344. Memorandum of Conversation0


Australian Elections


  • The President
  • Sir Garfield Barwick, Minister for External Affairs of Australia
  • Sir Howard Beale, Australian Ambassador
  • Mr. Roger Hilsman, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. Michael V. Forrestal, Senior Staff Member, National Security Council

The President opened the discussion by observing that Sir Garfield was about to enter an election campaign. He inquired about the issues.

Sir Garfield replied that the Conservative Party’s platform embraced three foreign policy issues: (1) the agreement between the United States and Australia on the VLF station in northern Australia; (2) Malaysia; and (3) nuclear free zones. He said that the opposition had taken an illogical position on the VLF station contending that unless Australia had joint control of its operation, there was the possibility that the country might get dragged into war by the United States. The answer to this was that it would be impractical to have two fingers on the telegraph key, and that in any event, the worst that the United States could do would be to cause Australia to violate the principle of neutrality, which was hardly a cause for war. On the question of Malaysia, Sir Garfield pointed out that the Labor opposition had retreated from their original position against any involvement in Malaysia; their position now was that no Australian troops should be sent to Malaysia without a mutual defense treaty. Sir Garfield said that this was an irresponsible argument, since Malaysia was unaligned and could not very well enter into such a treaty, and that Australia’s obligations toward Malaysia were that of a fellow member of the Commonwealth. On nuclear free zones, he observed that the opposition’s position favoring such a zone in the Southern Hemisphere was tantamount to national suicide for Australia.

[Page 751]

How could any nation faced by an uncontrollable and enormous aggressor in the north surrender its primary means of self defense?

The President inquired whether Sir Garfield had encountered any problems during his talks here in Washington. The President was particularly interested in the Tunku’s position in Malaysia. He inquired whether the Malayan Chinese disliked Sukarno and what sort of threat would they really pose to the Tunku.

Sir Garfield said that he had met no particular problems in Washington. He said that the political position of the Tunku was such as to put severe limits on his diplomatic freedom. The Singapore Chinese disliked Indonesia [4-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. This would be disastrous for Western interests, since eventually the Malay people of Malaysia would break away leaving Singapore in the hands of the Chinese and susceptible to domination by Mainland China. Such a loss of Singapore would gravely threaten Australia and would undermine the whole structure of free world defenses throughout the Southeast [Asia] area.

In response to a question of the President, Sir Garfield said that the whole purpose of Malaysia was to provide a way of satisfying Chinese economic interests while maintaining Malayan political preeminence in the area comprising Malaysia.

[1 paragraph (4 lines of source text) not declassified]

The President asked what the ratio was between the Chinese and Malay people in Malaysia. The Minister replied that it was approximately 1/2 Malayan, 1/3 Chinese, and the remainder mixed non-Chinese in Malaysia as a whole; and approximately 1/3 Malayan, 1/3 Chinese, and 1/3 mixed in the old Federation of Malaya.

The President inquired how one could discourage Sukarno’s expansionist aspirations in view of the apparent support he received from the major power groups in Malaysia. Sir Garfield replied that it was important not to give Sukarno any major diplomatic success and in particular not to press Malaysia into entering diplomatic negotiations with him at this time.

The President asked what the military situation was in Sarawak and North Borneo. The Ambassador and Sir Garfield replied that the balance of forces appeared to be favorable to Malaysia at least until 1964.

The discussion then turned to the aide-mémoire on ANZUS handed to Sir Garfield by McGeorge Bundy.1

Sir Garfield indicated that the United States position as described in the aide-mémoire was satisfactory with the addition of the words he had proposed and which were included in the paper actually handed to him.

[Page 752]

The President said that he had wanted to make sure that the record was straight. People have forgotten ANZUS and are not at the moment prepared for a situation which would involve the United States. Australia and the United States should, however, keep in close touch so that, if a situation should develop that would call for our assistance, we could show our people that our views had been given consideration.

Sir Garfield agreed, mentioning that the United States, through Harriman, had encouraged Australia to support Malaysia.

The President added that the Prime Minister had then brought the matter up and that they had agreed on the necessity for consultation. The aide-mémoire represented our view.

Sir Garfield said that as Foreign Minister he had tried to avoid antipathy with Indonesia, although this had caused him to be called an appeaser. Australia, however, now was going into an election and they must have a more robust criticism of Sukarno. He did want to assure the President, however, that he would not be bellicose, only critical. The President said that the United Kingdom and Australia have made their position clear and Sukarno understands this. In the case of West New Guinea, the Dutch were unwilling to do anything, but because of the UK and Australian stand the Malaysia situation was different. Sukarno may try to “play the United States” in this situation. The President did not object to this since it would give the United States leverage. But the time might come when the United States would have to change its policy toward Indonesia, and the President wanted to make sure that our position throughout had been reasonable. Our policy toward Indonesia had been deliberately ambivalent—not to face Sukarno with a white trio and to avoid a polemic between Sukarno and the United States.

Sir Garfield said that he did not think that the United States should publicly slap Sukarno down—at least not yet. But he did feel that we should avoid giving Sukarno a success or building him up. Sukarno had told him quite frankly that he would support a dissident movement in East New Guinea. He did not feel that Indonesia had a plan for East New Guinea but that they were generally ambitious. Sir Garfield felt that they would have a dissident movement in East New Guinea, however, and that Sukarno would try to support it.

The President then read the substance of Djakarta’s 888 of October 16th to the Department giving Ambassador Jones’ analysis of the situation [Page 753] in Indonesia and the consequences of alternate policies.2 The President commented that he believed Jones’ judgment to be sound.

Sir Garfield said that he was inclined to believe that Ambassador Jones was excessively hopeful. A tripartite meeting at any level would only serve Indonesia’s ends at this time. Sir Garfield said he did not believe that the Indonesians would be influenced to soften their present policy by such a meeting. He recalled that shortly before the publication of the UN Report on the elections in the former colonies, he had discussed the Indonesian position with President Sukarno. At that time President Sukarno had said that he knew that his policy would lead him into a confrontation with the British and the Australians and probably even the United States, but that he was willing to take them all on. Sir Garfield suggested that the United States find means of not treating Indonesia visibly better than Malaysia since this would weaken the will in Malaysia to resist and strengthen Sukarno’s desire to destroy Malaysia.

The President emphasized that the United States had made it clear to President Sukarno that we supported Malaysia. He said that he felt it was worthwhile maintaining and using U.S. influence in Indonesia to damp down their wilder actions. He also felt that we should work more through the Philippines.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Memoranda of Conversation, 9/63–10/63. Secret. Drafted by Hilsman and approved by the White House on October 28. According to Kennedy’s Appointment Book, the meeting lasted from 10:07 to 10:27 a.m. (Kennedy Library) A memorandum for the President containing talking points and biographic material was prepared by the Department of State and sent to Bundy on October 16. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 32–1 INDON-MALAYSIA)
  2. Attachment to Document 343.
  3. In telegram 888, Jones suggested that the alternatives were: 1) staying the course and preserving U.S. leverage to influence Indonesia toward a moderate negotiated settlement with Malaysia, or 2) withdrawing all aid to Indonesia and increasing economic pressure on Sukarno so as to bring about a change of leadership or the breakup of Indonesia. The second alternative could be exploited by the PKI, would abandon and embitter U.S. friends in Indonesia, and was based on the possibility of a secessionist movement that was, in fact, completely lacking. Jones felt that time and economic difficulties would cool Indonesia on confrontation. The second course would only ignite tempers and make matters worse. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 2 INDON)