Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 10 July 1975


Indonesian Policy on Portuguese Timor

Please pass to Woolcott 1

In an extremely frank account Harry Tjan, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, has given us the following. As you will be aware, most of it is not new but it brings together points which he and others have been making in recent months.

  1. The Indonesian Government has decided that Portuguese Timor will be incorporated into Indonesia. This was the final policy decision. The ultimate objective having been set, the only matters that remained were procedural, that is, when and how this objective would be achieved.
  2. All events had to be seen in the context of Indonesia’s overriding objective of incorporating Portuguese Timor. This was how the Indonesian Government interpreted every development in relation to Portuguese Timor. Indonesian initiatives concerning Portuguese Timor also had to be seen in this light.
  3. The blueprint of Indonesia’s plan for Portuguese Timor’s incorporation had been worked out. At one end of the spectrum of alternative approaches was Portuguese Timor’s voluntary decision to join Indonesia. At the other extreme was armed intervention in Portuguese Timor by Indonesia-the use of force without provocation.
  4. If these options were marked on a scale, no. 1 would be Portuguese Timor’s voluntary decision to join Indonesia. No. 6 would be Indonesian intervention without pretext. It was Indonesian policy to start through gentle diplomacy with the alternatives that were more internationally acceptable. Indonesia would actively seek to stay as close as possible to position no. 1. At the same time external circumstances and events over which it had little or no control would influence the position at the other end of the scale.
  5. The approved plan was to work simultaneously at both ends of the scale. Indonesia realised that the first alternative-the most desirable one-was not feasible. The very last alternative could also now be ruled out inter alia because of Fretilin’s provocative stance, its anti-democratic attitudes and its physical attacks on Apodeti supporters. These matters alone could provide a justification for Indonesian intervention.
  6. Indonesian efforts at keeping as close as possible to the first position would include for example, seeking to influence the inhabitants of Portuguese Timor and discrediting the groups in Portuguese Timor opposing incorporation with Indonesia. There was a major pro-Apodeti campaign by Indonesia. The basic objective was to portray Apodeti as the only democratic party in Portuguese Timor and the other parties as obstructionist, repressive and anti-democratic. Apodeti alone of the parties had called for a referendum. This was the fair, democratic way. The referendum had been refused. It was fortunate for Apodeti and Indonesia that there would be no referendum. UDT would have won. Apodeti would have done poorly. But Indonesia would continue to claim that Apodeti would have won. Apodeti had freely participated at the Macao meeting on constitutional law. Apodeti had been helpful and constructive. On the other hand, Fretilin had boycotted the meeting. It had been undemocratic and obstructionist.
  7. Should the democratic Apodeti be persecuted by Fretilin/UDT/Portuguese administration and call to its ‘brothers across the border’ to come to its aid, Indonesia would have no alternative but to respond.
  8. At the other end of the scale of alternative approaches the ‘external’ factors would have a very significant effect. These factors include the following: 1. If Soviet/Chinese/any other influences in Portuguese Timor posed a threat to Indonesian security, it would be incumbent upon the Indonesian Government to intervene in Portuguese Timor. 2. Portugal was left-leaning and influenced by the Soviet Union. Indonesia had a legitimate fear that the Soviet Union would take advantage of Portugal’s continuing presence in Portuguese Timor. For this among other reasons there was a ‘move in the direction of a policy shift’ by Indonesia concerning the desirability of Portugal’s presence in Portuguese Timor. 3. The Chinese business community in Portuguese Timor was a potential ally of Peking which could use them for its own ends, including infiltration into Indonesia.
  9. In this exercise Indonesia had to take into account Indonesia’s international standing. The latter was important to Indonesia. But a nation’s security was of overriding importance and if it were decided that developments in Portuguese Timor posed a threat to Indonesia, there would be no alternative but to take the necessary measures.
  10. Indonesia had undertaken a study of likely international reaction to Indonesian intervention in Portuguese Timor. (This was on the basis of a situation in which Indonesia had a ‘legitimate reason’ to intervene.) It had been concluded that the other ASEAN countries would not protest. There would be no significant reaction from the United States or the Soviet Union. Relations with Portugal were not important to Indonesia. Any reference of the matter to the United Nations would be handled by Indonesia satisfactorily. The Black African countries would react but this would not be serious for Indonesia. Only two countries would protest vigorously—China and Australia. In China’s case, the protest would be routine and stereotyped (‘an obligatory reaction’). As for Australia, certain groups and the press would create a commotion. The Australian Government would feel compelled to protest. This would be regretted by Indonesia. But it would all die down in due course.
  11. The timing of Portuguese Timor’s incorporation into Indonesia would be decided by a combination of factors. Present indications were that it would not happen until sometime in 1976.

[NAA: A10463. 801/13/11/1. x]

  • 1 Woolcott was in Canberra for a meeting. from 7 to 9 July. of Heads of Mission in South-East Asian countries.