Before arriving there next Wednesday, Wong will fly to Port Moresby, where China has also sought to extend its influence. Beijing last week donated 2000 bulletproof vests and helmets to PNG.
Ramos-Horta is due to head to Australia the week after on September 7 and East Timor’s ambassador in Canberra, Ines Maria de Almeida, said offshore gas could be on the agenda when he meets with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
East Timor has a semi-presidential system in which executive powers largely lie with the Prime Minister, Taur Matan Ruak, and his cabinet but Ramos-Horta’s message on Greater Sunrise matches that of the government, whose state-owned energy company Timor Gap has a majority share in the oil and gas fields.
It will be his second tour abroad since being elected president for a second time in May, having talked up cooperation with Indonesia during a visit there last month.
Ramos-Horta has since been criticised by civil society groups in Timor for awarding a presidential honour to retired Indonesian general Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono on Saturday.
The 77-year-old was listed as having a high-level command responsibility by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, which investigated human rights violations committed in the 24 years after the Indonesian invasion and concluded that 102,800 Timorese died as a direct result of its occupation.
“He was one of the main actors involved directly since the Indonesian military invaded this country,” said Sisto dos Santo of Dili-based non-government organisation HAK Foundation.
“What our president Mr Horta did is not representative of the names of the victims and the families of the victims. The president has just promoted impunity, not only for Timorese but Indonesian people.”
A former head of Indonesia’s spy agency BIN, Hendropriyono was also mentioned in leaked US cables in connection with the high-profile murder of Indonesian human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, who had accused Indonesia’s military of human rights breaches in East Timor and was poisoned on a Garuda flight to the Netherlands in 2004.
His award in Timor also comes as the country steps up its bid to become a member of regional bloc ASEAN, which Indonesia will chair in 2023.
But Michael Leach, an expert in Timorese politics at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, said it was difficult to comprehend.
“Timor-Leste’s Truth Commission report lists Hendropriyono as someone who likely bears ‘command responsibility’ for crimes against humanity in 1999, and who should be subject to further criminal investigations,” Leach said.
“It is therefore hard to understand why this person has been awarded a medal from the Timorese state. Everyone understands the need to good relations with Indonesia, but many Timorese see this as a step too far.”