Australia's Prime Minister the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP recently made a flying visit to Japan. We noticed two interesting things from his discussions that relate to East Timor's maritime boundaries: firstly his appeal that disagreements about maritime territorial issues be resolved using international law and secondly his language referring to Australia's disappointment regarding the decision of Japan to conduct whaling in the Southern Ocean.
In Accordance with International Law
On the 18th of December, in a joint statement Japanese Prime Minister, H.E. Mr Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Turnbull spoke about the territorial issues in the South China Sea urging for restraint and for all parties to "act in accordance with international law."
Prior to the Prime Ministerial meeting Turnbull was more expansive in a press conference saying:
"Everybody has a vested interest in continued economic growth and that depends on continued peace. Now clearly, people, countries, have differences of opinion on territorial matters ... our only interest is that in so far as there are differences of opinion, and there clearly are, they should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law." [emphasis ours]
We certainly hope this reliance on international law is brought to the issue of delimiting the maritime border between Australia and Timor-Leste.
Recently in a letter to the Saturday Paper H.E. Xanana Gusmão emphasised that Timor-Leste is interested only in what it is entitled to under international law:
"Timor-Leste firmly believes in its right to define its boundaries. Our pursuit of our maritime boundaries is a matter of principle that is for keeps. There is no “oil ploy”. Each nation has the right – and indeed the obligation – under international law to settle permanent maritime boundaries with their neighbours. Timor-Leste pursues this as a necessary phase of our hard-fought independence.
We have been clear that we are ready to accept the boundaries drawn where international law says they should be drawn. We are also prepared to sit down at the negotiating table with our neighbours in good faith. We are not seeking to claim one nautical mile that does not belong to us under these universal rules. But we are seeking what rightfully belongs to us."
2016 is the year for the Australian Government to engage genuinely and in good faith with the Government of Timor-Leste on this issue so that it can be resolved in accordance with international law.
We can talk frankly and respectfully as good friends
In Tokyo there were also some hopeful signs for Timor-Leste in Turnbull's language about the bilateral relationship with Japan and how the whaling issue impacts it.
In his address to the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry he said:
"we also have differences. Australians were deeply disappointed to learn that Japan had resumed whaling in the Southern Ocean this year. The whaling issue is one of the very few cross currents in an otherwise entirely positive and mutually beneficial relationship.
But it is a sign of the strength and maturity of our partnership that we can talk about concerns like this frankly and respectfully as good friends should."[emphasis ours]
It was reported by the ABC that he said
"We recognise that is a point of difference of opinion but we should be upfront and frank about our differences of opinion, put them on the table and deal with them, seek to resolve them.
"If we can't resolve them then we will obviously keep talking but we shouldn't allow it to erode the good will in the rest of the relationship."
It is our hope that in 2016 we hear a similar language regarding Timor-Leste, but more than just talking - a willingness to "be upfront and frank about our differences of opinion, put them on the table and deal with them, seek to resolve them".
Timor's turn Mr. Turnbull.