103 Record of Conversation Between Matias and Tange

Canberra, 5 March 1975

CONFIDENTIAL

Timor

Dr Matias opened on the theme that a nation's foreign policy reflected the sum of various interests, defence an important one among them. He said he was grateful to Sir Arthur for an opportunity to make his acquaintance and to learn something of how Australian defence interests were reflected in foreign policy.

  1. Sir Arthur Tange spoke of the consultative machinery and sharing of information which provided for close co-ordination in Australia between Foreign Affairs and Defence in those areas where the two depended upon one another. Facts of geography and of post-war political development had defined South East Asia as the region pre-eminently of concern common to foreign and defence policies. Estimation of what the situation demanded had differed under different Australian Governments-the previous Government had committed sizeable Australian military forces to the Vietnam War-but focus on South East Asia was a continuing one in Australian strategic thinking.
  2. Dr Matias said his own background was in Europe and America and that he had served also in Africa. He was not familiar with what he described as the oriental region, but felt that, compared to other areas, there was much that was enviable about its stability.
  3. Speaking of Australia's near neighbours in Asia, Sir Arthur Tange said it was true that the general situation looked more stable than one might have foreseen ten years ago. This had come about partly through some determined measures-including on occasion military measures-and partly through the emergence of some highly competent national leaders concerned for their region's security-among other things as regards the potentiality for interference from without.
  4. Avoiding direct reference to Timor, Dr Matias conveyed some scepticism about the possibility of Russian or Chinese interference in the region. In any event, he said, it seemed Russian activity would be aimed at containing China. Sir Arthur Tange said it would comfort him little, as an Australian, to know that China was the reason why Russians had appeared in the vicinity. If they had to squabble let them do it elsewhere.

[matter omitted]

  1. Dr Matias referred to the close attention that Portugal's Minister for Inter-territorial Co-ordination was now paying to Timor. He referred to a press statement that the Minister had issued on the previous day. Dr Matias said it was unfortunate that whilst two of the political parties in Portuguese Timor had accepted Lisbon's invitation to discuss the future of the territory, the third-the party favouring integration with Indonesia-had declined. He indicated difficulty on the Portuguese side in developing a dialogue with the Indonesians-however his Indonesian colleague in Canberra seemed an able man with whom he had had good conversations, even though their viewpoints differed. The opening of an Indonesian Mission in Lisbon should help, even though the Indonesians should have taken this action earlier. Dr Matias went on to speak of Indonesian political history and attitudes (which he found puzzling), oriental indirectness, the West Irian precedent and recent Indonesian propaganda.
  2. Sir Arthur Tange agreed that aspects of the present situation were reminiscent of West Irian, and rather typical of the Indonesian political style. He recalled that in the case of West Irian, a form of self-determination had also been part of the solution sought by Indonesia. He conveyed that from a broad security standpoint, Australia understood Indonesia's apprehensions about Timor. These had to be seen against a background of Indonesian experience in its 25 years' existence in administering a state comprising many islands and comprehending many regional differences.
  3. Dr Matias said he had formed the impression that Indonesia did not intend to take precipitate action in Timor, at least in the short-term: but as against this there were the recent reports by Australian journalists.Whilst doubtless they had exaggerated the situation, journalists usually (Dr Matias felt) had some basis of fact underlying their reports. What did we think?
  4. Sir Arthur Tange indicated that we too had not assessed military action by Indonesia to be likely, at least in the immediate future. President Suharto was an able and cautious man who would not lightly embark on extreme courses. Sir Arthur Tange outlined Australian interests. He said we had a defence interest, as did Indonesia, in not having East Timor under the influence of a hostile external power and would not see that interest threatened were Indonesia to have a considerable influence on the territory; but using force would create a situation (involving also foreign policy aspects into which he would not go) in which Australian public opinion would be adverse, defence co-operation with Indonesia would be prejudiced and the principle of self-determination adhered to by the Government would not have been followed. Sir Arthur Tange said our position had been made well known to the Indonesians.
  5. Sir Arthur Tange said it would, however, be imprudent of him to predict that Indonesia would on no account take military action in Timor. There was some discussion to the effect that the Indonesians would be considering whether their long-term apprehensions were really so serious as to call for pre-emptive action in the shorter term. Sir Arthur Tange indicated that in his view, the Indonesians' attitudes could be influenced favourably if they felt reassured there were no sudden changes about to be made, that Portugal intended to discharge deliberately its responsibilities in Timor, and that there were prospects for eventual self-determination which, if it did not lead to incorporation of the territory into Indonesia, might be accompanied by arrangements-perhaps binding international arrangements-which satisfied Indonesia's security concerns.

[matter omitted]

[NAA: Al838, 3038/10/1, xxiii]