67 Submission to Willesee

Canberra, 13 December 1974


Portuguese Timor

[matter omitted]1

Future Policy

  1. The Government's stated preference for association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia remains qualified by the concern that the choice must be for the people of Portuguese Timor themselves to make in an internationally acceptable manner, that is, in a demonstrably and convincingly democratic manner. The developments in Portuguese Timor described at the beginning of this submission suggest, however, that these two policy objectives are incompatible. It might be possible to consider with Indonesia whether together we should try to promote a climate of international opinion favourable to the incorporation of Portuguese Timor into Indonesia. But we think that these efforts would not succeed and might do more harm than good. Nor do we think that the Government would wish to be so closely identified with Indonesian attitudes.
  2. On the contrary, as there is a possibility of Indonesian military intervention at some stage, we think that the Australian Government should be careful not to appear to be embracing Indonesian policy on Portuguese Timor too closely. There are dangers in becoming too involved in discussions with Indonesia over Portuguese Timor; our attitudes are different and we risk aggravating these differences by discussion. But we also believe that we need to continue to keep before the Indonesians the second aspect of our attitude to Portuguese Timor, namely our concern that there should be, in due course, a deliberate act of self-determination. We should leave them in no doubt that any Indonesian intervention designed to forestall an act of free choice would inevitably have an impact on Australian public opinion and, through that, on Australian-Indonesian relations. We should indicate that we would expect a similar damaging effect in Papua New Guinea (although so far, it has to be admitted, PNG has shown an almost complete lack of interest in Portuguese Timor). Publicly, we should try to avoid the impression of 'collusion' with Indonesia over Timor. Privately, we should be trying to bring home to the Indonesians the following points: (a) there is no need for hasty action; (b) if an act of self-determination results in an independent Portuguese Timor, that would not necessarily damage Indonesia's or Australia's interests; (c) whoever has control of Portuguese Timor is likely to face conditions of uncertainty, disorder and violence, so that the Indonesians may prefer to avoid the responsibility; (d) in the long run the Timorese themselves are bound to have to adjust to Indonesian (and Australian) preoccupations whatever the constitutional status of the government which finally emerged in Dili; and (e) it would be better to adopt a sympathetic or at least neutral attitude towards the fledgling independence movement, rather than risk pushing it into an intransigent position.
  3. Our main objective should be to try to prevent Portuguese Timor from becoming an obstacle to good relations between Australia and Indonesia and to prevent disappointments over Portuguese Timor from turning the Indonesians away from the highly responsible regional policies they have followed since Sukamo's downfall. We have to recognise that, even if Indonesia were to force Portuguese Timor into an association with her, we should have to go on living with the Indonesians. There would inevitably be a cooling of relations, and we should have to face the sorts of policy questions which arose during Confrontation, with the same results: realistically, no Australian Government could allow distant relations with an Indonesian Government to endure. While recognising that there would be a sharp public reaction here to Indonesia's gaining control of Portuguese Timor against the will of the people there, we should take care not to exaggerate how deeply it would run and how long it would last; especially if the situation in Portuguese Timor had become unstable or if extreme Left-wing forces were to predominate there.
  4. The Indonesians themselves are well aware of these realities. They already recognise that among other countries, Australia, and perhaps in the future Papua New Guinea, are likely to be the most sensitive about Indonesian actions in Timor. But they also approach the matter with a certain sang froid. In a confidential Indonesian document dealing with the Goa precedent, for example, it has been noted that 'in today's world such an event would attract little attention and, even if it did, it would not be later recalled with any emotion'.
  5. Although we shall have to keep developments continually under review, our best tactics would seem to be to try, so far as possible, to effect a measure of public detachment from Indonesian policy and also, we think, from the Portuguese Timor problem itself. The risk of entanglement there is very real. Paragraph 4 above gives some idea of the quagmire that Portuguese Timor could become.2 Beyond that, the Timorese themselves would like nothing better than to counter the threat they perceive from Indonesia by involving Australia in Portuguese Timor. But clearly, we cannot allow our relations with Indonesia to be at the mercy of Mr Ramos Horta and his FRETILIN group. Thus, on the one hand, we need to avoid being identified with, or appearing to connive at, Indonesian expansionism in Timor. On the other hand, the less we become involved in developments in Portuguese Timor itself, and the less we are called upon to explain publicly our views about self-determination, the freer we are in our choice of future policies and tactics in dealing with the Timorese and with the Indonesians over Timor. We should, that is, for the time being at least, follow a policy of non-involvement in relation to Portuguese Timor.
  6. There are risks in such a policy of non-involvement which we do not underrate. They are, in brief, that a policy of non-involvement which would entail, for instance, not responding to Portuguese Timorese overtures, would risk driving some of its emerging leaders into the arms of the extreme Left. The gestures which Horta is already making towards China and the Communist movements in Australia3 (which have presumably been matched by similar contacts elsewhere) could be interpreted as a reaction to the official caution with which he has been greeted in Australia, as in Indonesia, and to the public expression of Australian policy since the Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia. This may not matter much except for the danger that Horta's associations and statements may be providing the Indonesians with the very evidence (or excuse) they need to intervene in Portuguese Timor to prevent what they would represent as the danger of a Communist takeover. Clearly, in parallel with expressing our concern to the Indonesians that there should be a deliberate act of self-determination in Portuguese Timor, we should also be warning the Timorese privately about the dangers of their present course and of the associations they now seem to be forming. In our private discussions with the Timorese, we also need to correct their misinterpretations by assuring them that, while Australia would welcome the association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia, we should be prepared to respect and support independence or continued association with Portugal if that were their choice.
  7. These considerations suggest that we cannot simply ignore the Timorese even in the short term. We have indeed to recognise that we may have a new independent State on our northern doorstep in the next few years. Its emergence may, or may not, make much difference to the strategic picture, but it would be a State with which we should have to have dealings and diplomatic representation, and with which our views and policies would inevitably have some considerable influence. Care must thus be exercised now in dealing with the Timorese and their leaders, tiresome and importunate as the latter are likely to become. There is also public opinion in Australia to consider: while it may suit us to stay silent as long as we can, the Government must also expect to come under pressure to declare its attitude from time to time. Nevertheless, as a general principle, and at this stage, the less deeply Australia is drawn into the problems of Timor, and the more options we can keep open, the better.

