Cablegram to Canberra, Lisbon, New York

Jakarta, 26 May 1977



For Parkinson from Woolcott; Lisbon for Cooper; New York UN for Harry

I would like to make several comments on Lisbon's O.LB1474. 1Generally I think Cooper makes some good points in paragraphs 1 to 4 of his reference telegram.

  1. Given the situation as he describes it, I am not inclined to press my earlier suggestion (para 3 of reftel) that we try to enlist the help of the Portuguese in trying to settle the Timor question in the United Nations. We should remain alert for any possibility of cooperation with Portugal and should keep in close touch, but I accept Lisbon's assessment that the Portuguese are not likely to show much interest in such activity.
  2. As far as paragraph [6] of O.LB1474 is concerned, the series of steps which we have suggest[ed] would involve de facto recognition but not de jure recognition. The question of whether or not this would be saleable to public opinion in Australia is one for the Government rather than posts to judge.
  3. It is difficult to assess with confidence from abroad what Australian 'public opinion' is on Timor (or any other issue). But whether or not the Government considers it could sell to the Australian public any change in attitude on Timor, the situation in Timor itself will not be affected in any way.
  4. It is open to the Government to explain fully any action it might take to the public as was done, for example, at the time of our recognition of Bangladesh and at the time of policy changes on Vietnam. (One of our problems in this case-and this of course is partly Indonesia's fault-is that sections of public opinion in Australia have been strongly aroused against Indonesia.)
  5. I agree with the implication in paragraph 6 of O.LB1474 that the pursuit of national interests must be limited by certain internationally accepted principles. However the resolution of the Timor issue is not simply a black and white choice between respect for mora[l] principles as against the use of force. Such an approach over-simplifies the whole complex background which led up to the Indonesian use of force.
  6. While it is for Washington rather than for us to assess United States attitudes, the view of the American Embassy here, as well as the views-of Holbrooke, Congressman Wolff, Congressman Goodling and Congresswoman Mayner following their recent visits to Indonesia and East Timor, as we understand them, suggest that the American Government regards integration now as the only viable outcome of East Timor's decolonisation and acknowledges its de facto integration into Indonesia, whatever reservations they may have about the methods used and the blind eye turned to the situation by the Ford Administration.2
  7. Also in our view the last two sentences of paragraph 6 of Lisbon reftel miss the point. In the first place, we do not see what national interest is se[r]ved by withholding de facto recognition of what major powers and other regional countries have already acknowledged-that East Timor is now part of Indonesia.
  8. What was said in the past about Timor may well have been valid at the time, but it is not necessarily inconsistent to change one's views or to accept the previously unacceptable when circumstances change. We did this over Angola. The essence of an effective foreign policy is continuous reappraisal of that policy in the face of changing circumstances and the finding of the right balance between internationally accepted principles and national interests. One may regret the way things went but it is a general assessment here that nothing short of invasion by a major outside power could now take East Timor away from Indonesia. This would seem out of the question.
  9. While we can appreciate the subjective sentiment behind the final comment in Lisbon reftel we are not dealing simply with the matter of living with ourselves. We are dealing with a question of living in the South East Asian region in which certain developments, which we may not necessarily have liked, have nevertheless occurred and with which other countries in the region have already come to terms.
  10. Also if we are to 'live with ourselves' morally, it would seem to us that we should be concerning ourselves more with the welfare of the people in Timor and seeking to take realistic steps to help them than with reiterating previous criticism of Indonesia. The only practical way of doing anything about that is to provide aid (especially in the fields of health, agriculture and communications) and to encourage the Indonesians to devote resources to Timor.
  11. The only way to provide aid on a worthwhile scale would be to do it as part of our Indonesian Aid Program-anything else will be unacceptable to the Indonesian Government.

[NAA: A10005, TS202/1/l, ANNEX 4]