East Timor says not seeking military ties with China, Australia and Indonesia can ‘sleep at peace’

“Right now we don’t have a single loan from China,” he said. “In the future we might request a loan from China … We will not accept any unmanageable, unsustainable loan with too high interest payment.”

East Timor in Asean may make bloc ‘more vulnerable to big powers’

Some Australian politicians expressed concern after China’s state media reported last Saturday that Beijing’s agreement with East Timor, around 700km (450 miles) northwest of Australia, also covered military exchanges.

China struck a security pact with Solomon Islands, 2,000km (1,200 miles) to Australia’s northeast last year, heightening Canberra’s wariness about Beijing’s naval ambitions.

“It was never discussed in terms of military cooperation, never discussed, and the Chinese side also never raised this issue,” Ramos-Horta said.

East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, aims to join the Southeast Asian regional bloc Asean by 2025 as it seeks to reduce high poverty rates.

“We would never bring in a foreign element into Timor Leste that would be viewed by the rest of Asean as endangering Asean policy of neutrality or peace and security,” he said.

“Indonesia and Australia, we can include Singapore and Malaysia they are the countries that are closest to us, can always sleep at peace – Timor Leste is not going to be a nuisance, a concern in terms of security.”
East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta addresses the UN General Assembly on September 21. Photo: Reuters

Timor has extensive security cooperation with Australia, which is also its top aid donor, with Canberra providing military and police advisers and patrol boats, he said. “This is so far only with Australia,” he said.

China’s support was primarily in infrastructure including government buildings, finance, agriculture and health, he said.

A large delegation of Chinese companies arrived in East Timor’s capital Dili on Thursday to continue discussions on potential investment in oil and gas projects, he said.

The main focus for East Timor is finalising a joint venture agreement with Australian company Woodside Energy for the joint development of the Greater Sunrise gas project, he said.

East Timor is looking to start producing natural gas from its Greater Sunrise fields around 2030, which will be critical to the Southeast Asia island nation’s economy.

Australia has appointed an envoy to speed up negotiations between East Timor and Woodside; Gusmao’s government wants gas to be piped to East Timor and not Australia.

‘Now, we go to China’: East Timor slams ‘selfish rivalries’, eyeing US and China

Ramos-Horta said food security remains a major issue for East Timor, 22 years after gaining independence from Indonesia, and it needed investment in irrigation and roads, and to provide financial incentives to farmers to “feed its people”.

Australia, as one of the world’s most developed agriculture nations, should commit funds and technology to the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, along with European nations and the United States, to address the agriculture challenges being posed by climate change to small farmers globally, he said.

“Otherwise we are heading to human tragedy in years to come,” he said.

At the Global Citizen conference in New York last week, Ramos-Horta also supported calls for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, backed by six Pacific Islands countries, that puts pressure on Australia as a major coal exporter.

The Australian public “have been our best friends”, he added.

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