270 Cablegram to Lisbon

Canberra, 17 October 1975, 8.51 p.m.


Timor—Access to Darwin by Portuguese Ships

Ref O.LB3981

The Portuguese Embassy has formally sought diplomatic clearance for a call at Darwin by the Joao Roby on 18 November. They have confirmed this date with Lisbon and say they now have the information we require to consider the request at a technical level. Although the later arrival takes some of the urgency out of the issue their wish to use Darwin as a regular re-supply base places us in a difficult position.

We take the point in para. 7 of your LB403 as we had earlier taken the points in your LB366.2 But the Portuguese really expect too much of us; in return they show little awareness of the sensitivity of our relations with Indonesia. When the Portuguese Timor crisis is over and done with, the Portuguese will have withdrawn to Europe, whereas Australia will have to continue to live with Indonesia as its largest and closest neighbour. We should be disappointed if the Portuguese could not see this point and accept that, rather than create problems for us in our relations with Indonesia, they should suffer the minor logistical inconvenience of using ports other than Darwin. If their ships cannot go to Indonesian ports, then why not Manila or Macau?

We should like you to speak to Cruz in these terms. You might say that, while we wish to be helpful we do not wish to push our support for them to the point where it might lead to suspicions in Indonesia that we are somehow conniving with 'white' Portugal against Indonesia. You will of course be aware of the racial undertones which have been evident in some of the remarks by Indonesian leaders to Woolcott.3

[NAA: A1838, 49/2/1/1, viii]