortugal to come to terms with integration. (Our JA74056 is relevant to this proposal.)
- The President said he hoped that the 23 prisoners would be released and the PGET acknowledged by Portugal before the bill for integration was passed by the DPR.
- I said there could be difficulties in his proposal with Portugal depending on the balance of political forces in the new government and with the United Nations itself. I said that the Australian Government's policy had been that there should be a proper act of self-determination in East Timor with which the United Nations should be in some wa[y] associated. The President said that he knew this. But a new situation had arisen. The Indonesian Government accepted that the PGET represented the majority of the East Timorese and that they now wanted integration. Integration would take place shortly. Given the political and economic backwardness in East Timor, the recent civil war, and the tribal nature of East Timorese society, the sort of act of self-determination the United Nations seemed to have in mind would not repeat not be practical without a lengthy period of preparation. Because of the previous Portuguese Government's actions this had not repeat not been possible. I undertook to report his views fully to the Prime Minister and the Minister.
- The President asked that his representations on this matter be kept confidential. (He added, with a smile, 'please do not repeat not let any notes of our discussion fall into the hands of the press'.)
- I then raised with the President the likelihood that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister might wish to say something publicly about our meeting to help put to rest continuing speculation about possible damage to our relations. The President said he would welcome this. I went through with him the lines of a possible statement as set out in paragraph 5 of our JA7570. The President read this and then had the fourth paragraph of the draft translated into Bahasa Indonesia.7 He said this was perfectly acceptable to him. He would be happy for the Prime Minister to make such a statement if the Prime Minister wished to do so.
- The Indonesians had arranged for the press to be present as they do not repeat not get into the President's house without an invitation. They were there in force. I said to them that it was possible that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister might want to say something in Australia about the meeting and so I did not repeat not wish to comment here beyond saying that I had a 'very cordial' meeting with the President and that I believed that 'any misunderstandings which had arisen recently over press reports had now been put to rest'.
- I also had a chance to talk to Sudharmono who was at the President's house but not repeat not present at the talks. I told him we did not repeat not intend to make the transcript of the talks available to any government. This would not repeat [not] be appropriate without the approval of the Chinese Government. I said that I have given the President personally a full account of the substance of the only part of the record which dealt with Indonesia. Sudharmono accepted this and I do not repeat not expect that Indonesia will pursue this further unless what purports to be the text is published and leads to further questions.
- Generally, I think the meeting went off very well and that we have achieved all we could have hoped for in the circumstances. Although a little cool at the beginning the President was friendly and relaxed for most of the discussion.
- We shall be better placed to give a fuller assessment of how the situation stands early next week. Meanwhile, it seems the Indonesian Government wants to put the issue behind it. But it does seem to be attempting to link this and the maintenance and future development of good relations generally at least to some extent with a presidential appeal for us to adopt a more understanding approach to their position on the Timor issue during the period leading to integration.
[NAA: A11536, xxiii]