Timor-Leste's president, Jose Ramos-Horta, has warned his nation will seek Chinese support if Australia and corporate giant Woodside Energy fail to back a gas pipeline between the resource-rich Timor Sea and his country's southern shore, rather than Darwin.
Ramos-Horta warned Australia that Timor-Leste would "absolutely" look to Chinese investment to secure what he says is the "national strategic goal" of piping gas from the Greater Sunrise fields to his nation's coast.
"Timor-Leste would favourably consider a partnership with Chinese investors if other development partners refuse to invest in bringing gas via pipeline to Timor-Leste," Ramos-Horta told Guardian Australia.
"Timor-Leste would be on a financial cliff if Greater Sunrise is not operating within the next 10 years. So, very soon, [Timor-Leste's] leadership has to make decisions... if necessary a trip to China," the Timorese leader said.
The Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, which are worth an estimated US$71 billion, are critical to Timor-Leste's future. The resources – which sit in the Timor Sea about 150 kilometres south of Timor-Leste – have created much tension between the two allies.
A new agreement was struck between Australia and Timor-Leste on the Timor Sea maritime boundary in 2019, but progress on the development of the Greater Sunrise resources has been slow.
The current preference of Woodside Energy, which is seeking to exploit the gasfields, is to pipe the gas through Darwin for processing.
But the Australian Financial Review reported that Timor-Leste's petroleum minister, Victor da Conceicao Soares, viewed the construction of a pipeline to Timor-Leste's southern coast as the "only acceptable option for the people of Timor-Leste".
The decision on where to build the pipeline is ultimately a commercial one, though the Australian government is working with Timor-Leste on regulatory and taxation arrangements under the maritime boundary signed in 2019.
As it stands, Woodside has a 33.44 per cent stake in Greater Sunrise, while Timor GAP – the Timor-Leste national oil company – holds a stake of 56.56 per cent, after buying out ConocoPhillips and Shell. Japan's Osaka Gas holds a 10 per cent stake.
The Greater Sunrise fields are much closer to Timor-Leste, compared with 450km to Darwin. The new maritime boundary agreement puts most of the resources within Timor-Leste's jurisdiction.
Woodside has generally argued that piping the gas to Darwin would be more commercially viable, CLBrief reported.Florentino Soares Ferreira, president of Timor-Leste's National Authority of Petroleum and Minerals, said this week that independent reports have shown "that it is technically viable".