SPECIAL EDITION: Peace, prosperity and the journey to independence, His Excellency Dr Jose Ramos-Horta

His Excellency Dr. Jose Ramos Horta. Image via Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence.

In this special episode of the Defence Connect Podcast, His Excellency Dr Jose Ramos-Horta takes us through Timor-Leste’s endeavour towards independence, harmony and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and his deep respect for the Australian Defence Force going all the way back to World War II.

The Nobel Laureate and UN special representative tells us tales of the ADF in Timor-Leste and why the Timorese want Australia to play a larger role in the region.

Enjoy the podcast,

The Defence Connect team.

 

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Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 106: PODCAST: The critical role that academia plays in the future of defence, Professor Colin Stirling & Tony Kyriacou, Flinders University
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Episode 104: PODCAST: Revolutionising the efficiency and cost effectiveness of naval shipbuilding, Richard Price, Defence SA
Episode 103: PODCAST: Recruiting the Australian defence force of tomorrow, Sue McGready, Department of Defence
Episode 102: PODCAST: Maintaining a strong Australian identity within defence, Vince Di Pietro and Neale Prescott, Lockheed Martin
Episode 101: PODCAST: Australia's history and future within the space sector, Robert Brand, ThunderStruck Aerospace
Episode 100: PODCAST: The freedom that a start-up space agency presents Australia, Dr Jason Held, Saber Astronautics
Episode 99: PODCAST: Defence industry’s communication opportunities in the digital age, Brendan Maxwell, The Decisive Point
Episode 98: PODCAST: How geospatial imagery is aiding US border security, Patrick Stewart, US Border Patrol
Episode 97: Technology is changing the face of border security: US Border Protection Chief

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Defence Connect podcast, with your host, Phil Tarrant.

 

Phil Tarrant:

Good day, my name is Phil Tarrant here for a special episode of the Defence Connect podcast. Here to join me is a colleague that works with me at Momentum Media, Aleks Vickovich. How're you going, Aleks?

 

Aleks V.:

Very well, thanks, Phil. Thanks for having me.

 

Phil Tarrant:

Good, so, this is something very new, very different, we haven't done this before within Defence Connect, so I hope our listeners can tolerate something which is a little bit outside the norm, but I think is highly beneficial. Last week, we spent some time with José Ramos-Horta, His Excellency, former President of East Timor. He spoke at one of our events and we were fortunate to spend some time with him, have a bit of a chat about his view of the world today, what he's been up to post his time in government there. And some of his observation on Australians and the Australian Defence Force. How did you enjoy that chat?

 

Aleks V.:

Yeah, look, it was fascinating. I mean, the reason we brought him out here was because of a very different kind of industry and a different topic, he was here to talk to our financial advisor audience. But, since we had him there, we thought it would be prudent to task him a few questions around the defence industry and he certainly had some messages. But really, just an incredible presence. So, it was one of those moments where, as you know, Phil, you know, being a journo, sometimes you need to kind of suppress your inner fanboy and stick to the professional ethics and it was a bit like that because he had this incredible presence and this incredible humility, but then you also realise you're talking to a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

 

Phil Tarrant:

And look, he's had a very impressive career thus far and if you don't know or you're not very familiar about José Ramos-Horta, just Google him and check out his Wikipedia page. Other than getting shot in an assassination attempt, he's been integral in the foundation of East Timor and what was a pretty tumultuous time with the Indonesians for a period.

 

Aleks V.:

Yeah, absolutely and I mean, you see Timorese people speak about him in a very particular way. We don't really have that in Australia, but Timorese people that I know and people that have actually interacted with me since we spoke to him last week, they talk about him like Americans talk about Jefferson or Washington. It's a very different way of looking at your political leaders, he really is a founding father of that country, both in a military sense and then, subsequently, in a political sense. So, hugely important in the public life of the country.

 

Phil Tarrant:

And I know he was out speaking at one of your events, Aleks, around independence and obviously, the event you did was independence and financial advice and he spoke about the tenets of independence from a more sovereign perspective and what I quite liked about the speech he did post to us having chat with him about his candid asking for assistance in terms of helping build the sovereign fund of East Timor and he ... There's some success stories about how those guys have been tracking.

