247 Minute from Miller to Joseph

Canberra, 1 October 1975


Portuguese Timor

This morning's cables say that the Indonesians will put up to 3,800 soldiers into East Timor, starting this week, and make it clear that the Indonesians, in Jakarta, have chosen to ignore, and frustrate, the stated Portuguese policy of favouring the eventual integration of East Timor into Indonesia.

  1. Our telegram O.CH2731531 notes that 'it is difficult to know where we go from here', and concludes that 'all in all events seem to be moving towards a reference of Portuguese Timor to the United Nations in circumstances unfavourable to Indonesia'.
  2. The foregoing indicates to me that we now have to examine seriously the option canvassed in my note to Mr Rowland of 12 September.2 That was that if we regard the Indonesian fears of the consequences of an independent East Timor as exaggerated, we attempt privately to dissuade them from pursuing the course they appear to have chosen, on the grounds that it holds considerable disadvantages and dangers for Indonesia, for Australian-Indonesian relations, and for regional relations.
  3. Expanding these disadvantages and dangers:
    1. Indonesia's planned actions are almost certain to precipitate the U.N. intervention they have sought to avoid;
    2. They will prompt Fretilin to seek outside support, which is likely to lead to the involvement, at least politically, of the Communist powers, including Viet-Nam, which Indonesia wants to keep out of the issue;
    3. This in turn will revive the polarisation of South-East Asia along ideological lines which it is an important aim of Australian Government policy to prevent;
    4. Australian public opinion has not been greatly exercised by the Timor affair as yet, but it will be if Indonesia becomes involved in a drawn-out campaign of invasion and subversion which has become an international and U.N. issue. Australian-Indonesian relations could be distorted, and set back for some time;
    5. Indonesian use of force in Timor could adversely affect its relations with, and access to aid from the United States, and possibly relations with other ASEAN countries nervous of Viet-Nam's reaction;
    6. The likely lack of quick success for Indonesia's chosen course in East Timor will distract national efforts from other urgent tasks and objectives.
  4. When I raised this before Mr Rowland's reaction was that we should let some more time pass in the hope that talks between the parties would begin and, more importantly, that the realities of the situation would become apparent. I think that it has by now become apparent that:
    1. Fretilin is in effective control of East Timor despite
    2. the presence of up to 50,000 refugees in Indonesian Timor, and that
    3. while Indonesia has decided to frustrate talks between the parties
    4. Indonesia will only be able to dislodge Fretilin by a substantial effort which will not be disavowable (0.JA216P3).
  5. I regret putting this forward in the absence of Mr Feakes. However, if the Indonesian actions are to become public knowledge, as Tjan expects they will, we will have to take a stand on them, and will probably oppose them. If we are to oppose them, should we not do so now and in private, when
    1. we have at least a theoretical chance of influencing Indonesian Government policy, and
    2. by so doing we establish that we did not choose to ignore advance knowledge of Indonesian intentions, and thus condone them.
  6. While we may feel that the chance of our altering Indonesian policy is slight, the advantage of asking them to reconsider their goal rather than the means now foreshadowed is that doing so does not invite them to involve us in a discussion of alternative means.

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/1, xxxiii]