In Timor’s chequered history, many other states have been involved. The prime purpose of this book is to examine the role of the British. Timor was not a part of their empire nor important to their commerce. But Timor had a long relationship with Portugal, with which, indeed, Timor had its longest relationship. Britain’s interest was thus largely indirect. It had two peaks, marked by the Second World War and the decolonisation of Southeast Asia. Those are recognised in the book, one the concern of the first four chapters, the other the focus of the last four. But there are links between them, in memory and in history.
The book ends with an account of the Indonesian incorporation of the territory. The reporting of British diplomats was still copious and perceptive, but Britain – which had now finally withdrawn from Singapore – adopted only a very limited policy-making role. Though its interest was more indirect than ever, it was even so not without implications for the independence that the Timorese finally secured, and that affirmed the rule that post-colonial states were successor states of empire.
Nicholas Tarling was Professor of History at the University of Auckland (1968–1997) and is currently a Fellow of its New Zealand Asia Institute. He was editor of the Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. His most recent books include Britain and the West New Guinea Dispute 1949–1962 (Mellen, 2008) and Britain and the Neutralisation of Laos (NUS Press, 2011).