PHNOM PENH — Visiting Dili in late August to mark the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s blood-soaked vote for independence from Indonesia, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the opening of a “new chapter” in bilateral relations. “In a region where some boundary disputes remain unresolved,” Morrison said, in a seeming reference to the disputed South China Sea farther north, “Australia and Timor-Leste have set an example by sitting down, as neighbours, partners, and friends, to finalise a new maritime boundary.” Though Morrison followed up by announcing plans to help upgrade East Timor’s internet connectivity and its navy, his Timorese counterpart Taur Matan Ruak was less gushing. “Today will mark a new beginning, a new phase for both countries,” he said. The implication, of course, was that the previous two decades of the relationship had been less than amicable. While Australia stood by the hundreds of thousands of East Timorese who defiantly voted for independence in the face of scorched-earth Indonesian-backed intimidation, sending 5,000 soldiers to the country shortly after the vote, it later stood accused of strong-arming its tiny and impoverished neighbour out of billions of dollars of vital oil and gas revenues – in part by refusing to delineate a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea until 2018.
JAKARTA — While there is no clear threat from the U.S. to loosen its long-standing ties with Australia, some observers say the country may one day face a choice between its main security ally and its biggest trade partner. Graham Allison, author of Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, said that China’s rise is forcing Asian countries with close ties to the U.S. to reconsider. “Largesse, economic imperialism — call it what you will: The fact is that China’s economic network is spreading across the globe, altering the international balance of power in a way that causes even longtime U.S. allies in Asia to tilt from the U.S. toward China,” Allison said.
JAKARTA — East Timor is a tiny country, with a land area around the same as the North of Ireland and a population of 1.3 million people. Its existing oil and gas reserves will be depleted in less than a decade, and with little sign of growth in other parts of the economy, it badly needs this deal with Australia How much money it ends up getting will depend on fluctuating oil and gas prices and on what subsequent deal is worked out to extract and process the underwater oil and gas. The companies with rights to drill in the field have floated, pun intended, the idea of a floating platform in the Timor Sea to process the gas there. But Australia wants to pipe to Darwin and use existing facilities, which would mean an 80% revenue cut for East Timor. The Timorese want pipe to East Timor and process there, giving a Dili 70% revenue cut but potentially allowing the Timorese to develop spin-off industries that could modernise its economy.
JAKARTA — Australia and East Timor on Wednesday signed what Canberra’s foreign minister Julie Bishop called “a milestone” agreement on a maritime boundary between the two countries. The treaty ends a long a bitter dispute between the neighbouring countries and paves the way for exploitation of billions of dollars in gas and oil under the Timor Sea – with at least 70 percent of the revenue to go to impoverished East Timor. The agreement was also historic because it marked the first successful conclusion of “conciliation” negotiations to settle maritime differences under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. How much money the country, a half-island nation of 1.3 million people who are among the poorest in the world, ends up getting depends partly on what deal is worked out to drill and pipe the underwater gas.
SINGAPORE — After a saga lasting nearly two decades, Australia will on March 6 sign a boundary treaty with East Timor that will allow the Southeast Asian country to earn much-needed revenue from gas fields under the Timor Sea. “The Parties have reached agreement on a treaty which delimits the maritime boundary between them in the Timor Sea,” read an announcement made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on February 25 after negotiations in Kuala Lumpur. “This marks a new chapter in our relationship with Timor-Leste, bringing us together as neighbours sharing a boundary, and as partners and friend,” said Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop in a March 4 press statement. Australia’s decision should strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries as it finds itself torn between the interests of the U.S. and China. “Undoubtedly it will help in that way,” said John Blaxland, director of the Southeast Asia Institute at The Australian National University. Australia’s previous reluctance to establish a maritime boundary with the East Timorese prompted criticism from Dili and from campaign groups in Australia. “This treaty will hopefully go someway to restoring its reputation which definitely took a hit due to its bullying of East Timor” said Tom Clarke, spokesman for the Timor Sea Justice Campaign.
