440 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 8 April 1976


Minister's Visit to Indonesia

Ref O.JA39811

With the Minister's visit only afew days away2 the following updated assessment of the present state of Australian/Indonesian relations and some comments on the visit itself may be helpful.

  1. We believe the Minister's forthcoming visit could be more difficult than his last. In January the Indonesians were primarily interested in a first-hand account of the new Australian Government's policy towards Indonesia and Timor.3 They were reassured by the Minister's reiteration of the importance the Government places on relations with Indonesia-but they were concerned about the direction of Australia's policy on Timor as outlined by the Minister. The Minister's visit will also closely follow successful visits by the ROK and Mongolian Foreign Ministers and a very successful visit by Mr Talboys during which Timor was not highlighted.
  2. Since about last October a detectable coolness towards Australia has progressively developed as well as a general loss of momentum in our relations which, for reasons of Javanese courtesy and hopes for an early change, was not manifested during the Minister's brief visit in January. But since January Indonesian concern about our Timor policy has grown.
  3. There are a number of ingredients in the present relative coolness all of which we have reported. To summarise, the main ones are:
    1. Indonesia's disappointed expectations following the Prime Minister's November message4 to the President and the change of Government,
    2. the belief, firmly if wrongly held, that Australia—a friend and neighbour—more than other countries of importance to Indonesia is stimulating internationally difficulties for Indonesia on a matter which it sees as vital to its national interest but as being no more than an issue of importance to Australia,
    3. the lack of prior official level soundings about the proposed post ASEAN Summit visit by the Prime Minister to Indonesia, the host country, in advance of its discussion with other government leaders,
    4. the repeated Australian public stress on the need for withdrawal of Indonesian forces from East Timor,
    5. our earlier idea (impractical in their eyes) of a United Nations peace-keeping force.5 Coupled with what the Indonesians believe was an attempt by us at 'collusion' with Singapore on this matter,
    6. the ready access to Australia accorded FRETILIN spokesmen and their use of Australia as a platform for anti-Indonesian propaganda,
    7. the Minister's 4 March statement6 during the Address in Reply debate which was regarded here as 'abrupt', as overlooking the changes in the situation in Timor since December, and as more critical than our Security Council statemen7 in December, and most recently, our reopening of the Balibo affair.
  4. We believe Indonesia assumes that we give a higher priority to our relations with Indonesia in our overall policies than to the Timor problem. There are signs that some senior Indonesians now wonder how we equate our desire for good relations with what they see as our 'antiĀ­-Indonesian' Timor policy. They may seek to make this point, perhaps indirectly in Javanese fashion, to the Minister.
  5. While Indonesia did not expect Australia to fail to condemn breaches of accepted norms of international conduct, it had assumed that we did not want to see an unstable, independent East Timor. It had therefore hoped we would show more understanding of Indonesia's concerns, especially on a national security issue, and it was disappointed that we became one of its most prominent and persistent critics.
  6. I would expect the Indonesians to press the Minister harder on Timor than they did in January. (Alternatively, however, they may decide not to do so, to accept the present differences and to leave our policies to drift along present lines until the situation in East Timor has moved further in their favour and until the Prime Minister's visit.) Underlying their attitude, if they do press the Minister harder, would be the belief that the Minister would not want to threaten a more serious deterioration in the Australian/Indonesian relations by exposing the nature of Indonesia's involvement in East Timor or by adopting a more critical position than at present.
  7. The Indonesians may emphasise the difficulties of conducting an act of self-determination in a very backward and underdeveloped society like Timor and may explore the Minister's thinking on a 'genuine' act of self-determination. They will probably in formal discussions maintain the fiction that the Indonesian forces in East Timor are all 'volunteers'. They will also stress that they have been invited there by the PGET. The Indonesians may argue that if the 'volunteers' were withdrawn, law and order in East Timor would break down again.
  8. The Minister's comments on these and other Timor matters will be noted carefully. Despite the franker strictures of some influential figures like Yoga (our JA58498 refers), the Indonesians are now seeking as much international recognition for integration as possible although they will not be deterred if they don't get it. Aside from debate in the United Nations, Indonesia sees Australia as one of the very few countries still publicly criticising Indonesia on Timor. Indications the Minister gives as to what Indonesian course of action might be acceptable to the Australian Government would be welcomed.
