265. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Conversation with Malaysian Secretary for External Affairs


  • Dato Muhammad Ghazali bin Shafie, Permanent Secretary for External Affairs, Malaysia
  • W. Averell Harriman
  • William P. Bundy, FE
  • James D. Bell, Ambassador to Malaysia
  • David C. Cuthell

The following is a summary of the principal points covered during a 45-minute conversation with Ghazali today.

Tunku’s Meeting with President Johnson

Governor Harriman noted that the President had met privately with the Tunku and that we were interested in learning the Tunku’s understanding of what had happened. Ghazali said that he had talked with the Tunku in general about the visit, and had found him extremely pleased at the nature of his reception and at the President’s warmth. The Tunku had told Ghazali that he and the President had discussed Malaysia’s current problems, and reported that the President had offered help in the form of military training and sales of military equipment. The Tunku had not expressed interest in details on these two subjects and would leave it up to his “technical people” to work matters out with us. Ghazali expected that the next step would be for Inche Abdul Kadir bin Shamsudin (Secretary for Defense) to go into more detail with Defense in regard to general types of equipment and training needed as well as financial considerations, but felt that no precise agreements would be sought by the Malaysian side at present. He seemed aware that the President had suggested that the Tunku send General Osman to the United States, and thought that Osman’s visit might be a good time for more precise equipment sales arrangements to be made. Ghazali felt that the Tunku was more concerned about the general friendly atmosphere he had encountered than in the precise nature of the military arrangements discussed.

Draft Communiqué 2

Ghazali accepted the changes which had been made in his version of the draft communiqué without hesitation. Governor Harriman explained to him that we could not use a word like “assistance” in referring to what we were willing to do to help Malaysia, as this carried with it, in a military situation, the connotation that we would be willing to commit troops to the defense of Malaysia. This, the Governor said, we were not contemplating. Ghazali made it clear that he quite understood our position and that he was well aware that American troops would not be engaged.

[Page 583]


Ghazali said that during his last visit to Kuala Lumpur Lopez had specifically told him and most of the cabinet, individually and collectively, that the Philippines would normalize its relations with Malaysia if the Tunku went to the summit meeting in Tokyo. As a result, the Malaysians feel that they have been let down. He indicated the usual Malaysian lack of respect for the Sabah claim, but felt that the subject could be satisfactorily handled if the Filipinos would abandon their present insistence on reference of the case to the ICJ, and would agree instead to meet bilaterally with Malaysia to discuss the political and financial implications of the claim and to seek joint agreement as to what channel should be used in trying to resolve it. Ghazali noted that Malaysia would have great constitutional problems if it agreed to the International Court in advance, as this would require currently unobtainable approval by the Sabah legislature. He felt that, if Sabah representatives were included in the preliminary talks with the Filipinos however and these talks reached the agreed conclusion that the Court was the only suitable channel, Sabah would be willing to go along. He felt, however, that Philippine opposition to Malaysia had tapered off, and was not a problem any longer.

In regard to general Philippine policy, Ghazali agreed to the general assessment that the Philippines has moved from support of Indonesia to general neutrality, but characterized Philippine policy as still being based on their assumption that they had a useful moderating role to play. Ghazali said that perhaps they did have such a role, but indicated that he did not think so. He agreed that at this point President Macapagal seems to be genuinely anxious to reach a settlement, but seemed in no way disappointed that Lopez had apparently withdrawn from the picture.

Current Situation in Indonesia

Ghazali expressed the view that the basic trouble with Sukarno is that he is extremely badly informed both about conditions in his country and about foreign attitudes towards it. He affirmed his view that Sukarno is not a Communist but felt that Communist influence on him is very great and that the strength of the PKI is increasing. He dismissed Nasution as having no further real capacity for major influence in Indonesia and seemed to feel that General Yani was much more likely to be the leading military man in the period ahead. At the same time, he called Yani a complete opportunist, said that Yani had been brought to Tokyo by Subandrio, and made it clear that he regards Yani as being currently lined up with Subandrio.

Possible Yani Visit

Governor Harriman said that we were considering whether it would be useful to invite Yani to the United States, that we were [Page 584]inclined to feel our ties with the top Indonesian military were still of value, but that we had reached no decision and would be glad to have any Malaysian reaction. Ghazali did not pick up this gambit and clearly did not express opposition to the move. No timing for the visit was mentioned.