JAKARTA — Two neighbors with a fractious history sought to put recent disputes behind them as Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed at the weekend to restore military cooperation and reduce restrictions on some exports ahead of a possible free trade deal later this year. “Great result for Australian farmers. It will now be easier to export more sugar and beef to Indonesia,” Turnbull tweeted on Sunday, referring to Indonesia’s agreement to reduce tariffs on Australian sugar to 5% and allow more live cattle exports from Australia to the country of 250 million people. Widodo’s Feb. 25-26 visit to Sydney was his second trip to Australia since he took office in 2014, and the first since he personally showed Turnbull around Jakarta in November 2015. That meeting came shortly after the Australian prime minister took power in Canberra, on the back of an internal Liberal Party coup against incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
JAKARTA — Nearly three years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean, Australia, China and Malaysia on Tuesday called off the underwater search, saying “no new information has been discovered” to solve what has become one of aviation’s greatest mysteries. A review of the plane’s likely trajectory as well as new information about ocean currents led experts to conclude that the aircraft might have crashed into the Indian Ocean north of the search zone, and that crews should have been hunting in a 15,000-square-mile zone to the north. The Australian government rejected that recommendation, saying the findings were not precise enough to warrant moving the search. Australia, China and Malaysia, which have funded the search, said last year that the operation would be called off once all of the 46,000-mile zone had been investigated. “It is obvious that the search should be to the north,” Ghislain Wattrelos, a 52-year-old Frenchman whose wife and two children were aboard the aircraft, said in an interview.
MELBOURNE/SYDNEY — Malcolm Turnbull is set to continue as Australia’s prime minister after opposition leader Bill Shorten on Sunday conceded defeat in the national election — eight days after voters went to the polls. Shorten’s announcement came as Turnbull’s conservative Liberal-National party coalition inched closer to the minimum seats required — 76 out of 150 — to govern in its own right. However, the coalition may still need the support of independents and minor party members if votes yet to be counted contribute to it falling short of that majority. “I respect that Mr Turnbull has won government — be it a minority government or a majority of one or two seats,” Shorten said on Sunday. That was still the question as Turnbull declared victory about an hour later. With votes still to be counted, it remained unclear whether the coalition would secure a majority. With around 80% of the votes counted on Sunday, the Australian Electoral Commission had the coalition ahead in 76 seats. Turnbull had used the days prior to shore up support from crossbenchers. Three out of the five elected had agreed to back the coalition when it came to supply and confidence matters, a move that effectively ended talk of Shorten leading a minority government or Australians being forced back to the polls. “It looks like he [Turnbull] will cross the 76 seat threshold and, even if not, he has support from a couple of independents,” said John Warhurst, emeritus professor of politics at Australian National University.
SYDNEY and MELBOURNE — Australians may not know for a few days the results of their July 2 national election, following one of the tightest polls in the country’s history. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed confidence early on Sunday morning — hours after voting ended — that he would be returned as leader after a closely fought campaign that saw a swing away from his Liberal Party-led coalition toward the opposition Labor Party. But analysts warned of the prospect of a hung parliament, in which no single party or alliance would hold an absolute majority. It was unclear by the time vote-counting was halted early on Sunday morning whether the ruling Liberal-National coalition could win the minimum 76 lower house seats it requires to form a ruling majority. Even so, Turnbull told a gathering of his party faithful in Sydney that he had “every confidence that we will be able to form a coalition majority government,” and said that despite gains for the opposition Labor Party, the opposition “has no capacity in the parliament” to lead the next administration. Turnbull’s speech came soon after rival Bill Shorten, the Labor leader, told his party in Melbourne that final results may not be known “for some days to come.” Even if Labor could not regain control of government, which it last held in 2013 before being trounced by the Liberal-National party coalition “there is one thing for sure: the Labor Party is back,” he added.
MELBOURNE and SYDNEY — Australians were closely watching for results of their national election on Saturday night. Counting in the eastern states suggested a swing toward the opposition Labor Party after polls closed at 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. But as voting continued in the country’s west, results remained unclear, raising the prospect of a hung parliament in which no party would have an absolute majority. By 11:45 p.m. Sydney time, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had not arrived at a governing party post-election event held at a posh Sydney hotel. Former Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard spoke to media at the event, saying he was disappointed at seat losses in the election, but said “it is for the prime minister to speak on behalf of the coalition” regarding the overall election outcome. For much of the protracted, 55-day election campaign, Turnbull’s Liberal-National party coalition — which stormed to power at the 2013 election — was tipped to enjoy a narrow victory. But a late surge of support for Labor in opinion polls in the final days gave opposition leader Bill Shorten, a former trade union boss, reason to be optimistic.