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Australia steps up aid for East Timor amid China’s growing influence in the Pacific

Underlying these gestures however are pre-existing tensions between the two countries, especially in differences over the development of the controversial but valuable Greater Sunrise gas fields located in the Timor Gap, the strip of water between the two countries.

Canberra said the funding announced on Monday would “continue the successful policing partnership” between the Australian Federal Police and the National Police of East Timor and would be deployed through the Timor-Leste Police Development Programme.

“The extension of our policing partnership underscores Australia’s ongoing support for Timor-Leste’s sovereignty and security,” said the statement issued by Pat Conroy, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific.

The new funding will also support Timorese workers starting jobs in Australia under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, including helping them build financial literacy skills.

This increase in support comes after Australia and East Timor signed a major defence deal in 2022 to boost bilateral military cooperation, in what Canberra called “a significant step forward” and a “new chapter” in their relationship.

In 2018, Australia and East Timor settled their differences over maritime borders that also created a special regime to offer East Timor a majority share in gas revenues, although there was no agreement about where the gas would be processed.

But East Timor’s President José Ramos-Horta warned in 2022 that his nation would seek Chinese support if Australia and Australia’s Woodside Energy – which had a share in the US$50 billion Greater Sunrise project – failed to pump the gas to East Timor rather than Darwin in Australia.

This was followed quickly by East Timor and Australia