Australian government agrees to negotiate East Timor maritime border
11 January 2017
The Australian and East Timorese governments issued a joint statement on Monday declaring that they are entering negotiations through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to settle a permanent maritime border.
The statement also announced the termination of the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), under which the border was to be left unresolved for 50 years while the Timor Sea’s energy reserves were divided through a mechanism heavily weighted in favour of Australia. Canberra had previously resisted, tooth and nail, attempts by East Timor to nullify CMATS.
The announcement represents a significant tactical shift by Australian imperialism. Since 1975, when Indonesia invaded and subsequently annexed the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, successive Labor and Liberal governments in Australia have been satisfied to leave the Timor Sea maritime border undetermined. The same policy underwrote Canberra’s predatory relationship with “independent” East Timor, following the Australian military deployment in 1999 under the bogus pretext of humanitarian intervention.
The unresolved maritime border has allowed Australia to exert geostrategic influence—and extract lucrative oil and gas resources—far beyond the median point between Australia and East Timor, where the border ought to be established under international law.
The full implications of the joint Australian-Timorese statement remain to be seen. Carefully worded throughout, the statement appears to allow Canberra ample opportunity to drag out negotiations indefinitely on a maritime border. It declared that during meetings in The Hague last October: “The…