 

 

But for me, personally, spending some time with José Ramos-Horta was quite enjoyable. On a personal note, my grandfather served in East Timor during the Second World War, with the 2/2nd Independent Company, so it was nice to actually speak with someone that had a real close affinity with some of the legacy of that there, and they still share a really close relationship with Australia, irrespective of some of the challenges that we're now facing as a nation with ... I know we're not too far away, or just on signing off some pretty reasonable acknowledgement of a border between us two and that's gone all the way through to some of the highest bodies in terms of international to help us achieve that, but Australia's been quite forthcoming to come to the table to work that out and so has East Timor. So, lots of stuff happening there.

 

Aleks V.:

Absolutely. I mean, he didn't shy away from the maritime dispute issue. He addressed it, but it was very clear that his personal affinity for Australians and for the Defence Force kind of override that and he had some stories himself around his early childhood and Australian Defence Force people being around in East Timor and being part of the community. So I think it was clear that for many Timorese people, there's a sort of a personal nature to the relationship.

 

Phil Tarrant:

And I know the conversation you had with him outside of the one I was involved in, on air, he spoke very complimentary of the Australia Forces that were in East Timor during the period of that independence movement.

 

Aleks V.:

Yeah, and really, I think saw them as enablers. But I think, as well, East Timor is a strategically or geo-strategically important place for Australia. It's an ally to the north, surrounded by large Asia-Pacific powers. So, I think there is a really close cultural affinity between the peoples of the countries but I think, as well, there was probably more going on and there was a very smart geo-strategic conversation in terms of our support of that conflict.

 

Phil Tarrant:

And we'll get to the footage, sorry, the audio, guys, of that conversation in a moment but what I enjoyed having a chat with him about and he brought it up again in his speech, it was the geo-strategic situation in the South China Sea right now and this perceived rising dominance of China and his views of America's role in the Asia-Pacific region in the year to come and he thinks America's going to be dominant there, for a very long time.

 

Aleks V.:

Yeah, he does and he's been criticised a little bit by some in Australia in public life, in politics, for being a little bit too close and too welcoming of Chinese interests in Timor-Leste, and he basically said, "Look, we want to see interest from anyone who is able to support us in our goals." But he wasn't as complementary about the future for Britain and the empire, in fact, he kind of had some interesting things to say and a little disparaging things to say about the ability for the UK to be powerful into the future.

 

Phil Tarrant:

That's good. Alright, so, without any further ado, let's go to the audio, the interview that Aleks had with His Excellency, José Ramos-Horta, the former President of East Timor. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Aleks V.:

Well, Your Excellency, thank you for being with us today. I know that you're not an infrequent visitor to Australia but very busy on the world stage, so I'm grateful for your time.

 

José R.:

Thank you. Pleasure.

 

Aleks V.:

I'd like to start with part of your personal journey, if I might. When did you first become politically active and become engaged in revolutionary ideas?

 

José R.:

Politically active, socially active, but individually, without being involved in an organisation, in any planning, just, how you say, instinctively as a human being I began to be conscious and active and angry at issues of poverty when I was a teenager. 16, 17, I remember, I was already speaking out. But then, more when I was 19 years old and all had to do with poverty and injustices. Nothing to do with ideology, with politics or religion as such. I'm not motivated by ideology, I'm not motivated by a religious belief that you have to do this because the Bible says this or the Koran says this or whatever, you know? It is my conscience as a human being that tells me something is wrong and there is injustice. There is poor person and that has been persecuted or there is a starving person, a starving family, and someone has to do, has to help. And then, in my own way, I try to help. So that's ... Have been my driving motive to do things.

 

Aleks V.:

And so, that social justice imperative that you talk about there, how did that then lead you to the issue of independence/

 

José R.:

Then, obviously, again, as a thinking person, you end up thinking, "Why should the people of East Timor by ruled by Portugal? Or by Indonesia? Or by Japan?" These are people, separate. They're not part of any other country, like any other country, and other people have the right to be free, to decide what form of government, to have their own national flag, anthem, a constitution, their own elected leaders. Their government, et cetera, et cetera. For me, again, very basic. I don't sit down and grab books and read and be influenced by Marx, by Lenin or by Buddha or by whoever, you know, no.

