A massive conference in East Timor last week has produced two statements supporting Timor-Leste's campaign to establish maritime boundaries.
The ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN People's Forum 2016 produced a 16 point Statement which included as point 3 this pledge of solidarity:
"A key challenge experienced by Timor-Leste revolves around its maritime boundaries and exploitation of its natural resources.
We renew our solidarity with the peoples of Timor-Leste in their unfinished struggle to achieve full sovereignty and to be able to exercise their right to self-determination.
In this context, regionalism and regional solidarity are instrumental in supporting their right to determine their own path of development and in reclaiming their lawful seas and addressing the maritime challenges experienced by Timor-Leste is common to other ASEAN member states that are equally being pressured and exploited by other non ASEAN giants across the maritime borders of South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
ASEAN should thus reaffirm its commitment to ensuring realization of human rights, peace, security, stability and freedom of navigation and over flight, and consider all means of peaceful resolution of maritime disputes, in accordance to international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea."
During the Conference, delegates gathered peacefully in front of the Australian Embassy calling for a change in the Australian Government's policy of 'non engagement' on this issue.
The Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition also issued a strong statement during the conference and launched a 'regional solidarity campaign."
They consider the issue as one linked to human rights and put out the call:
AUSTRALIA, DON’T OCCUPY TIMOR SEA!,
DON’T STEAL THEIR OIL!,
GIVE BACK THEIR RIGHTS!
In part their statement said:
"After decades of enduring a bitter and brutal conflict characterized by severe human rights violations that have ravaged the entire nation, the people of Timor Leste’s struggle for full independence and national sovereignty continues until today.
A young democracy, Timor’s long struggle for genuine independence and right to self-determination will not be complete, until its people have a map with defined, established and permanent maritime boundaries, which they and all nations are entitled to, in accordance with international law."
Wow - the ASEAN based civil society groups are well and truly united with East Timor on this issue and are committed to taking it forward.
The Australian Government has an opportunity here to show some leadership and match it's talk on the South China Sea by engaging with its close neighbour to establish a maritime border in the Timor Sea.
The issue is not going to go away.