3. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Situation in Indonesia


  • Ambassador J. H. van Roijen, Embassy of the Netherlands
  • Mr. D. Ketel, First Secretary, Embassy of the Netherlands
  • Mr. Walter S. Robertson, Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. James L. O’Sullivan, Deputy Director, Office of Southwest Pacific Affairs

After an exchange of amenities, Ambassador Van Roijen noted that the situation in Indonesia looks bad. He said that 10,000 Dutch nationals left Indonesia in December. In response to a question, Mr. Ketel said that there were approximately 46,000 Dutch nationals in Indonesia as of November, of whom approximately 20,000 are believed to be Dutch ethnically as well as from the point of view of citizenship.

In response to a question, Ambassador van Roijen said that he believed Sukarno suffered a severe nervous shock as a result of the attempted assassination in late November and needs a real rest. An additional consideration in the present Presidential trip1 is that he [Page 7] planned to visit Latin America about this time and had been prevailed upon by the political parties to postpone that official trip. His present journey now becomes a matter of pleasure as well as a face saving device. The Ambassador thought that during his absence the chances would be better for obtaining a favorable change in the Government. In reply to a further question, when asked by Mr. Robertson whether there was any strong man in Indonesia to replace Sukarno, the Ambassador said that he has confidence in Hatta, who has the backbone to resist what he believes should not be done but who does not have the drive necessary for an active counter-policy. The Ambassador continued that Sukarno wants Hatta to return to the Government as Vice President, a position which Hatta refuses to accept because it does not meet the conditions, such as abolition of the National Council, which Hatta has laid down for re-establishing his collaboration with Sukarno. Mr. Robertson noted that Hatta, in his recent attack upon the Government, criticized only the Government’s methods and timing of taking over the Dutch interests and did not oppose the principle involved.

The Ambassador said that the clock could not be turned back in Indonesia and that even if a moderate government came in, it could not be expected to reverse the present anti-Dutch trend. He said that the Dutch are convinced the game is up for them and eventually for the West in Indonesia. The anti-Dutch campaign may have been triggered off by New Guinea but, he said, “Even if we gave them New Guinea on a silver platter, another excuse would have been found.”

When asked if he had any hope for Indonesia Ambassador van Roijen stated that it depends upon the moderates. Mr. Robertson said that the Army is now begging us for arms but that we have not responded due to the threats to take New Guinea by force, the unlawful seizure of private property and the uncertainties as to the future orientation of the Government. He also mentioned that large elements of the Army are opposed to the current drift towards the Communists and do not want the Army to become dependent upon the Soviet bloc equipment.

Ambassador van Roijen was emphatic that under present circumstances to give arms to Indonesia would be most unfortunate, for if Sukarno gets arms, it will give the impression that his activities have a seal of approval from the U.S.

Mr. Robertson replied that we had never considered giving arms to Sukarno but asked the question of the Dutch attitude if there were a coup in Indonesia and Sukarno departed.

Ambassador van Roijen replied that any arms sent to Indonesia would be to the credit of Sukarno. He believed Army Chief of Staff Nasution is an opportunist although if there were a coup or an attempted coup by the Communists he might turn against them. He believed [Page 8] that the PKI has penetrated the Army in about the same percentage, both of officers and men, as the PKI has penetrated the population. He noted that Deputy Army Chief of State [Staff?] Gatot Subroto, while pro-western, is a Japanese and therefore has a disadvantage in the eyes of the military leaders in the outer-islands. After noting that Hatta seems disinclined to take any long risks, Mr. Robertson asked if the Ambassador believed Indonesia is lost to the free world. The Ambassador replied that Java will go Communist if it continues along the same lines as it is now proceeding. In reply to a further question from Mr. Robertson the Ambassador said that force might have to be used to protect the outer-islands should the Communists take over Java. He believes if Java were to go Communist a free Indonesia would be established in the outer-islands. The Ambassador suggested that Colonel Simbolon was the strongest of the dissidents but that he had no troops.

