Submission to Whitlam

Canberra, [30 May] 1973


Indonesia and Portuguese Timor

In view of recent press and parliamentary comment, you may be interested in the following notes on the Indonesian attitude to Portuguese Timor-particularly in view of the (erroneous) assertion in The Australian of 21 May that the Indonesian Embassy had asked the government to clarify its position in Portuguese Timor.

  1. Two of the prime policy objectives of the present Indonesian government are to secure international recognition for its own borders and to project an image of a country which does not threaten its neighbours but which on the contrary cooperates peacefully with them. Both these considerations impel Indonesia not to question its common border with Portuguese Timor and not to give the impression that it has designs on that Territory (which in any case is no prize to excite covetousness).
  2. Far from fostering a 'Liberation' movement or displaying hostility towards the Portuguese authorities in Timor, Indonesia cooperates with the Portuguese. Occasional border incidents, arising out of cross border cattle rustling or tribal disputes, are settled amicably and without publicity.
  3. Last year, on April Fools' Day, the Jakarta daily newspaper Sinar Harapan published a hoax story stating that rebels had proclaimed the independence of Portuguese Timor. Mr Malik was asked by the press about this report. He replied that, if there were a nationalist movement in Portuguese Timor, Indonesia would support it. He was obviously speaking in a purely hypothetical context. Mr Malik often speaks to the press off the cuff and without forethought; quite often his statements are subsequently denied. In this case we interpret his remarks as meaning that Indonesia--or at least its Foreign Minister-feels compelled to take an anti-colonial stance if circumstances force it into having to take an attitude. But Indonesia would much prefer such questions not to arise in relation to Portuguese Timor.
  4. We would expect the Indonesian Government to be embarrassed and irritated if the present attempt to embarrass the Australian Government over the question leads to Indonesia in tum being asked to take a public position.
  5. Unlike the situation pertaining in Portugal's colonies in Africa, there is at present no serious nationalist movement in Portuguese Timor. If one were to develop there, Indonesia would be principally concerned with the potential effect on Indonesia's own security. Clearly the prospect of prolonged instability or of a weak government open to Chinese or other influences hostile to Indonesia would be unwelcome to Jakarta. The people of Portuguese Timor would probably be marginally better off under Indonesian rule than under any other conceivable dispensation (the Indonesian half of the island is better run than the Portuguese colony and its prospects as a separate entity would be poor). However, Indonesia would be very reluctant to take over, lest this led to fears of Indonesian expansionism being revived in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
  6. In other words, the status quo in Portuguese Timor suits Indonesian interests.1


First Assistant Secretary

South Asia Division

[NAA: A1838, 3006/4/3, iv]