Representation in Timor

  1. It is with the foregoing considerations in mind that we approach the question of re-establishing our Consulate in Dili (closed in 1971 mainly because the reduced workload did not justify the expense of maintaining it). The value of a post would be mainly in information-gathering: we should be able to formulate policy on the basis of a better understanding of the situation on the ground in Timor. We should also be able to influence and to build up relations with Timorese leaders on the spot. A post would facilitate the supervision of any aid projects we might undertake in Portuguese Timor. The Portuguese would like us there-the new Governor of Portuguese Timor has told our Ambassador in Lisbon as much-and so would the pro-independence and pro-Portuguese groupings both of which are said to have made representations in Lisbon in this sense. However, their interest highlights the main disadvantages of re-establishing the Consulate. Inevitably, given the closed and inward-looking character of society in Portuguese Timor, to reopen the Consulate would encourage those who look to Australia as a counter-poise to Indonesia as well as those who would like to gain our underpinning for an independent Timor. It might even encourage those in Timor who are said to favour a 'fourth solution'-that the territory should become a protectorate of Australia.
  2. We might, in short, soon find ourselves under pressures which draw us more deeply into the affairs of Portuguese Timor than we think is desirable for the moment. Despite attempts to reassure the Indonesians, we might also find that they too would suspect our motives of re-establishing the Consulate. On the whole therefore the Department recommends against the re-establishment of the Consulate at this time. Like other associated questions, the matter might be kept under review. We should in particular keep in mind that the pressure of consular business might itself force us to open a mission in Dili in due course. But at least until we have a better idea of where the territory is heading, caution would probably best suit our interests.
  3. In addition to information now available from Lisbon and Jakarta,4 we should expect to be able to supplement our knowledge of what is happening in Timor by more regular visits to Dili. The last visit took place in June, two months after the revolution in Lisbon. Similar visits -perhaps at two- or three-monthly intervals- might be arranged in future both by officers from the Department dealing with Portuguese Timor and by members of our Embassy in Jakarta.

