54 Minute from Arriens to Furlonger

Jakarta, 26 October 1974

SECRET AUSTEO

Portuguese Timor

I had a long talk with Harry Tjan this morning about the hard line that has emerged in Indonesia towards Portuguese Timor. He confirmed that policy had hardened and said that HANKAM now had the running and that the Centre's influence was more limited. He said that Ali Murtopo's responsibilities covered liaison with the Portuguese; briefing foreign journalists and analysis of the situation in both Portugal and Portuguese Timor. The operation in Timor, such as it [is,] is being run by Governor El Tari, who reports direct to the President and not through Ali Murtopo. The key man in HANKAM is Benny Moerdani.

  1. Tjan confirmed that there had been some initial misunderstanding between the Indonesians and the Portuguese. He said that the Indonesians had misinterpreted Portugal's willingness to work together with Indonesia. Indonesia had drawn a great deal of encouragement from the remarks consistently made by Portuguese leaders that a merger of Portuguese Timor with Indonesia was 'logical'.
  2. Tjan said that Indonesia's determination to take over Portuguese Timor had now developed an almost irresistible momentum. He himself felt that there were other options open to Indonesia. We discussed further the satellite option. Tjan himself is responsive to the suggestion but said that it has absolutely no support elsewhere. Even Lim Bian Kie wouldn't discuss it. The only way Tjan feels that we could make our views known at this stage would be for the Prime Minister to write a letter to the President affirming what he said in Yogyakarta, and saying that if prospects for a merger appeared questionable, Australia would be happy to cooperate economically in harness with Indonesia and Portugal, to help achieve the desired end (as the Prime Minister had already offered to Santos in Canberra). Above all, such a letter would need to avoid any hint of disapproval and would need to be constructive in tone.
  3. But even this, Tjan felt, would have little chance of influencing Indonesian policy. The Indonesians regard the Portuguese Government as a very unreliable qua[nt]ity and would regard a merger achieved by internationally acceptable means (for example through trilateral economic cooperation) as a gamble. Tjan said that the issue was too important to Indonesia to take a gamble and that he was sure the President would act decisively. He said that Australia's views 'did not matter'.
  4. I said that I imagined that if Indonesia was seriously contemplating military intervention that there were ways and means of doing this. I speculated that the intention behind Benny Moerdani's three months comment1 was that this would give Indonesia time to mount a campaign of infiltration and subversion that would make a takeover necessary if not altogether presentable. Tjan said that he did not know about such things in detail but that he thought my outline was 'very probable'.
  5. Tjan said that the elections in Portugal would be critical from Indonesia's point of view. Rather ominously he said that Indonesia would not do anything before the elections. Indonesia clearly expects a swing to the left to be the result. Tjan went on to say that, in that case, pre-emptive action by Indonesia should not worry Australia unduly. A real threat of communist penetration, for example by Moscow or Peking, would be sufficient to dampen down public opinion in Australia, particularly if there were a Liberal Government in power by that time. He said that he was already preparing a paper on this last-resort scenario and added that we need not worry that there would be adequate evidence of communist subversion in Portuguese Timor; 'we will look after that'.2

[NAA: A10463, 801/13/11/1, iii]