16 April 2008

Alarm at China's influence in Timor

IMPOVERISHED East Timor has signed a $28 million deal with China to buy two advanced patrol boats in a move that will alarm Australia and Indonesia about increasing Chinese influence in the struggling nation.

The deal was signed on April 12 by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, Secretary of State for Defence Julio Pinto and Hao Yantan from the Chinese defence company Poly-Technic.

China has been steadily increasing its presence in East Timor. It is involved in oil and gas exploration and was responsible for compiling a geological survey of the half-island state.

China has also recently built a massive Foreign Ministry office on Dili's waterfront.

The contract for the patrol boats provides for 30 East Timorese defence force personnel to undergo training in China. Foreign policy experts yesterday expressed concern at the deal and said money would be better spent on social infrastructure.


Former colonial power Portugal gave East Timor two ageing Albatross-class patrol boats armed with 20mm cannon but both ships are in need of repairs. The East Timorese defence force was also hard-pressed to find the $500,000 a year required to keep the boats running.

"Nobody is arguing that East Timor needs to be able to control its own waters, but to sign a $28 million patrol boat contract with the Chinese raises questions about affordability and says much about the expanding role of China here," said a Dili-based Western security analyst, who asked not to be named.



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