As there seemed to be some confusion in Ambassador van Roijen’s mind, Mr. Robertson made clear that in asking these various questions he was simply trying to ascertain the Dutch views. He said that no one in Washington is arguing for support of Sukarno and that there is no possibility of this Government supporting him although there is a strong feeling in Washington that we should support a moderate element in Indonesia.

In reply to a further question the Ambassador said he knew of no figure who might replace Sukarno. He speculated that Hatta might become Prime Minister but he doubted that Hatta would take any action against Sukarno. Mr. Ketel added that if there were a PKI coup on Java, Sjafruddin might become the center of moderate opposition. The Ambassador then noted that the Sultan of Djogakarta was a very hard headed, ambitious man but his authority was limited to Java. He recalled that the Sultan in the October 1952 episode2 was in a position to attempt a coup but got “cold feet” at the last moment. Mr. Ketel added that Natsir,3 Roem4 and Wilopo5 represented strong moderate figures. The Ambassador had no explanation as to why the PKI had done so well in the elections in Djogakarta.

[Page 9]

Mr. Robertson reiterated that we believe there are many moderates in Indonesia opposed to Sukarno and he pointed out that a group might arise in Indonesia to which support might have to be given quickly. The Ambassador reiterated his belief that anything done now will only help Sukarno. Djuanda, he said, is a moderate and non-Communist who is dragged along by Sukarno. The President has had his ups and downs with the people but he still has the ability to sway the masses. Mr. Robertson noted that President Sukarno while in the United States said he had seen little here that was comparable to the problems he faces in Indonesia but that in China he had clearly been affected by Mao Tse-tung’s ability to run the masses who suffered the same illiteracy and poverty that Sukarno has seen in Indonesia.

Ambassador van Roijen then said that several governments have offered to mediate between the Dutch and Indonesians and have been given a categoric “No” by The Hague. He said that on New Guinea the Dutch are not going to negotiate although they remain willing to submit the matter to the International Court of Justice. Mr. Robertson said this made a perfect impasse because the Indonesians wanted to discuss New Guinea.

The Ambassador said that Subandrio, the Foreign Minister, is still thinking in terms of Dutch refugees from Indonesia putting pressure on the Dutch Government to negotiate. He said that their information indicated also that Subandrio believes the West will not allow the situation to drag on and that eventually the West will take a move to straighten out the situation as it did with Nasser. The Ambassador emphasized that Subandrio is miscalculating completely and said that the view of his Government is, if Java falls to the Communists, the outer-islands would rally and form a free Indonesia with new leader emerging.

The Ambassador left for informational purposes only an exchange of notes between the Dutch and the Indonesians on recent Indonesian actions (see attachments).6 He said under normal circumstances the Dutch would have refused to accept the Indonesian note. However, because the Dutch do not wish to give the Indonesians any excuses to break diplomatic relations they have not done this.

Just before the Ambassador left there was some discussion of the Indonesian law which purported to draft foreigners for the use of the State. The Ambassador apparently was not aware of the most recent law, news of which came in a few days ago. He said, However, that to his knowledge which might not be complete no Dutch nationals had been drafted under the previous law of six months ago.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 756D.00/1–258. Confidential. Drafted by O’Sullivan.
  2. President Sukarno was scheduled to embark on January 6 on a 6-week tour of Asia and the Middle East.
  3. Reference is to an incident that occurred on October 17, 1952, during which elements within the Indonesian Army sought unsuccessfully to have President Sukarno make certain changes in the Indonesian Government, including the dissolution of Parliament. For related documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XII, Part 2, pp.245 ff.
  4. Mohammed Natsir, Indonesian Prime Minister September 1950–March 1951 and a leader of the Masjumi Party.
  5. Mohammed Roem, Indonesian First Deputy Prime Minister March 1956—March 1957 and a leader of the Masjumi Party.
  6. Wilopo was Indonesian Prime Minister April 1952–June 1953 and a leader of the PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia).
  7. These notes, December 10 and 27, are not printed.