Subject: ABC: Timor's Foreign Policy

Australian Broadcating Corporation

April 15, 2002 [archive: March 11 forum in Canberra]

Timor's Foreign Policy

As Timor Lorosa'e moves to independence on 20 May, Timorese leaders are moving to develop a new foreign policy for the independent nation.

How will Timor, as a small island state, develop links with larger neighbours like Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea? How will an independent Timor guarantee its defence and security? Who can gain Timorese citizenship?

Fernando de Araujo, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke on "The Future of East Timor's Foreign Policy" to the ANU East Timor Forum in Canberra on 11 March 2002.

De Araujo was a leading activist in the Timorese student movement Resistencia Nacional dos Estudantes de Timor-Leste (RENETIL), which resisted the Indonesian occupation. Arrested in 1991 for subversion, he was jailed in Cipinang prison in Jakarta with Xanana Gusmao. An active campaigner in the National Council of the Timorese Resistance (CNRT), he helped found the Democratic Party a few months before the August 2001 elections for Timor's new Constituent Assembly.

In these extracts from his speech, Fernando de Araujo maps out foreign policy priorities for the new nation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation of East Timor has the responsibility to take the lead role in the formulation and education of foreign policy. Therefore it values this kind of open dialogue on the subject, since dialogue will give the ministry an insight into the international community's current thinking on the complex, sensitive and difficult subjects currently affecting our neighbourhood, including Australia and of course Indonesia.

With Indonesia, you know that we have this land border. It is better for our interests to have a good relationship with Indonesia and of course with Australia, these two biggest countries that are surrounding us.

I would like to say that these two countries are on our priority list. Now we are making efforts to reconcile with Indonesia. We realise that Indonesian government officials are very open-minded with East Timorese to solve [and] discuss many things, including things like border demarcation. We are discussing the return of refugees. I would like to say to this forum that we have good cooperation with Indonesia, with their government members in many things.

[In February] we had this bilateral meeting with Indonesia and after that we have a trilateral meeting with Indonesia, Australia and East Timor. While I'm talking to Australia in an Australian forum, I would like to say that I'm very happy when we East Timorese are involved in this trilateral meeting.

Because of the East Timor problem, the relationship between Australia and Indonesia almost collapsed. Now East Timor [is] sitting between Indonesia and Australia. I'm hoping that relationship between Indonesia and Australia is going to revive and I think that's what the East Timorese and Australia are hoping together.

I think it's our interest to build a special relationship with these countries because of geographical proximity and economic interests. I think if we are going to export something from Portugal or from UK to East Timor, it will be very expensive.

Joining the United Nations

Our current foreign policy calls for East Timor to establish friendly relationships with all countries in the world. It is the government's hope that East Timor will be accepted as a member of the United Nations as soon as possible after gaining independence, if this is possible one day after our declaration of independence.

At the United Nations, practically all independent nations of the world are represented. Since East Timor will not be able to establish immediately very many embassies in foreign capitals, it will be at the United Nations that we will establish our contacts with the other countries.

In our government programs after independence, we are going to have five embassies. We will have one embassy in Indonesia, Australia, Washington (for Washington and New York), Portugal and Brussels (EU).

While the policy is to have friendly relationships with all countries there is also an initiative to intensify and accelerate relationships with some particular countries, which are more willing and able to be of assistance to East Timor in various ways.

Defence and security

For Timor the economic and social interest of the country will also have to balance with its political, cultural, strategy and security concerns. East Timor's foreign policy is to solve the poverty problems and the social problems and the security problems in East Timor.

Here I will say that we decided not to solve the defence problem or security problem [by] organising a big military in East Timor. We believe that we are going to solve these problems through a diplomatic way.

Before the referendum our leaders Xanana, Ramos Horta, say that if it is possible, East Timor doesn't need to have a defence force, an armed force. So we always committed to this position. Even though now we have East Timor defence force, we are not going to spend all of our resources to develop a military in East Timor.

In expanding these international relations East Timor will therefore be giving adequate attention as well to all the factors such as ties of history and culture.

We are particularly interested in building stronger South-South links with other Third World countries in the Asian region with similar historical experience, struggling from colonialism, neo-colonialism, decolonisation and facing the same dilemmas in development and nation building.

We [are] also strengthening North-South links with countries such as Australia. Close geographic proximity and long-standing people-to-people exchanges are crucial in the development of East Timor, in particular for public sector, health, education, infrastructure and public works, environment protection and other areas.

Links with ASEAN

We want to be part of ASEAN, but there are some problems. Those who are paying attention to the political process in East Timor will note that now we have a big problem with Myanmar. Myanmar objects to our intention [to join].

As you know in ASEAN everything has to be consensus. 100 per cent say yes and you can go forward. If one of the country members says no, you have to re-negotiate. But I believe that, together with the other ASEAN member countries, we can solve the problem and in the future East Timor will be member of ASEAN. This is in our economic and security interest.

We also endorse the initiative taking by Indonesia's former president Mr Abdurrahman Wahid to establish the West Pacific Forum.

It is our plan to ratify some international treaties after 20 May. I think this treaty will be our legal basis for our own security and to have a good relationship with Indonesia, with Australia, with Papua New Guinea. I think that's the way to prevent a repeat of this wrong experience that the Indonesians did in 1975.

(Thanks to Professor James Fox and his staff for the recording of the talk)


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