- by Marcus Browning
- The Guardian
- Issue #2072
UN Photo/Bernardino Soares. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Timor Leste and China have significantly strengthened social, cultural, and economic ties, specifically in energy, agriculture, and infrastructure. This follows Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong’s backhanded admission earlier this year of Australia’s criminal interference in the internal affairs of Timor-Leste; “It was not in the spirit of our friendship,” Wong said, referring to Australia’s ongoing attempt to steal away Timor-Leste’s Greater Sunrise oil and gas in the Timor Sea on behalf of mining transnational Woodside.
From the earliest days of its formation in 2002 as an independent state with a government led by socialist Fretilin, successive Australian governments have been seeking ways to undermine Timor-Leste. The aim was and is to prevent the country taking an independent path and to instead have in place governments that would comply with Australian policies and do its bidding. Thus Penny Wong’s visit to Timor-Leste last week in the face of China’s positive influence in the Asia-Pacific.
In 2006 a former Portuguese general Alfredo Assuncao, who commanded a UN force in Timor-Leste told a Portuguese newspaper that, “what interests the Australians most is oil and gas … So what better way to control these enormously rich resources than to be physically present and control the country’s political system?”
He went on to say that the Australians always wanted to control everything and everyone in the country but had been frustrated because President Xanana Gusmao and leader of Fretilin Mari Alkatiri had shown a united front. “The break-up of this union is opening the way for them to take control of the country.”
The establishment of a military base under the control of Australian forces and available for use by US forces as a forward base for US troops, tanks, aircraft, missiles and warships, has always been a major Australian objective.
The Australian and US governments had begun preparing, step by step, for a big war in Asia. In October 2005 former military adviser to the Howard government, Ross Babbage, published a booklet Preparing Australia’s Defence for 2020. He wrote of the possibility of a “major war in Asia in the 2020 timeframe”.
The Fretilin government proceeded to implement social and economic policies without resort to the shackling loans, “market forces” economics, and privatisation policies of the IMF and World Bank. Furthermore, Prime Minister Alkatiri stood up to the bullying and threats from then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer over the control and revenue sharing of East Timor’s oil and gas resources.
The Australia-East Timor spying scandal began in 2004 when the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) planted covert listening devices in a room adjacent to the East Timor (Timor-Leste) Prime Minister’s Office at Dili, to obtain information in order to ensure Australia held the upper hand in negotiations with East Timor over the rich oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap.
Even though the Timor-Leste government was unaware of the espionage operation undertaken by Australia, negotiations were hostile. The first Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Mari Alkatiri, bluntly accused the Howard government of plundering the oil and gas in the Timor Sea, stating:
“Timor-Leste loses $1 million a day due to Australia’s unlawful exploitation of resources in the disputed area. Timor-Leste cannot be deprived of its rights or territory because of a crime.”
Lead negotiator for East Timor, Peter Galbraith, laid out the motives behind the espionage by ASIS:
“What would be the most valuable thing for Australia to learn is what our bottom line is, what we were prepared to settle for. There’s another thing that gives you an advantage, you know what the instructions the prime minister has given to the lead negotiator. And finally, if you’re able to eavesdrop you’ll know about the divisions within the East Timor delegation and there certainly were divisions, different advice being given, so you might be able to lean on one way or another in the course of the negotiations.”
Once the UN was removed as an effective presence the way was cleared for other preparations to be put in train. The main objectives were the removal of Mari Alkatiri as Prime Minister, the weakening of Fretilin as the majority Party and its eventual replacement by other political forces and leaders amendable to the political and economic policies favoured by the Australian government.
This coincides with the long-term objective of the Australian government and was behind the earlier use of Australian troops at the time of East Timor’s independence in 2001. It was presented at the time that the Howard government had become genuinely committed to the independence struggle of the savagely suppressed population of East Timor. This was never the truth of the matter.
All major Australian newspapers and their journalists consistently demonised Mari Alkatiri and promoted any and every rumour biased against the elected government. The media had no intention of reporting on democratic processes when a government not to their liking was elected.