East Timor President José Ramos-Horta (left) shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra on Wednesday – Copyright AFP STR
East Timor’s leader José Ramos-Horta on Wednesday said China could help fund a massive fossil fuel project deemed critical to the country’s economic future, dismissing Western fears of Beijing’s growing influence.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra, the president and Nobel Peace Prize winner said “of course China” could be involved in the Greater Sunrise project, which aims to extract trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
The project, located in the waters between East Timor and Australia, has long been touted as a joint venture between the two countries.
But exploration stalled for years over disputes over maritime boundaries and whether the gas should be processed in Australia or East Timor.
Ramos Horta is working hard to get foreign funding and build LNG plants in his country, seeing this as a potential game-changer in the economy.
He told reporters that a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan and South Korea, could be involved in the project, but also discussed Beijing’s involvement, knowing it could irritate Canberra.
“Of course China (may be involved). This is a pipeline, we are not talking about maritime security. It’s just a pipeline. China will just be an investor,” he said.
But politicians in Canberra are likely to take issue with Chinese meddling in critical infrastructure so close to Australia’s borders.
Australia is already concerned about China’s rapidly expanding regional influence, including in East Timor, which gained independence in 2002 and is only a few hundred kilometers (miles) off Australia’s northern coast.
China has built the country’s parliament, the presidential palace of Ramos-Horta and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Revenues from existing fossil fuel projects are expected to dry up soon and the country’s sovereign wealth fund is rapidly shrinking, leading some to warn of a looming “fiscal cliff.”
Senior Australian diplomat Penny Wong recently warned Deely that she was facing some “pretty serious economic problems” and warned against the risks of so-called “debt trap” diplomacy, a term widely used in reference to China’s investment strategy in countries such as Sri Lanka. . .
“Our debt, our loans are in the spirit of making East Timor more resilient,” she said during a visit to the capital of the island nation.
“We know that economic sustainability can be affected or constrained by unsustainable debt burdens or creditors with other goals.”