 

 

I think these are a very basic, fundamental challenge to a human being's conscience, thought process, so for me, and it has to do with justice. Social justice, human dignity, the independence for me has to do with that. Doesn't mean that the independence, formal, political and legal independence, means all the issues of social justice have been resolved. No, unfortunately, tragically, in so many countries, that fought for freedom for independence from the Europeans whether in Africa, Asia, Latin America, well, what independence brought to them, an oligarchy that replaced the old elites, the old colonial elites. The country has a flag, a national anthem and a government. Many are not even elected, but most of them are corrupt or robbing the people, even more than the Europeans had robbed.

 

 

So, it doesn't mean necessarily that having attained nominal, legal independence, sovereignty, that issues of social justice have been resolved. No, injustice happen everywhere, anywhere, any time through history, in any place of the world, continued to happen in Australia, in the US, only few countries you might say they don't have a really issues of glaring social injustice. The Nordic countries are among the most egalitarian countries.

 

 

You know, you look at the stupidity, idiocy, hypocrisy of the Communist system because the Communists were talking about egalitarian, absolute egalitarian. Well, you have the Communist Nomenklatura, the Communist elite, live separately from the rest of the people, does not allow free speech and they live absolutely well off, better than everybody else. But then you go to Norway, Sweden and few other capitalist countries, well, it's more egalitarian. Australia, you know, is one of the best. Like Canada is at the ... Social inequalities are not so profound, like you have in the US or you have in some Communist regimes.

 

Aleks V.:

So, I suppose what you're saying is that independence is a very important theme for a people or for a group of people to have, but it's not quite enough.

 

José R.:

Not quite enough. Of course, in the context that you are in a free democratic country, like in Australia, and you are independent thinker, independent minded person, you have the freedom to do whatever you want to do to help others. That ... You are in a far better situation than in any other status you might find yourself, in that you're a very independent minded person, you live in a free, independent sovereign country with absolute freedom of press, freedom of opinion and you are financially independent or you can be financially independent. That would be like the ideal situation, for anyone.

 

Aleks V.:

So, Australia came to play a role, I guess, in the push for independence in Timor-Leste, have you got some reflections in the role that Australia played and, in particular, the role that Australia's Defence Forces played?

 

José R.:

Yeah. I have the greatest respect for the Australian Defence Forces. A, of course, I was familiar with it going back to World War 2, when Australians were in Timor-Leste fighting the Japanese. My immediate relatives, my mother was a very young child, a teenager with a sister. Their mother, they were with Australian forces, not far from Dili, the capital, when my mother looked ... And now she's almost 90 and suffer from some Alzheimer, but way back, five years ago, decades after World War 2, every time she saw a back and white pictures of Australian military in Timor-Leste, in the mountains, in the villages, she always recognised a certain Captain [Ledlow 00:13:43]. She always say, "That's Captain Ledlow." Because she was there, with Captain Ledlow.

 

 

So, I heard from her, from many other people, I read about Australians fighting during World War 2 in North Africa, I read about Australians fighting in Vietnam, et cetera, et cetera. Brave military people. In fact, during World War 2, the Nazis, the Germans, they were most impressed with two forces, they were most impressed with black Americans that were great fighters, and the Australians. They encounter them in North Africa, from what I read.

 

 

So, then, in Timor-Leste, when they came in '99 and since then, have been super. Very disciplined, thousands of Australian forces, and I have to say, New Zealand, also, went through Timor-Leste over the years, really, literally thousands. Because they rotate every six months, every two years, every year, I don't recall the exact timing, so, through the years, many thousands went through and hardly there was a single incident of misbehaviour involving Australian forces, New Zealand, against innocent local people. In fact, none.

 

 

None of the problems you hear about UN Peacekeepers in Africa, in Central African Republic, abuse of local people, of boys, of girls, by even French troops from the biggest scandal, 2014, 2015 in Africa were from French troops involved with the UN. You never hear of these kind of abuses by Australian forces in Timor-Leste. They extremely careful and so much so, that some of our hooligans, during our some of our conflict, they were not afraid of the Australians, because they always say, "The Australians are not going to shoot at us." The hooligans, they smart people. They know which forces they cannot provoke. So, the Australians, they are not going to shoot at us.

