Australia Supplants China in East Timor Interests
From The Jamestown Foundation's China Brief released today is an informative look at China's interests in East Timor, and East Timor's own interests going forward. From Ian Storey's China and East Timor: Good, But Not Best Friends:
Since the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (more commonly referred to as East Timor) achieved formal independence on May 20, 2002, the PRC has worked hard to cultivate a close relationship with the world’s youngest nation. China’s interests in East Timor are threefold: to expand its influence in the Southeast Asian region, to restrict Taiwan’s international space and to gain access to the country’s natural resources. Yet, the resignation on June 26 of East Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in the wake of several months of violence and the insertion of Australian-led peacekeepers to restore order highlights the limits to Beijing’s ambitions. The departure of Alkatiri, a strong supporter of closer links to the PRC, comes as a blow to China’s agenda. Moreover, Australia’s leading role in the peacekeeping force underscores its primary position in the hierarchy of East Timor’s foreign relations. While China is a good friend of East Timor, it is not, nor is it likely to become Dili’s closest friend. [Emphasis added.]
So what of East Timor's own interests?
Where does the PRC fit into East Timor’s foreign policy? Dili [East Timor's capital city] has three foreign policy priorities. The first is to establish cooperative and constructive relations with its two large neighbors Indonesia and Australia. With Jakarta, Dili has adopted a conciliatory policy that is forward looking and does not dwell on Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation. With regards to Australia, Dili looks to Canberra to help preserve its hard-won sovereignty. Australia played the lead role in INTERFET and since 1999, has been the primary provider of equipment and training for the Timor-Leste Defense Force. During the current political crisis, President Gusmão and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta turned to Australia first, and Canberra responded quickly with 1,300 troops (Malaysia and New Zealand have provided smaller numbers of troops, and Portugal paramilitary police). Australia also plays a vital role in securing the fledgling country’s financial future.
Following the violence and upheaval in East Timor recently that regularly occupied headlines, Storey's article gives a fairly good look at where the new nation was and where it looks to go, particularly regarding foreign policy decisions.