Gas profits and China fears drive Australia-Timor boundary treaty


Gas profits and China fears drive Australia-Timor boundary treaty

Mike Head

13 March 2018

Acrimonious disputes are continuing between the governments of Australia and the tiny neighouring state of East Timor despite last week’s signing at the UN in New York of what the media misleadingly called an “historic” maritime boundary treaty covering the oil- and gas-rich Timor Sea.

Continuing its decades of betraying and bullying the impoverished territory’s people, the Australian government is still insisting that the billions of dollars’ worth of gas beneath the sea be pipelined to Australia’s northern city of Darwin, rather than to East Timor.

Finalised after year-long negotiations at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the treaty essentially concedes that the undersea boundary should be set at halfway point between the two countries, in line with international law, thus placing most of the vast untapped gas reserves within East Timor’s territory.

Nevertheless, the Australian government and the transnational energy giants that control the gas fields remain adamant that the mini-state on the eastern half of Timor cannot have the gas processing operations, and all the associated profits.

After more than 15 years of illegally denying Timorese sovereignty in the disputed zone, two inter-related factors—geo-strategic calculations and corporate profits—drove the Australian government to sign the treaty.

First and foremost were concerns in both Canberra and Washington that Australia’s refusal to abide by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in settling the Timor border was opening the door for China to acquire greater influence in East Timor and the Asia-Pacific region.

As the Chinese economy has grown rapidly over the past two…

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