Australian Aid

  1. During his call on the Prime Minister on 15 October, Dr Santos asked whether Australia would provide Portuguese Timor with economic and technical help. The Prime Minister replied positively but noted that other countries in the region might also want to help. In particular, the Prime Minister mentioned the possibility of help from the ASEAN countries, including Indonesia. He said that Australia would be glad to join the ASEAN countries in such a scheme. Dr Santos did not respond directly to this idea, but in his later discussions with you and the Special Minister of State,5 he spoke of the possibility of a trilateral aid program involving Portugal, Indonesia and Australia. There have also been suggestions from the Indonesians for a possible trilateral scheme. Mr Harry Tjan, a special adviser to General Ali Murtopo on Portuguese Timor, referred to the possibility some weeks ago. He saw it as part of a possible wider arrangement that would provide Indonesia with legal access to Portuguese Timor through economic co-operation.
  2. We have since considered both proposals in some detail. While the concept of an ASEAN consortium is attractive, there are significant practical disadvantages attaching to it. We doubt whether the other ASEAN countries would be interested, and in any event we believe that such a consortium would be a cumbersome channel for provision of aid. It could also be criticised in Australia as a cover for connivance in Indonesian efforts to absorb the territory.
  3. We see less difficulties with the proposal for trilateral assistance, although even here it would imply some co-ordination in the three countries' overall policy towards Portuguese Timor which could prove of later embarrassment, and reduce our room for manoeuvre, should the Indonesians' patience run out and they decide to move unilaterally to incorporate Portuguese Timor. Nevertheless, if Australia is to provide aid, the balance of advantage would seem to lie in providing it under some tripartite umbrella rather than bilaterally. For the moment we see no reason for Australia to take the initiative, this could rather be left to the Portuguese (as a follow-up to the Santos visit) or to the Indonesians or to both. At this stage our requirements would be met with a Ministerial decision that Australia should stand ready, in principle, to consider any approach by Portuguese or Indonesians for a trilateral aid scheme for Timor. If nothing gets under way in the next few months we should consider raising the matter ourselves, firstly in Jakarta, and then, depending on Indonesian reactions, in Lisbon. We should need to be sure that our interests would be served by involvement in an aid program in Portuguese Timor. All this of course is subject to the views of OADAA-and we should also recognise that our participation in an aid scheme for Portuguese Timor would lead us to reconsider the question of our representation there.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  1. The policy conclusions which flow from the analysis in this submission are based on the present situation we face in relation to Portuguese Timor. But we shall need of course to adjust our policy to changing circumstances and unfolding events. The immediate outlook in Timor is for a continuation of the Portuguese link. This is no bad interim solution from our point of view and may well provide us with several years of breathing space. It certainly means that decisions about the long-term future of the territory should not be rushed. But in 12-18 months (or even before), if it has become apparent that developments are moving more rapidly than we now expect and particularly if the Timorese themselves are clearly moving rapidly towards independence, we should have to reconsider the position. The merits of a more forward approach might then become more prominent.
  2. We should need, for example, to examine again the question of Australian representation in Dili, as well as that of economic assistance to and co-operation with Timor. The latter might then become important less as a means of discharging a commitment to help the Timorese improve their living standards, and more as a deliberate policy designed to tie Portuguese Timor into its regional environment. If the Indonesians could be involved in such a policy review so much the better. In any event, like us, they would need to consider whether the best way of 'containing' an independent Timor might not be to integrate it into the region and, by assisting it to emerge from its isolation and colonial strait-jacket, make it unnecessary for Timor to look beyond Indonesia and Australia for support.
  3. Meanwhile, it is recommended that:-
    1. You should endorse the view that, for the time being, Australia should follow a policy of non-involvement in relation to Portuguese Timor. This policy implies caution in the frequency and wording of public statements as well as maintaining a discreet distance from Indonesia's public pronouncements. It also implies that we should be regarding the association of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia as only one of several acceptable results of an act of self-determination.
    2. We should aim at maintaining a constructive dialogue with the Indonesians about the problem that Portuguese Timor represents, in order to try to divert them from too forward a policy and to ensure that developments there do not become an obstacle to good relations between Australia and Indonesia.
    3. You agree that in this dialogue we should try to bring the Indonesians to recognise that, if the Timorese are clearly intent on independence, it should be possible to live with that, and that many of their fears about an independent Timor appear groundless or exaggerated.
    4. You agree that we should take suitable opportunities to explain to Tim01:ese leaders that Australia would respect the wishes of the people of the territory whether in a genuine act of self-determination they decided in favour of independence, a continued association with Portugal, or an association with Indonesia.
    5. You agree that we should also do what we can to try to influence Timorese leaders like Ramos Horta away from courses of action and associations which risk playing into Indonesian hands-and indeed alienating those in Australia who otherwise might sympathise with them.
    6. You agree that, for the present, we not re-open the Consulate in Dili but meet our requirements for information through regular visits from our Embassy in Jakarta and from Australia.
    7. You endorse the view that if we are to become involved in an aid program in Portuguese Timor, our preferred means of providing aid should be through a trilateral arrangement involving Portugal and Indonesia as well.
    8. You agree that we should therefore respond positively to a Portuguese-Indonesian approach for a trilateral economic and technical assistance program in Portuguese Timor, the details of which would, of course, need to be considered in consultation between the three governments.
    9. You agree that, if no such approach is received in the next two or three months, we ourselves should consider taking the initiative first in Jakarta and then, depending on Indonesian reactions, in Lisbon.
    It is recognised that recommendation (e) would need to be handled with some sensitivity. It may be that the point would be better made by officials during visits to Dili. The recommendations relating to aid are subject to the views of OADAA, which we have yet to obtain. With these provisos, the guidelines are recommended for your consideration.6


First Assistant Secretary

South-East Asia and PNG Division

[NAA: A10463, 801113/1111, iv)