The Jakarta Post
The relationship between Indonesia and Timor Leste has improved steadily in the last few years. Timor Leste's Prime Minister Rui Maria De Araujo, who spent nine years as a student at different universities in Indonesia, discussed the relationship during an interview with The Jakarta Post's Margareth Aritonang recently. Below is an excerpt of the interview:
Question: Can you explain the state of our bilateral ties and what can be further explored especially now that you, a representative of the younger generation, are leading the country?
Answer: I think the relationship between Timor Leste and Indonesia is excellent. As stated by President Joko Widodo, we are not only neighbors, not only friends but in fact we are brothers. Because we have a common history, despite our past differences and conflicts in the past. But we decided to put all of that behind us and focus instead on the future.
And since 2002 until now, 13 years on, the relationship has grown quickly and in a very excellent way. In terms of the economy, Indonesian state-owned companies are quite prevalent in Timor Leste. There are currently 24 state-owned companies working in Timor Leste. And up to 400 private Indonesian companies have been conducting business and small-scale investment there. There are 7,000 Indonesians living and doing business in Timor Leste. In the area of education, there are currently up to 5,000 young Timorese studying in many parts of Indonesia. The relationship is very good. It's a mature relationship.
Will it continue to be positive under your leadership especially as you have a close ties with this country?
Sure, the relationship is not only positive at the government-to-government and business-to-business levels. People-to-people interaction is also strong. A lot of Timorese of my generation and younger have history with Indonesia. History in the sense that either they have been in touch with Indonesians in the past living in Timor Leste, or they've been living in Indonesia for the purpose of studying or doing other things.
I spent nine years as a student in Indonesia from 1985 to 1994. I started at Satya Wacana University in Salatiga. I initially commenced with English literature. Then after a year I shifted to medical school because I had wanted to be a doctor since I was little. I could not gain access to the state university through the UMPTN [national state university entrance test]. So then I tried a private university, the University of Islam Sultan Agung in Semarang. I started medical school there. And then after several state examinations I managed to be transferred to Udayana University [in Bali] and I completed my medical degree there in 1994.
I told President [Joko Widodo] that I knew Java and Bali from my years of study in those places.
Are there any delicate matters that both countries have to resolve so that it will not hamper future relations?
At the moment one issue that I would not say is delicate, but hasn't been resolved yet, is the land border and maritime border issues.
It's not sensitive because both countries, particularly after the bilateral meeting that we had today, now have a common understanding that the border demarcation should be based on international law. And particularly regarding the issue of maritime borders, it should be based on the United Nations conventions on the law of the sea of 1992.
So we have an agreement in principle about the framework. We have regular meetings at both the senior official and ministerial level. Before the end of this year we will be having joint ministerial committee meetings to discuss what principles have been agreed so far on land border and maritime issues. Joint border committees will meet in September. These concrete steps came out of the discussion we had today.
How do you illustrate the significance of people-to-people relations?
We have an enclave where part of Timor Leste's territory is inside Indonesia's territory.
The border of this enclave has not been fully agreed upon yet.
Despite border issues, relations between people in this area are going well. They share the same culture, ethnicity and ethno-linguistic background.
Of course we must come up with an agreement regarding the border, but we have to also try to develop that area for the mutual benefit of the two communities.
How far has defense cooperation developed?
We have several areas of cooperation. For example, Timor Leste's senior officers train at Lemhanas, and the two countries exchange military information.
We are exploring the possibility of conducting peacekeeping mission preparations here because Indonesia has the facilities to prepare peacekeepers before they are posted. And our armed forces have been invited to participate in UN peacekeeping operations.
We are also exploring the possibility of officer training. The latest plan under discussion is the possibility of having young Timorese undertake study at the military academy in Indonesia.
What is your plan to energize trade and investment and to attract more Indonesian investors to come to Timor Leste?
Our current focus is to diversify our economy. We will be focusing on three main areas: tourism, agriculture and the oil and gas sector.
If you look at a map of Timor Leste, the south coast will be an oil and gas industry hub. That is the long-term plan. Now we are building the basic infrastructure in order to support that.
We need to develop infrastructure in tourism and agriculture. Once we create [good] conditions, private investment will come in and start to develop the economy. So that's the kind of diversification we are talking about in Timor at the moment.
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