  9. But there are no signs that the Indonesians would be prepared to consider any more than token withdrawals of troops or a form of self-determination that would leave any doubt about its result. Thus I would not expect the Minister to find much flexibility beyond tokenism in Indonesian policy on these matters.
  10. Genuine frankness is unlikely on the Indonesian side in the discussions on Timor. If only because they see us at present as acting against their interests and see no advantage and some possible dangers in taking us fully into their confidence. I suspect that neither the President nor Ministers will go much beyond the official line on 'volunteers' and their support for an act of self-determination. While the Singaporeans for example—especially Lee and Goh—may not be as frank as Australian Ministers, they do come relatively directly to the point. They are much closer to us in the spectrum of frankness than the Indonesians (or the Malaysians), but it is not as easy, at the best of times, for Ministers to have genuinely 'frank' discussions here as it is in Singapore. The gap between Australian openness and frankness and Javanese courtcraft and courtesy is, except on the surface, wide. This difficulty is exacerbated in times of policy disagreements on an important issue.
  11. As to the general approach to the visit we would recommend that, while Timor will clearly be a major topic, the Minister's discussions should place more emphasis on other aspects of our relations with Indonesia. In terms of the atmosphere of the various talks the Minister will have, it would be preferable for him to allow the Indonesians to raise the Timor issue as Mr Talboys did.
  12. Developments in ASEAN and Australia's relations with ASEAN are obvious topics for discussion. It may be useful to explore Indonesian thinking on how economic cooperation among ASEAN countries might develop and on the role third countries might play. To date the agreed joint ASEAN projects we are seeking to assist have not been very successful. There may be an advantage in another meeting with the five ASEAN national Secretary-Generals and the Secretary-General (Designate) to review existing proposals and discuss new possibilities. (The last such meeting was held in Canberra in 1974.)
  13. The Minister may be asked about Australia's attitude to ZOPFAN.9 We believe his views on the role of the great powers in the region would be welcomed. Our assessment of current developments in China and Thailand, especially China, would be of special interest.
  14. Despite the present relative coolness in our relations there remains a reservoir of goodwill towards Australia which can be activated. There are several areas in which the Minister may be able to demonstrate that, despite Timor, Australia still genuinely seeks close relations with Indonesia and acknowledges Indonesia's major position in ASEAN and in South East Asian affairs. These could be especially important if the Minister wishes to repeat things on Timor which are unpalatable to the Indonesians.
  15. It would be helpful, for instance, if the Minister could give some indication, even if only in private, about the size of our next three year aid programme and the second Defence Cooperation Programme. It would also be helpful if the cultural centre project and a cultural exchange programme1) could be reactivated. Following Harry's discussions with Indonesian Justice Minister Mochtar in New York a commitment in principle to an extradition treat[y] with Indonesia may be possible. Our annual review (memorandum No 477 sent by safehand bag on 31 March) includes proposals for several other initiatives which might also be considered.
  16. Finally we would suggest that the Government has this year repeatedly made its principled stand clear on both the use of force by Indonesia and on the need for an act of self-determination. While this has had no real effect on Indonesian policy (although it has on the public presentation of that policy), it is placing at risk the fragile structure of the Australian/Indonesian relationship which has been consolidated by patient diplomacy and a variety of carefully planned initiatives throughout the last decade.
  17. It is a matter of judgement and timing for Government decision but our feeling in Jakarta is that we have made our point. We cannot ourselves alter the course of events, unless we abandon the policy of good relations with Indonesia (and accept all that that would imply in regard to ASEAN, relations with the United States, etc) and intervene in Timor ourselves, and that it would now be timely to start to shift the focus of our relations away from Timor and begin to arrest the drift which has taken place in our relations over the last six months. Sooner or later the Government will have to come to grips with the inevitability of Timor's incorporation into Indonesia.
  18. We are cabling this because the way the Minister's programme is shaping up there will be little chance to talk to him before he sees Malik on Tuesday evening and the President on Wednesday morning.


[NAA: Al838, 696/2/2/1, xii]