Australian Fiber-Optics to Bring High-Speed Internet to East Timor

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has agreed to to provide the fledgling democracy of East Timor with naval infrastructure and an undersea internet link with the world, responding to China's increasing influence in the region.

Australia said that, under the agreement, it will pay for the engineering and design work needed to link East Timor via a fiber-optic cable to an Australian cable system that runs between the northern cities of Darwin and Port Hedland.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would work with East Timor "on financing and construction options."

East Timor is one of a few countries without a fiber-optic internet connection and relies on slow and expensive satellite services.

The East Timor internet cable promise follows a commitment by Australia to carry most of the costs of running similar cables from Sydney to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The Papua New Guinea and Solomons cables were offered to prevent Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei from providing alternative networks. Australia has barred Huawei from its own national broadband network and unfolding 5G networks on security grounds.

Some East Timorese lawmakers want to accept Chinese investment to pipe Greater Sunrise oil and gas to East Timor for processing, prompting fears that the country could become overly indebted to China, like other economically vulnerable island nations in the region.

Australia led the United Nations military force that brought peace to East Timor in the bloody aftermath of the 1999 independence ballot. The East Timorese invited the Australian military back in 2006 to restore order after a military mutiny.

Morrison's visit to East Timor is the first by an Australian prime minister in 12 years. Australia is stepping up its aid program in the Asia-Pacific region as a counter to deepening Chinese investment.

"Our relationship will endure, we respect your hard-won sovereignty and independence and will continue to walk with you," Morrison said.

— Associated Press

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