Australia’s Policy Towards East Timor: Australia as Regional Hegemon?

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UNU Institute on Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Occasional Papers
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On 20 May 2002, East Timor became a newly independent state following on from the 24 years of Indonesia’s illegal occupation, the referendum of 30 August 1999, and the UN’s Transitional Administration in East Timor. The pattern of East Timor’s process towards independence has been peculiar; it did not follow the decolonisation process of that in many Asian and African states in the 1960s and 1970s, nor the cases of states, which became independent shortly after the demise of the Cold War. In other words, it can be said that the independence of East Timor was achieved not as a result of trends in the international political climate but because of “some unpredicted events”. Some claimed that such events were the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997 and the following fall of the Suharto regime. Another identified the optimistic or brave decision of Suharto’s successor Habibie to hold the referendum as the precursor to independence. Or another might give the 1991 Santa Cruise massacre, which raised the international awareness of the human rights abuses in East Timor as the reason. However, it is also absolutely true that the history of East Timor and the process to its independence was considerably influenced by the policy of Australia, the regional power in the region.