220 Cablegram to Jakarta

Canberra, 10 September 1975

O.CH265548 SECRET IMMEDIATE

Portuguese Timor

Jakarta for Woolcott; Lisbon for Cooper; New York UN for the Minister; Kuala Lumpur for Parsons

It seems to us that Santos's forthcoming discussions in Jakarta could be crucial.1 If they break down without agreement between the Indonesians and the Portuguese the likely prospect i[s] of Portugal's either granting very rapid independence to Fretilin, or dumping the problem in the lap of the United Nations. Either would leave the Indonesians without international recognition (whether from Portugal, regional countries or the U.N.) of their special interest in Portuguese Timor. The likelihood of unilateral Indonesian military intervention would increase.2 In terms of our own interest and of disturbance to the region a prolonged Indonesian effort to absorb Portuguese Timor could possibly be the worst outcome. It would inevitably attract unfavourable attention internationally and particularly within Australia.

  1. Santos, however, now appears to be ready to talk constructively in terms of a new conference in Macao involving all three Timorese parties, with Indonesia in the wings in Hong Kong. We hope that this is the path that events will take and that an agreement on these lines will be possible.
  2. In the hope that it will be, we wonder whether the suggestion that some degree of regional endorsement might be sought of any new framework for decolonisation worked out in Macao would not help to advance matters in this direction, and be helpful to the Portuguese and Indonesians, and also to ourselves.
  3. We assume that such a new framework might provide for fresh endorsement of a process of 'orderly decolonisation' under Portuguese sovereignty, having the acceptance of the three Timorese parties, entailing recognition of the need for the right of the people of Portuguese Timor to decide their own political future to be respected, and presumably leading to some future act of consultation with them on this point. (There have been Portuguese suggestions of some future act of consultation giving a choice between independence or integration with Indonesia.)
  4. Our suggestion is that, if the Macao talks reached some such conclusion, (acceptable to Indonesia), there could be virtue in endorsement of it by a number of regional countries. This need not require a conference, but could be arranged through diplomatic channels, in the form of some sort of statement of declaration which would:
    1. endorse the concept of orderly decolonisation etc. as might be agreed at Macao,
    2. note the special interest of Indonesia in the future of the territory,
    3. stress the importance of a stable solution which would not disturb regional security.
  5. We would not repeat not have in mind that the countries participating in such declaration would assume continuing responsibilities, e.g. for supervising any act of consultation that might be arranged. We should, of course, have to be careful about how far we were committed in this respect by the terms of any declaration.
  6. As to who the participating regional countries might be, the obvious minimum candidates are Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, but we would also wish to see others such as Singapore, and possibly the Philippines and New Zealand joining in. The ASEAN group as a whole might be considered, but we see some difficulties in this, both in terms of possible offence to the Indo-China States and also of possible difficulties and disadvantages in Thai endorsement. Whether Portugal might also join, if considered a 'regional country' for this purpose, is an open question.
  7. For Australia, this suggestion would mean an assumption of some degree of shared responsibility in Portuguese Timor, which we have so far avoided except in respect of humanitarian assistance. We would, however, be prepared to accept this if it would help achieve an agreed solution for the territory (and our responsibility would in any case be a limited one not extending beyond endorsement of the new Macao program and the recognition of Indonesia's official interest).
  8. For Indonesia, the suggestion might possibly be felt to offer some hindrances to or place some limits on her freedom of action or future options, but we do not think this necessarily so.
  9. Broadly speaking it seems to us that the main thing now for all concerned is to keep the Portuguese in the picture for some further period, on the basis of their continued responsibility for decolonisation, while at the same time achieving some regional or international recognition of Indonesia's interest. The advantages of our suggested approach would be that by offering both Portugal and Indonesia the prospect of some international cover, it might assist the prospect of Portuguese-Indonesian agreement, thereby avoiding the bad consequences of a breakdown as outlined in the first paragraph above, and that it would help create some basis of international recognition of Indonesian interest (as well as of the rights of the Timorese).
  10. Unless you see particular objections to this line of thought, we should like you to discuss it immediately with the Indonesians, since it will be relevant to (and we hope helpful in) their discussions with Santos.

[NAA: Al0463, 801/13/11/1, xiii]