 

 

So, I have greatest respect and they've done tremendous work job in Timor-Leste over the years, then, all the UN, Australian military personnel, New Zealand left by the end of 2012, when the situation was completely stabilised, until today. But we have ongoing defence cooperation. We have two countries, basically, with very strong defence cooperation with Timor-Leste, is Australia and the Portugal. And both countries work very well, and both countries tremendously committed to Timor-Leste. But again, I emphasise New Zealand because New Zealand, being smaller, sometimes we tend to forget, but New Zealanders have been also exemplary in their solidarity with Timor-Leste, defence cooperation, police cooperation and development assistance.

 

Aleks V.:

And so, in terms of the current day, would you like to see Australia play a larger or a smaller role in the affairs of Timor-Leste, or in the region?

 

José R.:

We want Australia to play an even bigger role in Timor-Leste. I think we need Australia to expand defence cooperation. More training of Timorese military officers. The next five, ten years, Timor-Leste, it will go through a very important, urgent transition in the army leadership. So, we need to send more officers to Australia for Army Chief of Staff courses. We need to expand the training of our police force in Timor-Leste. We need to really have a more Australian private sector companies coming to Timor-Leste.

 

 

I'm a friend of Andrew Forrest, from Western Australia. Great human being, his people might not know, but he's someone who is very sensitive to social issues. And he has visit me a few years ago and he has sent his CEO to Timor-Leste to survey, to look at the possible areas of investment. Tourism, agriculture and mining. We need more people like that. We need serious investment because Australian government has been generous, it's our single most important development partner, with close to 100 million dollars Australian a year to Timor-Leste, is the largest, the second largest would be the European Union. Maybe 25 million a year, total. So, that's by far.

 

 

So, Australian federal aid is significant and I believe we'll in time, but now we need strong Australian private sector investments.

 

Aleks V.:

Sure, so what role would you like to see, for example, the Australian financial services industry play? We have a great wealth of experience in superannuation, in investment management, in financial advice, would you like to see that industry in particular play a role?

 

José R.:

For reference, we're spending so much money, my understand is more than 100 million dollars in playing off pensions to so-called veterans. Real veterans, fake veterans, two widows, two orphans, we need to look at how to transform these pensions an investment because our people get the money and mostly spend it and it's unsustainable for our economy. So, I have discussed this matter with the incoming Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Mr. Mari Alkatiri, he's a very good, austere, strict money manager. And he is worried, like me, like the rest of us, on public expenditure. How to better manage our resources, our moneys, how to control public expenditure and how to convert these pensions that we pay off every month into an investment for the people, for the country.

 

 

So, independent financials services of Australia could come to Timor-Leste as a group, as individuals, meet with our government, our banking sector, and provide strategic advice on how Timor can better manage our financial situation. I have been arguing and I make an approach to Dubai for a while now, look at how could Timor-Leste be a small financial centre in South-East Asia? Why not? We're strategically located, our taxes are the lowest, among the lowest in the world, six lower, amount, six countries with the lowest tax in the world, one is Timor-Leste. We do have a good liquidity, we have like 16 billion dollars in our sovereign fund, so how can we harness this and turn Timor-Leste into a respectable financial centre in South-East Asia?

 

Aleks V.:

Just finally, Your Excellency, I know you've been very involved in the more recent years with global efforts for peace, through the United Nations and through other organisations. We do see rising tensions, particularly in the Asia-Pacific Region. Are you optimistic about the possibility of ongoing peace and prosperity, and what should our top priorities be?

 

José R.:

You know, I might have been the only person who, for the last 10 years, in a number of the speeches, of course, not many people read my speeches, which is a tragedy. I have delivered speeches in Singapore, in India, in Thailand and these speeches are there on my website and I always said, "Contrary to this overly-optimistic view, that we are dealing with a rising Asia and that power, global power has shifted from the west, from Washington, to Asia, contrary to that," I say, "I'm sorry. My view, Asia is the most dangerous region of the world. The most to fracture, we'd rival nuclear powers."

 

 

In Europe, you have two nuclear powers, France and UK, and they are the closest of allies in Europe. They don't point the nuclear weapons at each other. In Asia, you have neighbours with nuclear weapons, cousins with nuclear weapons pointing at each other. Look at India and Pakistan. These are brotherly neighbours, they have a nuclear arsenal pointed at each other. They have unresolved border disputes. Rivalry over the sovereignty over Cashmere, and they have clash, they have killed each other in recent weeks. Then you have India and China. You know, with nuclear weapons pointing at each other. Besides, there are land border disputes, right now. There is an ongoing security confrontation in some land area near Bhutan, between India and Indian and Chinese forces.

