52 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 24 October 1974


Portuguese Timor

Ref 0.CH1280451

We agree that differences in emphasis according to the audience are to be expected but wonder whether these differences go beyond a simple variation of emphasis as you suggest. Your account of what Santos said in Canberra is not inconsistent with the understanding the Indonesians themselves have of the Portuguese Government's attitude except, as you note, on the matter of timing. The Indonesians have received no assurance that the incorporation of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia is Portugal's first wish but, as they understand it, Portugal does not wish to continue running the colony in the long term and nor does it regard independence as a realistic proposition. The Indonesians do not, however, appear to have discussed with the Portuguese the length of time that would be required to prepare the territory for eventual incorporation into Indonesia. Tjan went through Ali's report to the President very closely with us and there was, as far as we can recall, no mention of the time frame in his discussions with the various Portuguese Ministers. It seems that their discussion stopped short at establishing agreement in principle on the most sensible outcome in the long term: possibly Ali Murtopo quite deliberately did not try out the Portuguese as to how far they were willing to cooperate with Indonesia, or how long they thought the process would take, for fear that such discussion might only expose differences.

  1. As far as we can gather, the Indonesians are under no illusions about current attitudes within Portuguese Timor. Despite the spate of wishful press articles in certain authoritative Indonesian newspapers, Ali Murtopo's advisers (and it is Ali Murtopo who has the real running of practical policy) are well aware that APODETI is the weakest party, that a vote now would probably solidly favour continuing association with Portugal, and that the longer the decolonization period, the more likely it is that a strong independence movement will develop. They therefore regard timing as critical. Lim Bian Kie told us on return from New York that he considered it would be best if matters moved to a resolution within about 18 months. This would be the minimum time in which the Indonesians could expect to convince the local population in Timor of its benevolent intentions, but they are very well aware of the risks, from their point of view, of allowing political development to flower for much longer than that. It is not, therefore, a matter of the Indonesians feeling that delay would involve some loss of self-respect, but that delay would be highly unwise tactically.

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, iii]