Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 17 September 1975


Portuguese Timor

Ref O.CH2673361

Port Moresby for Acting Minister; UN New York for Ministers and Harry; Lisbon for Cooper; Kuala Lumpur for Parsons

While Mochtar’s concern about some of Australia’s actions over Portuguese Timor is genuine and also reflects some doubts in HANKAM about our recent role, including our initial lukewarm reaction to the proposed Joint Authority, I do not believe we would gain by making ‘low-key’ representations at an ‘appropriate level’ as you suggest.

[matter omitted]

  1. The real point is that Mochtar and I believe most Indonesians, want their regional friends and neighbours not to make, what is for them a difficult enough situation, more difficult through involving themselves in what they regard as an unhelpful way. This is what Mochtar and others believe Australia is doing by being over active and concentrating its interest on Dili and its environs. They are surprised that they find Australia alone-not the United States, not Japan, not New Zealand, not China, not the Soviet Union, not North Vietnam, not Cuba and not even a country like Mozambique-in this position. General Panggabean who is at present acting Foreign Minister as well as Minister for Defence expressed some annoyance to newsmen today, 17 September, about Australian Parliamentarians in Portuguese Timor while Radio Australia is coming in for some criticism for its reporting of Fretilin activities. (It has been referred to by one of our main media contacts as ‘the Voice of Fretilin’.)

[matter omitted]

  1. As for Indonesia it is moving ahead, apparently with some success so far, with the course of action outlined in paragraphs 11-14 of JA1615.2 Its aims are to create confusion in the territory and to undermine Fretilin’s claim to full control there. Nothing new arose at General Yoga’s meeting with the President on 15 September (JA1832). Tjan has told us Indonesian policy would be ‘more of the same thing’. We have no knowledge of any precise time-scale the Indonesians may have in mind. Perhaps they don’t have one yet; they are clearly waiting to see how the situation in the territory develops and what happens next in Lisbon. They would not see time consolidating Fretilin’s position (your paragraph four). On the contrary as effect is given to their policy the Indonesians expect Fretilin’s position to weaken.
  2. A drawn-out and increasingly obvious Indonesian covert action in Portuguese Timor would, I agree, increase pressure on the Australian Government and possibly place strains on Australian/Indonesian relations. We should seek to reduce this pressure. Much of the first-hand reporting in Australia on the situation seems to come from reporters who visit Dili. Indonesia has quite a good case which deserves a fairer presentation in the Australian news media, a course which we urged in our JA1431 and JA1499last month.3 Despite the patent lack of authority of Portugal, the breakdown of law and order in the territory, and the influx of large numbers of refugees, now said to have passed 30,000 including children, into Indonesian Timor and its attendant problems, Indonesia has shown restraint.
  3. Your assumption that I did not raise the possible new initiative outlined in your CH2655484 is correct. Mochtar was preparing to leave for Manila and I considered that, given his attitude towards Australia’s role at that stage (JA18155 ), it would have been counterproductive to do so. We may yet be able to sound Malik out about it when he returns and depending on the way in which the situation develops.
  4. I see no reason in the present situation to change the recommendations about Australian policy in paragraphs 23 and 24 of my JA1615 of 3 September which the Acting Minister has since endorsed. In fact I would go somewhat further now.
  5. We need to accept that the Indonesians see the future of Portuguese Timor as involving questions of major national security interest to them and the stability of the region. The decision has been made that the territory will be incorporated into Indonesia sooner or later. We cannot change that decision. It is also accepted by other countries in the region. The only possible alternative would be a situation in which the covert operation failed. Then the President might tolerate a de facto hostage Fretilin government but only temporarily.
  6. It is now highly unlikely there will ever be a ‘proper act of self-determination’ in East Timor. This is a fact which we don’t like but with which we need to come to grips. The alternatives now are a de facto Fretilin Government under continuing Indonesian pressure and the integration of East Timor into Indonesia. Neither would involve a genuine act of self-determination although both could go through the motions of carrying out such an act.
  7. There has never been a proper act of self-determination in any Portuguese colony so far and there will not be one in Macao. Why should Timor be different? It is neither our fault nor our problem. Can we not now come clean, accept the likely realities of the situation and say so publicly.
  8. The situation is mainly the fault of Portugal’s failure to carry through its decolonisation policy and the immaturity arid resort to force of two small predominantly Eurasian political elites. There is, as I have said before, no reason to assume that, in time, the indigenous East Timorese, as distinct from the Eurasians, will not be better off and as free with their kin in the other half of the island than they would be as a weak, impoverished mini-state in the Indonesian Archipelago. Is it not time we accepted the likelihood that sooner or later, one way or another, East Timor is destined to be part of Indonesia and seek belatedly to explain to the public that this is in the region’s and Australia’s interests?

[matter omitted]


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

  • 1 Document 230.
  • 2 Document 210.
  • 3 See Document 196 and note 2 thereto.
  • 4 Document 220.
  • 5 Document 229.