Letter from Salazar to Menzies

Lisbon, 5 March 1964

I thank Your Excellency for your letter dated the 15th of October, 1963,1 and for the interest you have been taking in the Portuguese overseas policy, very especially in regard to Timor. I have given your letter the closest attention and I take the liberty to place before you the considerations which have been suggested by its contents and some comments prompted by recent developments.

[matter omitted]2

  1. Your Excellency writes that, as regards Timor, the problem consists in knowing whether 'the Portuguese Government could indicate prospects for the future of the Timorese which would be of a character to attract support in the United Nations, thereby creating a positive sentiment in the United Nations that Portuguese Timor should be protected from outside pressures'. For the reasons I have mentioned above, we have to conclude that the only support obtainable from the United Nations will be for a policy dictated by the majority. We know for certain- I presume that Your Excellency does not doubt it either-that the majority demands a policy linking self-determination with immediate independence; this is what has been voted. But, in the case of Portuguese Timor, not even this much could be expected. Your Excellency is aware that Portuguese Timor cannot constitute an independent nation. Your Excellency is aware that the Republic of Indonesia would never consent to the existence of an independent Timor. In this context, what policy can be formulated which, not maintaining the status quo on one hand, would take into account on the other hand the impossibility of the independence of the territory and would avoid the annexation of it by Indonesia? Your Excellency submits that the interests which the United Nations would take in Timor could protect the territory from external pressures. I do not know whether there might not have been something of naivete in this suggestion. As for myself, Mr Prime Minister, I believe the United Nations took a profound interest in Dutch New Guinea: but that did not secure self­-determination for the people of West Irian. I also believe the United Nations took an active interest in and even intervened in the formation of Malaysia: but the latter has subsisted thanks only to the military protection of the United Kingdom and to the support of some other countries like Australia. I do not know that the United Nations, as an organisation, is ready to defend Malaysia against Indonesia, nor am I convinced that any country or the United Nations will fight to defend an independent Timor.
  2. I fully agree with Your Excellency as regards Indonesian statements concerning its respect for Timor. But, if we ought not to believe in the word of governments and if we cannot rely on international law for our security, I do not see how unilateral changes of policy can affect those premises. On the other hand, there is no independence movement in Portuguese Timor nor is there the least desire for union with Indonesia, which would only bring disadvantages to a population whose living standard, though modest, is higher than that of their neighbours on the other side of the island. Besides, as I pointed out in my previous letter, it is not possible, in good faith, to deny the autonomy enjoyed by the inhabitants of Portuguese Timor, their effective participation in the administration of the territory and in the political life of the Nation as a whole, the authentic self-determination which they have been exercising and are living every day. This means: the Portuguese Timorese enjoy in the highest measure the autonomy which can be theirs. Nevertheless, those populations if intensely pressed from outside, can one day declare-they themselves!-that, instead of becoming independent, they desire to join the big neighbouring State. Such annexation will then be regarded by the United Nations as national integration respecting all the principles of the Charter. The organization has done so in similar cases. Why entertain illusions as to what the United Nations would do or could do to defend Timor against external pressures?

[matter omitted]3

8. I understand the embarrassment of the Australian position in the face of powerful countries, particularly in view of the policy of a white Australia. We understand the difficulties which Australia could experience in openly defending Portugal, though we believe that such defence would serve Australian interests. But we are at a loss to understand likewise certain less friendly aspects of Australian policy in respect of Portugal. Thus, we have to regret the campaign in the Australian press against Portuguese policy, especially with reference to Timor, painting living conditions there as deplorable when it is indisputable that they are better than those obtaining in Indonesia; we regret the impossibility which we always find in securing in Australia small services of logistic support; we regret that Australia has not found it possible to open in Lisbon a diplomatic mission, which would only contribute to a better understanding of our common interests. Having these and other points in mind, we believe that, without prejudice to the policy which Australia finds it necessary to adopt in the United Nations, a profitable collaboration could be established in the real interests not only of our two countries but of other countries as well.

Your Excellency will excuse the frankness with which I express myself; but I think I am obliged to be frank by the friendship which marks our relations.

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1, iii]