President of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta, has underscored China’s role in the Asia-Pacific region and promised to stand firm with the superpower, while also celebrating 20 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations.
He has issued a joint statement with China’s president Xi Jinping, marking the anniversary of diplomatic ties.
The anniversary also marked the same date Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. Jakarta had occupied the territory for more than 20 years following hundreds years of colonial rule by the Portuguese.
The leader of Timor Leste said his nation valued the key role China played in ‘promoting regional and world peace and stability’.
“[We thank] China for its strong support for Timor-Leste’s nation-building process. Timor-Leste will stand firmly with China and enhance the friendship and cooperation between the two sides,” Ramos-Horta said.
Xi said that over the past 20 years the two countries deepened ‘political mutual trust’, and had participated in cooperation programs including people-to-people and cultural exchanges.
China and Timor-Leste enjoyed a long-lasting friendship, he added, congratulating the government for developing Timor-Leste’s economy and improving the livelihood of its people.
“I attach great importance to developing China-Timor-Leste relations,” Xi said.
“I am ready to work with President Ramos-Horta to elevate our comprehensive partnership of good-neighbourly friendship, mutual trust and mutual benefit to a new level, so as to benefit our two countries and peoples.”
Timor-Leste’s own development agenda sets out the nation’s plan to become an upper middle-income country by 2030. The economic challenges it faces in meeting this goal include the impact of COVID-19, disrupted agricultural markets, and flow-on effects for business activity and employment prospects.
According to a DFAT country brief, Timor-Leste is also one of the world’s most oil-dependent countries. Approximately 85% of the government’s annual expenditure is financed by transfers from the nation’s petroleum fund.
People’s Republic of China premier, Li Keqiang, also underscored the ‘smooth development’ of bilateral relations with Timor-Leste. He said developing ‘friendly and cooperative relations’ with Timor-Leste was a matter of importance for China.
“China [sic] will continue to support Timor-Leste’s development and construction, in order to deepen and consolidate bilateral relations,” the premier said in a message to prime minister Taur Matan Ruak.
Ruak said he looked forward to ongoing cooperation with China to help Timor-Leste cope with the challenges of post-pandemic recovery.
Australia’s newly minted foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, published a short video on Monday addressing the Pacific family, in which she flagged she would visit Australia’s regional neighbours soon.
On my first day as Foreign Minister, I want to share some thoughts with our Pacific family.
Our region faces unprecedented challenges, but we will face them together.
We will achieve our shared aspirations together.
And we will listen because we care what the Pacific has to say. pic.twitter.com/he6p8G46eq
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) May 23, 2022
One of Labor’s election pledges during the federal campaign was to increase Australia’s official development assistance to Pacific countries and Timor-Leste by $525 million over the forward estimates.
“Our government is committed to being there for our Pacific family in times of need, as you have been for us,” Wong, who was sworn-in on Monday, said.
“We will be be a generous, respectful and reliable member of the Pacific family. We know that together we can build a stronger future.”
On Monday Ramos-Horta told the Sydney Morning Herald his new government wanted to retain a ‘pro-Australia, pro-Western values’ relationship with Albanese’s ministry. He called for Australia to show its commitment in the region’s strategic and economic interests by investing in critical infrastructure in Timor-Leste.
“Timor-Leste should be part of the wider Australian strategic interest, to see a pro-Australia, pro-Western values Timor-Leste on Australia’s doorstep. So it’s not philanthropy. It’s [in their] economic and strategic interests,” the 72-year-old said.