East Timor and China
also: Ramos-Horta responds
Sydney Morning Herald
East Timor says China is its closest ally
By Jill Jolliffe, Herald Correspondent in Dili
East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, has put pragmatism ahead of human rights in his first foreign policy statement, describing China as the new nation's "closest possible ally".
Mr Ramos Horta said Dili wanted China's friendship as a "superpower, and economic powerhouse" and because it was the only Asian permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
And Mr Ramos Horta, who visited Beijing in 2000 with the now President Xanana Gusmao, said he would "not lecture other countries on their human rights records".
In a statement that also advised Acehnese and Papuan activists to accept autonomy status from Indonesia, he said East Timor was hoping soon to open diplomatic relations with China, which now occupies the largest embassy in Dili's diplomatic quarter.
Mr Horta said there were also historic reasons for preferring China. It had been the only international power to recognise the short-lived republic declared by the nationalist Fretilin party in November 1975.
One of the justifications Indonesia gave for its invasion weeks later was that Fretilin's leaders were under Maoist influence and were aiming to set up a communist state in the region.
Mr Ramos Horta said there were no ideological reasons behind the stand. "Does anybody believe China is still a Marxist-Leninist country?" he asked, adding: "The Chinese of today are more preoccupied with conquering markets than influencing anyone politically."
The 52-year-old minister has been foreign policy spokesman for the East Timorese nationalist movement since 1974, when he first approached Jakarta to discuss East Timorese aspirations to self-determination.
The 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner also spoke about the conflict in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and Aceh.
"No government in this country should ever be imprudent or foolish enough to offer sympathy or support for Papua or Aceh's quest for independence," he said. "They should accept Jakarta's autonomy offer - it is genuine."
He said the East Timorese had based their independence case on their separate legal status as a Portuguese colony invaded by foreign power.
Indonesia would "fight to the bitter end" to preserve Papua and Aceh because defeat would represent "the real break-up of Indonesia", he said.
Mr Ramos Horta also pursued a pragmatic line on the trials in Indonesia of military officers charged with human rights violations in East Timor in 1999.
"For the first time in Indonesian history, serving military officers are being brought to trial ... I'm prepared to be very sympathetic. Let's wait and see." he said.
Friday 12 July, 2002 For immediate release
WHO IS IMPORTANT TO EAST TIMOR?
The following letter to the the Sydney Morning Herald editor was issued by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Jose Ramos-Horta today:
The Editor Sydney Morning Herald Sydney July 11 2002
In "Pragmatic East Timor says China is its closest ally" (SMH July 11 2002), the position of the East Timorese Government and of my own were not fully represented.
In the interview with your Correspondent, I made the following comments to each specific question asked. I recall some points.
On China, I said that my government wishes to develop "the closest possible relationship" with China. No mention was made of China being East Timor "closest ally".
No two countries are more important to East Timor than our two closest neighbors, Australia and Indonesia, and my President and Government have spared no effort in cementing this very important relationship.
We are also forging bi-lateral ties with our other neighbors, namely the other ASEAN countries, as well the Republic of Korea and Japan.
I was asked to comment on the relationship with Portugal and I responded by stating that if it were not for Portugal's decisive contribution East Timor would not be free today.
We attach equal importance to our relations with the European Union as a whole, the Nordic countries, and the US, all of whom have contributed enormously to peace and our economic development.
Our very basic stance is to seek friends with a view towards enhancing our independence and economic well-being.
On the human rights front, I stated that as a rule I prefer discreet diplomacy in trying to address problems of conflict and human rights rather than lecturing others.
Jose Ramos-Horta Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation East Timor
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