 

 

Then you have the lunatic Kim Jong Un, of North Korea, developing nuclear weapons, threatening the US, threatening South Korea, Japan and everybody else. Then you have rising Islamic radicalists, even in Indonesia, increasingly and Indonesia friends aren't worried about rising radical, extreme ... Islamic radicalism in Indonesia and not to mention Malaysia, Southern Thailand, Philippines, and then you have the South China Sea challenges.

 

 

How can we say, "This is rising Asia." Of course, population wise, it's not difficult to have a rising population, you just have to make more children. You have a rising population. But same time, you have a ageing population, you know? The success of Asia, in terms of growth, economic prosperity has meant, also, that people living longer. So, we have more aged people in China. I tell Chinese friends, one of your problems is your ageing population. Result of your family planning, draconian family planning, result of a prosperity of the last 30 years, but you end up with a very old population. Superpowers are made of young people.

 

 

The US is a superpower made of young people, and why? Because they renovate their population with migration, with people coming into the UK from Latin America, from Asia, one of the views of the US is that it's almost colorblind. China, Japan, South Korea, are not colourblind, so they cannot renovate their population with So, I tell the Chinese, even if you instal a missile on every wheelchair in China, because 30 years from now, you will have 300 million people on wheelchairs, you put a missile on every wheelchair, you cannot fight the Americans.

 

 

So, this is a big ... The Asian population, overpopulation problem of resources. China has very little in strategic resource. India has very little strategic resource. So, they have to go to Africa, Latin America, looking for agriculture.

 

Aleks V.:

Australia.

 

José R.:

Australia, yeah. So, these are some of the challenges that the UN, the world community face and the world community is almost leaderless. Unlike post-World War 2, where we had great leaders in the US, we have great leaders in Europe. Some of the greatest leaders came after World War 2, through the '50s and '60s and up to the '70s. And so, right now, you know who we have in the US. In Europe, surprisingly, you know, someone that I admire a lot and the anchor of stability and economic prosperity, is a woman, formerly from East Germany. Angela Merkel. I never had great admiration for her, but she has been amazing.

 

 

And then look at UK, you know, with Brexit. How do these feel they know what they're doing? You know, UK will become a little England, of old people on wheelchair, out of the European Union. Instead of sticking together with the rest of Europe, they want to be in different. Well, it's no longer the old Britannia. It will be an old, helpless little old lady on a wheelchair, sitting somewhere in a street corner in Europe. So, this the world situation today.

 

Aleks V.:

Well, it sounds like we should be paying more attention to your speeches. José Ramos-Horta, thank you so much for being with us today.

 

José R.:

Thank you. Pleasure. Thank you. Thank you.

 

Phil Tarrant:

So, hope you enjoyed Aleks's conversation with José Ramos-Horta. I found it particularly interesting, outside of some of those initial remarks and observations, Aleks, that we had prior to our moving to the audio, he's obviously a very erudite and capable individual who is not only a passionate peace advocate and someone who is focused on the collective betterment of people in general, right across the world. He's a real humble and down to earth guy.

 

Aleks V.:

Yeah, he is absolutely, but still very much a patriot. For those listening, he certainly gave them their homework.

 

Phil Tarrant:

That's good. So, Aleks, I think we should do more of this. I know we've got some other interviews like this coming online and there's a lot of relevance, I think, for the Defence Connect audience to just understand and appreciate some of the observations, some of the work being undertaken by people within our region. José Ramos-Horta is obviously someone who is loved across the world, he's also hated by many people as well.

 

 

So, it's very polarising individual, but in times of tension, in times of these independence movements ... And you know, there's not a lot of them happening these days. Have they all finished now? I don't know. But he was the president of the newest nation in the world and as a new, fledgling nation, they're doing pretty well.

 

Aleks V.:

Yeah, absolutely, and it's good to see.

 

Phil Tarrant:

It's good. Thanks for joining us, everyone. I hope you enjoyed. If you're not yet subscribing to Defence Connect, make sure you do. So, DefenseConnect.com.au/subscribe. We're on all social channels. If you'd like to contact the team, myself or any further information about our recent chat with José Ramos-Horta, please email us, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We'll back here next time, until then, bye.

 

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