Future of Indonesia

Ghazali agreed with Mr. Bundy that, although Indonesia is under heavy economic strain as a result of confrontation, there was no real prospect that economic pressure alone would be sufficient to cause a dramatic overturn in political affairs in Indonesia in the near future. Ghazali admitted that various Malaysians were asserting publicly that the end was in sight in Indonesia, but wrote this off as political talk. He did, however, feel that the current deterioration will inevitably have a cumulative effect even in a demonetized society like Indonesia, and said that unless Sukarno made major changes the country was headed for collapse. Coming back to his previous assertion that Sukarno is uninformed, he felt that it was essential in some way to make Sukarno realize that he could not win through confrontation, that he could not succeed in crushing Malaysia, and that, in effect, his current high-voiced anti-colonialism was possible only because he was protected by the Seventh Fleet. The corollary which he drew was that the United States should make these things clear to Sukarno. He was assured that we have repeatedly done so, and that Sukarno seems to be well aware of Indonesia’s current dependence on American power for protection from China.

Ghazali’s preferred solution to the whole problem emerged as requiring change in the nature of the Indonesian Government, authority being returned to the people of the individual islands, the central government in Djakarta being removed or downgraded as the source of power, and a federal system like that in the United States or Malaysia being installed. If such a system were developed, according to Ghazali, Malaysia would be willing to be a part of it, and this in his view would be the only way of keeping Communism out of the area. Ghazali advanced the interesting theory that had Sun Yat-sen not unified China we would not today be faced by a Communist-controlled unified China, and, when this theory seemed to produce less than complete agreement, advanced the further idea that Europe today is not Communist because it has been “Balkanized,” his point being that, had large states like the Austro-Hungarian Empire persisted, one or another of them would have become Communist and “half of Europe” would be lost to the Communists.

Asked what he thought the chances were of such a breakup in the Indonesian political structure, Ghazali noted that regional feelings were strong in the country, and especially so in Sumatra and Sulawesi. He [Page 585]could cite no current dissidence in Sumatra but said he was in very close touch with the situation and with many responsible Sumatran leaders and was convinced that Sumatra is “on the move.” In regard to Sulawesi, he said that he was in extremely close touch with the situation and that there were now more than 23,000 rebel troops under arms. Ghazali said that Malaysia was quite capable of taking advantage of this situation, but insisted that his country is not taking action to do so as yet. He felt that when the time came the mistakes of 1958 should be avoided, that the United States and the West should stay out of the picture, and that Malaysia should be the power to stimulate action, using Indonesians with whom it is in contact.

(In a subsequent conversation with Mr. Bundy, in the car going to the White House, Ghazali further embroidered the theme of Indonesia being turned into a federated state and indeed being ultimately joined with Malaysia on a federated basis. He repeated his belief that there was strong separatist sentiment particularly in Sumatra and Sulawesi, and said that he was afraid we, the United States, did not have adequate information on this trend of thought. Mr. Bundy noted that the former Sumatra leaders had all been driven out as a result of the 1958 rebellion, and wondered where leadership might be found for any such movement. He also mentioned the Masjumi elements, and Ghazali replied that they were merely one of many groups that had this separatist feeling. Ghazali went on to imply strongly that Malaysia would be doing all it could to find and stimulate such sentiment. Mr. Bundy responded that, while Ghazali’s vision of a federated state for the whole area might be an eventual possibility for good, any Malaysian effort in this direction at the present time would be playing a “dangerous game” and might have the effect—as the 1958 rebellion had had—of further uniting Indonesia. This conversation was brief, and the matter was not really followed to any kind of conclusion. However, Ghazali’s theory is apparently somewhat more than a parlor speculation, at least as far as he himself is concerned.)

Indonesian Terrorism

Ghazali characterized current Indonesian terrorism in Malaya and Singapore as “very low level” but said that it was a great nuisance and that the Malaysians were giving considerable thought to retaliation in kind. One school felt that the Malaysians should knock out subversive bases in neighboring Indonesian territory, presumably the Riau Islands, but that he felt this would be rather futile and that the way to strike back was through sponsoring similar terrorist activity in Indonesia by discontented Indonesians. Here again, he emphasized that all this was still in the discussion stage and that Malaysia was not acting. He added, however, that he had told Suwito (Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister) that Malaysia had the capacity to indulge in counter-terrorism and had [Page 586]warned Suwito that Indonesia should not take the chance of turning this on.

Soviet Interest in Southeast Asia

Governor Harriman reviewed current Soviet policy in Southeast Asia, concluding that the Soviets were no longer interested in playing the major Communist role in this area, that they would probably be quite willing to see the Chinese Communists get a “bloody nose” from time to time, but that they recognized that the Chinese would be the major Communist influence in the area. He suggested that, as Malaysia is as firmly interested as we are in keeping Communist power from dominating the area, we and Malaysia should be in close and regular touch about developments in Southeast Asia, and in regular consultation on what the future holds. He said that we need not necessarily always accept each other’s suggestions or views, but that we should undertake to exchange them with increasing frequency. Ghazali agreed.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 MALAYSIA. Secret. Drafted by Cuthell and approved in M on August 11.
  2. For the communique as released, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 899–900.