Australia issues veiled warning to Timor-Leste of risk of ties with China

Sydney, Australia, Sep 1 (EFE).- Australia issued a veiled warning to Timor-Leste on Thursday about the risks of associating with China in developing the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, a project that has been stalled for decades.

“We know that economic resilience can be affected, can be constrained by unsustainable debt burdens or lenders who have different objectives,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said at a press conference in Timor-Leste capital Dili.

Wong also reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to financial and technical cooperation for Timor-Leste’s development at a time when there are concerns that strategic competition may disrupt order in the Asia-Pacific region.

Wong’s remarks come after Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta told The Guardian newspaper last month that his country could seek China’s support to carry out an important project for the economy of the young nation.

Ramos-Horta said that he would turn to Beijing if Canberra and Woodside Energy, the operator of the Greater Sunrise gas fields located 150 km south of the Timor-Leste, do not support the construction of a pipeline between the fields and his country, instead of the Australian city of Darwin.

Wong said she would respect the decision taken by Timor-Leste as a “sovereign nation,” including on matters pertaining to Greater Sunrise, in which the state-owned company Timor Gap is the majority shareholder with a 56.6 percent stake.

Wong stressed that Australia believes it is important that the partners in this project, which also includes Australia’s Woodside Petroleum (33.44 percent) and Japan’s Osaka Gas (10 percent), “come to an agreement for this project to proceed.”

The fields, located in the Timor Sea that separates the two nations, have an estimated reserve of 255,000 million cubic meters of gas and 300 million barrels of liquefied petroleum gas and condensate, which are valued at about $48.36 billion.

The exploitation of Greater Sunrise was delayed by the territorial dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste, which was resolved with the ratification of a maritime boundary treaty in 2019, as well as the dispute over Woodside’s desire to lay the gas pipeline to Darwin, considering it a more commercially viable option despite being further away.

Australia and other nations allied to Washington are concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in the region after it signed a security agreement in April with the Solomon Islands.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a tour of the Pacific between May and June, in which he offered a multilateral treaty to 10 nations in the region, including Timor-Leste, on trade and security, among other issues, although in the end it was not signed. EFE


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