340. Memorandum of Conversation0



New York, September 1963


  • Indonesian Posture Toward Malaysia and Timor


  • U.S.
    • The Secretary of State
    • Robert L. Kinney (Reporter)
  • Foreign
    • Sir Garfield Barwick, Minister of External Affairs, Australia
    • Mr. J. R. Rowland, Assistant Secretary, Department of External Affairs, Australia

The Minister said that he had received a disturbing message indicating that the Indonesians might be up to something on Timor. He said that it would create a difficult situation for Australia if Indonesia took over Portuguese Timor. Australia would not be in a position to defend colonialist Portugal in the world arena, but on the other hand Australian public opinion would be aroused, and “our New Guinea people” would be particularly concerned. He wondered whether there might be some way of “subtly introducing” this into the United Nations prior to any Indonesian move. He hastened to say that he recognizes that the United States can’t do anything about this. He said that Under Secretary [Page 739] Harriman while in Australia had suggested that they talk to Salazar about developing plans for independence for the territory, but independence does not seem to promise a practical answer. The Prime Minister has addressed one letter to Salazar without any result. However, he may send another.

The Secretary asked about the people of Portuguese Timor. Barwick noted that they were the same as those in Indonesian Timor.

The Secretary asked whether there had been any evidence of Indonesian activity in East New Guinea. Barwick replied in the negative but noted Indonesian reluctance to agree to participate in photographing the border; their demand for a Consulate in Port Moresby in return for allowing the Australians to continue an office in Kota Baru; and that Subandrio had raised a complaint about an alleged illicit radio in Australian territory broadcasting to West Irian. On the latter point, Barwick said that his people had been unable to locate such a radio. When so advised, Subandrio had offered to provide tapes of broadcasts but has not to date furnished them.

The Secretary expressed the hope that Australia would immediately and strongly react to any moves by the Indonesians toward East New Guinea.

The Secretary asked what fighter planes are stationed in Malaysian Borneo. Barwick said that there are no Australian aircraft there. The Secretary inquired if Australia’s aircraft carrier were in the region. Barwick said that he believed this to be in Australian waters; he noted that there were two Australian frigates in Malaysian waters, however.

Barwick noted that Lord Home [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] had reassured him that the British would not reduce their troops in Borneo. Barwick pointed out that sending more than a couple of companies to Borneo would involve either calling upon the Australian reserve or transfer from the battalion now stationed at Penang.

The Secretary said that it appeared to him a question of whether, if there were trouble in Borneo, the important place for troops would be Borneo or Sumatra. He noted that it might not be best to play on the wicket chosen by the Indonesians, if action were necessary.

Barwick expressed some confusion about ANZUS in the Indonesian/Malaysian context. He said that when Under Secretary Harriman had been in Canberra he had, in the course of urging Australia “do our bit” for Malaysia, said to him that if Australian troops were sent to Borneo and were attacked by the Indonesians, the ANZUS commitment would come into effect.1 He said that Governor Harriman had repeated this at an Australian Cabinet meeting, after which he was asked whether, [Page 740] if the Australians were involved in a police action against local subversion, Australia would receive United States support. The reply had been “no,” which had caused some minor disappointment, since Mr. McEwen, who had asked the question, had meant to” enquire whether they could expect diplomatic and political support in the propaganda fuss which the Indonesians might raise even against Australian involvement in a local police action. The account of the meeting was adjusted later to reflect a proper interpretation of the question and reply.

Barwick noted that the Prime Minister subsequently had spoken to the President about ANZUS in relation to Malaysia, and he understood that the President had said that the United States wished to have a fully clear view of the matter and that it should be studied.2 The President then had written to Prime Minister Menzies in somewhat the same vein and suggested consultation.3 Barwick apologized for the delay in the Prime Minister’s response. He said that it had been his initial view that on the “broad” question of ANZUS application there was no disagreement and that detailed study and clarification therefore was not particularly necessary. Now, however, the Prime Minister has responded to the President’s letter, and he believed that the official discussions which will ensue will be directed not to the broad question but to studying the several contingencies which might develop in the context of Australia’s commitments to Malaysia against Indonesia. Accordingly, he did not feel that there was any question about the firmness of the United States commitment to ANZUS.

The Secretary agreed that there is no question about United States response under ANZUS terms to an Indonesian attack on Australia. The problem requiring study is one of what will happen if Australian troops in Malaysia are attacked there by the Indonesians. He noted that the ANZUS Treaty is not specific in defining “action” as this might relate to Australian involvement in assisting Malaysia.

Barwick said that there are several possible contingencies:

Overt aggression against Australian troops in Borneo amounting to a practically open state of war (Under Secretary Harriman had given a clear assurance of United States intentions in this case);
Insurgency clearly identifiable as directed from Indonesia;
Insurgency involving attacks on Australian troops in Borneo but without clear identification of external direction.

He said, however, that he felt the main point to be that a discussion of the “width” of ANZUS is not a suitable matter for “officials.”

[Page 741]

The Secretary agreed. He reminded Barwick that he previously had mentioned the importance of consultation on this point between President Kennedy and the Prime Minister, since decisions involved were of such importance as to require the judgment of the President.

Barwick noted that “contingency planning” was, however, a suitable subject for exploration by “officials.” He indicated that he planned to be in Washington after another week in New York.

He expressed some concern about stationing troops in Borneo because of the difficulties imposed by the terrain. The Secretary noted that it seemed possible that the troops should be placed elsewhere. He indicated that further discussion of this question on an entirely secret basis might be in order. He noted that he had reminded Subandrio that Indonesia consists of several thousand islands and that Indonesia has the greatest stake in peace of any country in the area. He said that he assumed that Subandrio understood the implication.

Barwick noted that Rolz-Bennett had told him earlier in the day that the UN Secretariat was encouraging the Thanat moves to arrange a conference of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia to be followed by a summit conference of the heads of state. He said that he had advised Rolz-Bennett that this should not be pressed. He said that [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] the Indonesians had made their real design to assert themselves in Asia—he referred to Indonesian Ambassador Palar’s statement in the General Assembly that Indonesia wished to replace a Pax Britannica in Asia with a “Pax Indonesiana”—clear. Barwick said that he had cautioned Thanat against haste in bringing the parties together again.

The Secretary did not agree. He suggested that much depended upon whether the Indonesians took action in Borneo before Thanat’s efforts could be tested. Barwick indicated doubt that the Indonesians would make any overt moves for the present. However, he thought that there was little that the Tengku could give Sukarno in the way of concessions without strengthening Sukarno at Malaysia’s expense. Barwick said that he thought that one crisis after another would have to be expected if the Indonesians succeed in this. He noted that a recent report from Australian Ambassador Shann had been quite pessimistic. Shann had expressed the view that Sukarno has become the captive of Indonesian “public opinion” and that any successor leadership now in sight would be equally captive of the public mood.

The Secretary doubted that Sukarno is the captive of public opinion; he suggested that the reverse appeared to be the case.

Barwick said that he had come around to Shann’s view.

The Secretary observed that he did not see how the United States could be expected to continue aiding Indonesia in view of the break in [Page 742] trade with Malaysia. This had cost Indonesia some 150 million dollars which the American tax-payers could not be expected to compensate.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL INDON-MALAYSIA. Secret. Drafted by Kinney. The meeting was held at USUN.
  2. See Document 338.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 337.
  4. The text of the August 19 letter was transmitted in telegram 186 to Canberra, August 20. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 3 MALAYSIA)