377 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 15 December 1975

O.JA3698 SECRET AUSTEO PRIORITY

Portuguese Timor

Since my return from brief visit to Singapore I have seen the weekend cables from Jakarta and New York's O.UN4735.1

  1. As foreshadowed in our JA36692 we intend to test the reaction of several key Ministers and officials, including Malik, and possibly indirectly that of the President (although he is in hospital at present), to Australia's vote in the United Nations on Resoiution L1131 and the situation here after that vote.
  2. I hope I am wrong but I believe the Indonesian reaction at all levels will not differ much from Tjan's (our O.JA3669 and JA36733 ) except that it may be outwardly more polite. Tjan's bluntness stems from the close relationship between him and the Embassy developed over several years.
  3. I expect it will be one of surprise and disappointment which is going to take some time to repair.We may also have opened up something of a credibility gap in our dealings with Indonesia which we should act to bridge if we can. Those Indonesians who know of Mr Peacock's private discussions in Bali in September4 and Mr Fraser's message to the President which I delivered personally on 28 November5 will, I believe, find our action inconsistent, even accepting that they would expect Australia to exclude the use of force as a means to a solution 'appropriate' to Indonesia.
  4. It is true that the Indonesians originally thought our attitude in New York was helpful (paragraph 2 of UN4732) and Malik told me so when I saw him on 10 December. It is also true that they are aware we acted to blunt criticism of Indonesia in New York which otherwise could have been stronger. The fact is that however we started off, Australia, in supporting Lll31, placed itself when it came to the vote with the non-regional opposition in the United Nations to Indonesia.
  5. We have done our best to explain our attitude to Indonesians at various levels but on an issue which they see as being of great national and regional importance to them, we cannot reasonably expect to vote against Indonesia and out of company with other countries in the region (even Sri Lanka moved to an abstention in Plenary) and have them accept this without reaction.
  6. We have done our best to explain our attitude to Indonesians at various levels but on an issue which they see as being of great national and regional importance to them, we cannot reasonably expect to vote against Indonesia and out of company with other countries in the region (even Sri Lanka moved to an abstention in Plenary) and have them accept this without reaction.
  7. I telephoned Minister for Information Mashuri and asked him about the significance of this part of the statement (which was issued in his name, not Malik's) and asked him which 'countries' plural the Government had in mind. He said that although the plural was used as far as the region was concerned it was directed at Australia. He added that he was 'sorry to say so' but Indonesia felt 'let down by a friend'. He added that it was not really directed at Sri Lanka which was not closely enough involved in the South East Asian region to understand the issue fully. Anyway, it had changed its vote. Indonesia would have preferred Singapore to have voted against the Resolution but at least it had abstained and the Government statement was not directed at Singapore.
  8. Another reason for Indonesia's disappointment is that it will believe that a number of countries were influenced by Australia's voting intentions. Some countries could in fact exploit the situation and make things more difficult for us by telling the Indonesians privately that they might have voted differently but for Australia. Our active role in the Fourth Committee may also have had the unintended effect of emphasising Australia's central position in the Timor issue in a way which, ultimately, the Indonesians have found unhelpful, despite our previous assertion that we were not a party principal.
  9. One worrying aspect of the present situation is that I suspect that unless we can use the confirmation in office of the 'new' Government as an opportunity for a new look at the situation the reaction to our attitude could well have the effect of excluding Australia from playing an effective and constructive role in the Portuguese Timor issue from now on. This would be unfortunate in terms of the Government's stated wish to contribute to a regional initiative. As I have reported before, we could only do this if we move in company with the region and if any regional initiative put forward has Indonesian support. Moreover, Indonesia could be less likely to give the same weight as previously to our representations on resuming aid and on the ICRC if they decide we are acting against their real interests.
  10. I am also surprised by the continuing, uncritical pro-FRETILIN anti-Indonesian tone of the Australian media in the past week and the apparent failure of the Indonesian Embassy to act to set the record right. One of the surprising features is the continuing tendency to accept as fact FRETILIN radio reports from East Timor. More dangerous however is the short-sighted stimulation of anti-Indonesian feeling in the Australian community, which it is clearly in Australia's longer term interests to prevent.
  11. In this context too I am concerned that Indonesians might think that our vote and our statements in the General Assembly could have the effect of stirring up rather than placating anti-Indonesian sentiment in Australia, including that within the trade unions. This could ultimately lead to reciprocal actions in Indonesia to our own disadvantage.
  12. Subject to further discussions here and a more detailed assessment of the present state of Australian/Indonesian relations which we hope to send in two or three days, I consider that we must accept that our vote in the United Nations has set back our relations with Indonesia. We shall of course be continuing to do our best to explain our position to the Indonesians and to mend the fences.
  13. The Timor issue however and our response to it clearly constitute one of the major foreign policy problems facing the Government elected at the weekend.It will need to re-examine our total relationship with Indonesia and move to minimise further damage which could now easily be done to our longer term relations with Indonesia. Given our decision to participate in the Security Council debate I hope the situation will not be exacerbated by our role in that debate. I would also appreciate some guidance on the response I should give to the Indonesians if I am asked whether the Government now still regards Australia as not being a party principal in the Timor issue.

WOOLCOTT

[NAA: Al0005, TS202/1/1, ANNEX 2]