58 Memorandum to New York, Washington, Moscow and Peking

Canberra, 14 November 1974


Portuguese Timor

The Department is currently considering the policy options it might develop in relation to Portuguese Timor. One consideration is the fear harboured by the Indonesians about possible Chinese and/or Soviet intentions. In its crudest form, the Indonesian concern amounts to a fear that the Chinese might be encouraged to meddle in Portuguese Timor with the idea of developing it as a base from which they could plot against and subvert Indonesia. The leftward drift in Lisbon which they read about in the international press adds to Indonesian apprehensions on this score, although they have also noted that the Portuguese Communist Party leans to the Soviet Union rather than to China.

We have been considering how best to get our own reading on Chinese and Soviet thinking (if any) on the future of Portuguese Timor. One way would be simply to go out and ask them in Peking and Moscow. But we still feel somewhat cautious about this and would prefer, at this stage, a more oblique approach to the Chinese and Russians. In particular, we were wondering whether our delegation in the Fourth Committee might not find an opportunity to canvass the Russians and Chinese for their views on Portuguese Timor, perhaps in the context of a discussion about other smaller non self-governing territories. Pending the results of New York's enquiries, we might then consider whether a more direct approach should be made in Moscow and Peking. Meanwhile, it would be useful if our embassies in these posts could keep their eyes peeled for any reference in the Chinese or Soviet press to developments in Portuguese Timor. Dr Fitzgerald will recall Mr Feakes' letter dated 26th September on this matter.1 Our assumption, incidentally, has been that the Chinese would see larger fish to fry than Portuguese Timor and would not wish to risk their developing relationships with South East Asian countries by taking the uncertain gamble of meddling in Portuguese Timor. Nor have we felt that the Soviets would have any ambitions there, for the same reason that this could damage what must be assessed by Moscow as a more important relationship with Indonesia. In any event, the Soviets would have to calculate that any involvement of theirs in Portuguese Timor would encourage the Chinese in too—to neither's ultimate advantage.


South-East Asia Branch

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