Cablegram to Canberra, Jakarta, Washington and New York

Lisbon, 23 May 1977


Portuguese Policy on Timor

For Parkinson from Cooper; Jakarta for Woolcott; Washington for Renouf; New York UN for Harry

Some time ago I reported (O.LB12951 ) that the Portuguese MFA accepted the need for a fundamental reappraisal of their Timor policy and to this end they proposed to develop some policy guidelines which, if the Government accepted them, would provide a framework within which some residual practical problems left over in Timor could be tackled.

  1. Prompted by para 9 of Woolcott's O.JA12920,2 I have made a further check with the MFA and, as expected, it seems that Portuguese thinking has not progressed very far. Still less has any thought been given as to how the Timor issue might be handled at the next General Assembly. Unlike Australia, Portugal does not regard itself as being under any pressure to resolve the Timor question. Nor do the Portuguese share our need for the restoration of good relations with Jakarta. Having taken the Indonesians to the United Nations, Portugal cannot afford (as Woolcott correctly points out) to pursue a Timor policy which is less critical of Indonesia than some of the African States which are still important to it. Thus, as I see it, Portugal will not take the lead, either in the UN context or elsewhere, in recognizing or condoning Indonesian action in Timor, but would respect any UN 'consensus' to that effect. There is therefore no point in our seeking to persuade the Portuguese to recognise integration unless and until we are prepared to grasp this nettle ourselves. Portugal will only take this step when other countries and especially those with interests in the region have already acted. So long as Indonesia stands formally condemned by the UN for its use of force in Timor the Portuguese will not themselves seek to change that position. On the other hand I agree with Woolcott that the Portuguese would prefer to see the issue die away and will not therefore play a leading role in the UN one way or the other.
  2. Turning now to Woolcott's O.JA13084 para 41,3 it will be clear from what I have already said that I am not very sanguine about the fifth of Jakarta's policy recommendations, namely that we should actively seek to enlist the help of the Portuguese in trying to settle the Timor question in the UN. None of the imperatives that apply to us apply to the Portuguese and they would be the first to recognise this. We want to dispose of the Timor issue but the Portuguese don't really care one way or the other. In so far as they do care, Timor for the Portuguese represents a national humiliation and there is still considerable bitterness in official circles towards the perpetrators of their humiliation.
  3. I note that Jakarta quotes evidence ... that Portugal 'is ready to recognise incorporation'. I very much doubt the truth of that statement. All the evidence at our disposal suggests that while Portugal sees no point in being isolated on the issue, it is not repeat not seeking 'evidence of general support for such a course'. Portugal will take its eventual decision in the light of what others decide to do and not vice versa.
  4. I must also state that Portuguese sympathy for our policy objectives would have been easier to generate had we ourselves shown a little more awareness of Portugal's economic and social problems. Last year we virtually closed down the Embassy's migration establishment when the need for it (at least in Portuguese eyes) had never been greater. We did this without any prior consultation with the Portuguese (or even with this Embassy for that matter) and then we added insult to injury by transferring our migration officer to Madrid despite Portuguese representations to the contrary which we even failed to acknowledge. Throughout this period Canada (a comparable country in Portuguese eyes) maintained (and still does) a Canada based migration staff of four headed by a Counsellor. I am sure also that the Portuguese will be aware of our failure to respond to the U.S. feelers about the consortium loan in which Canada is an active participant. I report these things because I am sometimes surprised at the amount of goodwill we somehow manage to retain with the Portuguese (as indicated by their recent decision to support us for election to the Human Rights Commission) despite our seeming indifference to their problems.
  5. If I might be permitted to offer a comment on Jakarta's policy recommendations, taken together they constitute a pragmatic and realistic 'package'. However the question remains as to whether the package (in so far as it involves recognition of Timor's integration with Indonesia) is saleable to Australian public opinion. There will be many people in Australia, who are not necessarily anti-Indonesian, who will nevertheless be troubled if the Government were at this time to grasp the nettle of recognition. One of the common threads running through the foreign policies of the Fraser and Carter Administrations is the belief that our policies should not merely promote our national interests, but that they should also be based on certain moral principles such as respect for human rights and the settlement of disputes by negotiation rather than force. If the Government now decides to recognise what it has previously condemned the question many people will ask is not whether we can live with it but whether we can live with ourselves.
  6. Whilst I do not regard the contents of this telegram as particularly sensitive, I have decided to give it the same classification and distribution as Woolcott's reftel in order to minimise the risk of leaks.

[NAA: Al0005, TS202/1/l, ANNEX 3]