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The Timor Sea Maritime Border Dispute: A Complex History

The Timor Sea maritime border dispute between Australia and East Timor has been a contentious issue that has overshadowed their relationship for years. This blog article provides a summary of the history and key events surrounding the dispute.


East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. However, the country faced significant economic challenges as it was one of the poorest nations in Asia. The discovery of substantial oil and natural gas reserves in the Timor Sea offered hope for prosperity. However, determining the maritime borders became a crucial factor in accessing these resources.

The Dispute:

The dispute revolves around the location of the maritime borders and the ownership rights to the "Greater Sunrise" oil field, worth billions of dollars. Australia contends that the borders should be drawn closer to its coastline, while East Timor argues for the borders to be drawn based on a median line principle. This disagreement stalled the extraction of resources and became a central economic concern for East Timor.

Historical Context:

Australia's relationship with East Timor has been complex. During World War II, Australia and East Timorese fought together against Japan. However, Australia recognized Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor during its occupation, and human rights abuses committed by Indonesia were downplayed to maintain diplomatic relations. Australia eventually supported East Timor's independence and played a crucial role in the peacekeeping mission.

Negotiations and Agreements:

Over the years, Australia and East Timor reached various agreements regarding the maritime borders. However, disputes continued to arise. In 2006, a new agreement was signed, granting East Timor a 50% share of the Greater Sunrise field's revenue. Still, the issue of drawing maritime borders was postponed for 50 years. This agreement was later nullified when it was revealed that Australia had bugged East Timor's cabinet room during negotiations.

International Court and Resolution:

In 2016, the international court ruled in favor of East Timor, allowing them to nullify the previous agreement and pursue drawing their maritime borders. In 2019, both countries agreed on new borders that granted East Timor a significantly higher share of the revenue, ranging from 70% to 80%, depending on the processing location. Corporate partners also supported this resolution, bringing East Timor one step closer to accessing its resources.

The Timor Sea maritime border dispute has been a complex and contentious issue between Australia and East Timor. After years of negotiations, court battles, and public outrage, both countries reached an agreement that defined their maritime borders and granted East Timor a greater share of the resource revenues. This resolution marks a significant milestone in their relationship and paves the way for economic development and prosperity for East Timor.

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