May 16, 2016

Strategic Issues for Australia - East Timor and New Caledonia

East Timor is just north of yellow coffin shaped Zone of "Cooperation". China in 2007 was interested in placing a long range radar on the northeast coast of East Timor. 

Australian naval assets, including submarines, might become interested in Chinese naval activities if China spreads sustained naval influence to East Timor and New Caledonia in the future.

China supplied 2 patrol boats to East Timor in 2010 but Chinese air, naval or radar facilities would be a greater worry.

East Timor (Timor Leste) is a very country (independent since 2002) just to Australia's north.

A naval and air base at Baucau, a small town with an airport on East Timor's northeast coast could be built with South China Sea like rapidity and efficiency. Baucau Airport was used by the Indonesian Air Force (1975-1999) and can take aircraft larger than 737s.

China has a record of attempting to make East Timor more of a military asset for China. In December 2007 Chinese defence “firms” approached the East Timorese Government with a suggestion that the “firms” build and operate a surveillance radar facility on East Timor's north east coast (probably in the Baucau area). East Timorese officials consulted the US and Australia before rejecting the Chinese “firms” offer.

East Timor has long been dissatisfied with the Timor Gap undersea oil/gas border and revenue sharing dispute with Australia. East Timor is increasingly vocal about this. China may be able to exploit the discontent. China could offer not only more aid but political leverage and oil/gas undersea extraction expertise assets to obtain higher oil/gas revenues for East Timor.

China may be able to exploit any New Caledonian disruption. New Caledonia is an island just to the northeast of Australia (see map). Many of the indigenous "Kanaks" are dicontented with French rule. Australians are largely ignorant of political happening in New Caledonia.

An Independence Referendum in nickel rich New Caledonia is expected in 2018.    

-  There is concern about violent disruption 2018 onwards. A possible precedent is independence of the nearby New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in 1980 which become quite violent - including French planters in New Hebrides' larger northern island of Espiritu Santo trying to organize a Francophile Separatist Rebellion.

For white residents and nickel interests in New Caledonia there is concern about policies of any "Kanak" dominated independence government after 2018.

Australia and New Zealand would be concerned about events in a post 2018 New Caledonia, particularly which outside powers would come to influence an independent New Caledonia.

The concern is China may see East Timor and New Caledonia as military assets with air, radar and naval base facilities in the same way it is treating such South China Sea islands as Fiery Cross, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef.



Anonymous said...


That is a great point on the Caledonia independence referendum in 2 years. For some super alloys, you need Nickel.

I agree with you the locals are not very happy with French rule, but I suspect the referendum outcome may be influenced by all French from "Metropole" relocating to Caledonia thanks to financial incentives being doled out. Sounds familiar?

Ztev Konrad said...

Interesting back story on how Australia reneged on part of UNLoS treaty specifically to stiff Timor Leste on the seafloor boundary issue.
Of course its presented as negotiated settlement, between two partners, when one side held all the cards and could read the others secrets.

Its often forgotten how Australia came to include Christmas Is ( 350 km from Java)as part of its territory in the late 50s. Its not in the continental shelf or previously an Australian territory ( it was included by UK as part of Singapore colony).
Its difficult to see Chinas grab of distant SCS atolls ( which are roughly 500km from Hainan) compared with Australia's garb of Christmas Is , 1600km from its territory , in different lights.

imacca said...

The dispute with East Timor over the maritime border is a worry, but i would think that Timor will wait until the outcome of the election here before they take it further.

Plibersek has already come out moths ago with the ALP's proposal that if elected, a Shorten Govt will have another go at a bilateral settlement (or trilateral as Indonesia has an interest as well??) and if that doesn't go anywhere its off to arbitration. That was welcomed by Eat Timor when announced. ALP's position may well be informed by low gas and oil prices at the moment??

Libs seem to be locked into excluding arbitration.

I think the current Govts position is poor, as it plays to the Chinese position in the South China Sea and can be spun that we are hypocrites. Arbitrated solution in the South China Sea, but NOT where our own borders are concerned??

Anyway, IF the dispute with Timor rolls on as it is, i would fully expect that they would at least try to play a Chinese bases / facilities card at some point. However, IF the Chinese start pushing the Indonesians harder over the Natuna Islands they may not play that card very forcefully? And would China want to go there when it seems the next "hot spot" in the South China Sea is Scarborough Shoals??

All a big mess. :(

Peter Coates said...


In line with what you say a critical issue for the New Caledonia 2018 Referendum is how many whites, others and Kanaks are permitted to be on the Voting Roll.

Hence this is a hot topic "Although the French constitution restricts voting rights to those who have been in the territory since before 1998, the FLNKS says more than 3,000 ineligible residents are still listed as voters."



Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev and imacca

Yes Australia is getting worried about rising corruption and human rights abuses in East Timor . East Timor suffers from rule by an educated, monied, elite of Portuegese speakers who only returned to East Timor when it was safe - that is, after Australia liberated East Timor from Indonesian oppression in 1999

Like the Louisiana Purchase and purchase of Alaska - Christmas Island was bought .

Russia didn't pay for Siberia.