China awakening to strategic value of East Timor

1 August 2011

Specialty media have recently reported that China “has sought to take better advantage of the strategic value” of East Timor, “especially bearing in mind the prevalent regional and international context”, the analyst states in a recent report on East Timor.

Seabra indicates that Beijing contacted the East Timorese authorities in late 2007 with a view to installing radar to monitor navigation in the strategic Wetar Strait.

Although the project did not go through, the analyst cites Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, who in September 2010 said that Dili is “firmly committed to increasing bilateral cooperation in the military area with friendly countries that offer disinterested support” and that “the Chinese brothers and sisters are clearly part of that group”.

China offered East Timor buildings to house the Presidency and Foreign Affairs as well as the Centre for Diplomatic Studies, whose mission is to improve the training of the country’s diplomats.

Besides infrastructures, cooperation between the two countries has extended to agriculture with the development of an innovative project to introduce hybrid rice.

Trade between China and East Timor has risen sharply since 2008, this year registering the biggest increase among the eight Portuguese language countries.

Official Chinese figures show that imports from and exports to East Timor were up more than 110 percent this year.

In the last three years East Timor has recorded strong economic growth of around 12 percent.

At the third ministerial conference of the Forum for Economic and Commercial Cooperation between China and the Portuguese Language Countries, East Timorese President José Ramos Horta said that business relations between East Timor and China should allow a beneficial investment “boom” – in hotels, restaurants, construction materials, electrical appliances, furniture and small businesses.

He also highlighted “the manifestations of solidarity and support from the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Macau Special Administrative Region (…) since 2000 through the offer of equipment, financing of Timorese personnel, hosting students at the University of Macau and other universities funded by 25 scholarship grants from the Chinese government and the Macau authorities”.

Pedro Seabra states in his report that “it is increasingly clear that East Timor is slowly but carefully weaving an elaborate geopolitical tapestry” based on diversifying its partners while remaining aligned with Australia and thereby also with the United States. (macauhub)