Australia's relationship with East Timor is at risk as the deadline looms on a hotly disputed and lucrative liquid natural gas project -- with no resolution in sight.
West Australian-based Woodside Petroleum has until February 23 to reach an agreement with the government of East Timor over the site of processing LNG or else the arrangement between the two is likely to be stopped. This would then trigger the cancellation of Australia’s sea boundary agreements with East Timor.
At this late stage it's unlikely Woodside will change its long-held position and accede to East Timor's demand that the LNG be processed on East Timor’s south coast. Woodside's preferred option is a floating processing platform at the Greater Sunrise LNG field in the Timor Sea.
As Spain’s Operacion Puerto trial neared the end of its second week, the Australian Crime Commission has released a report that exposes what it calls widespread doping in many Australian sports along with links to organized crime involved in the supply of doping products and match fixing. This report follows up the USADA Armstrong case and further exposes the lie peddled in the Anglo American world that doping in sport is something that only happens somewhere else, for example in European countries like Spain or in sports like cycling.
Australia enters 2013 reconsidering its place in a strategically shifting world. Issues close to home have stabilised and, increasingly, considerations further from Australia are being written off as a lost cause.
Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to East Timor has ended, with that country now charting an independent and, for the medium future at least, stable course. East Timor’s relations with its giant and once problematic neighbour, Indonesia, are now so positive that it has been mooted that East Timor’s defence forces might start training with Indonesia’s army.
Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to the Solomon Islands will also end this year, bringing to a close engagement in what was once referred to as the ‘arc of instability’.
From a sleepy backwater, the South Pacific has been catapulted into the diplomatic limelight, with the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in the Cook Islands playing host not just to Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, but to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and a large delegation from China. All of a sudden, the Pacific island states – a mere scattering of specks in a vast blue ocean – are at centre stage.
When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, part of its justification was that the then ruling Fretilin intended to allow the country to become a regional base for China. Fretilin had recently assumed power, having defeated the conservative UDT’s attempted coup in August of that year. But Fretilin’s victory was viewed in Indonesia as establishing a communist base in the middle of its archipelago at a time when the Cold War was running hot and communism in the region seemed in the ascendency. At that time, Indonesia was vehemently anti-communist, having destroyed its own communist party less than a decade before and broken off diplomatic relations with China as part of the purge. The idea of China having a base, or at least a friendly country, in its midst was intolerable to Indonesia’s generals. Whether or not Fretilin intended to establish close relations with China is a moot point.
At a time of unprecedented good bilateral relations with Indonesia, Australia is now looking to its future. Indonesia’s shift towards a more open democratic framework has allowed the previously troubled relationship to stabilise, but its future remains uncertain, especially over the medium to longer term.
The renewed focus on relations with Indonesia reflects its continuing critical value to Australian foreign policy. It is Australia’s largest near neighbour, the world’s largest Muslim country, a major regional diplomatic actor, the key transit point for Australian trade, travel and irregular migration and, again, a growing economic partner.
Australia policy thinkers are therefore looking at options for the longer term relationship. Among those considerations is increasing bilateral strategic engagement. More than any other aspect of the relationship, this is likely to generate controversy both within Australia and in Indonesia.
This article appeared in the Sunday Debate page in the Herald Sun, 15 January 2012.
To read the argument from the anti-whaling side (Sea Shepherd), please go to the following link.
Before talking about the whaling in the Southern Ocean
IT IS quite unfortunate that the current debate on whaling is somehow focusing only on the Japanese scientific research whaling in the Southern Ocean and the clash between the whalers and environmental activists. It is actually distracting the debate from the fundamental question. The focus of the debate should be on a question: How should human beings relate to this creature, the whale, in the 21st century?
To whale or not to whale … THAT should be the question
I was simply amazed when I read a small online Japanese article about a week ago. It was reporting the departure of three whaling ships from Shimonoseki, former whaling town in the western Japan, heading for the Antarctic. I was amazed not that I was surprised by the fact that the Japanese had decided to return to the Antarctic yet again but that one official from the Japanese Fisheries Agency was quoted as saying that they had beefed up the fleet’s security level to counter the attack from activists and they were releasing the information beforehand because it may work as a “deterrent effect” .
Excuse me? Deterrent effect? Are you serious?
The move by Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, to ground the Qantas fleet around the world, will have caused significant damage to the brand, regardless of his motives for doing so.
Although Australia has repeatedly expressed its solidarity and support with the Arab uprisings and has called for a no-fly zone to be imposed on Libya, what exactly Australia should learn from the popular democratic movements sweeping across the region has yet to be considered.
The dramatic sequence of pro-democracy movements that are emerging in the Middle East and North Africa serve as a unique opportunity for Australian politicians and policy-makers to learn three key lessons which have very specific consequences for Australia’s foreign policy, its trade and security, and its relationships with the Arab world.