Timor-Leste’s new president pledges to strengthen ties with China

DILI (Reuters) – East Timorese independence figure and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta was inaugurated on Friday as the country’s fifth president, hook pledging to dedicate his term to strengthening national unity and to forge closer relations with China.

Ramos-Horta, who spent decades as an exiled spokesman for the guerrilla movement during Indonesia’s occupation, previously served as president from 2007 to 2012 and prime minister and foreign minister before that.

Thousands of people traveled to watch the inauguration in the capital Dili, with the 72-year-old sworn in just before midnight in a ceremony filled with fireworks and cannon fire.

The new president said he would represent all Timorese and seek to rebuild national unity after a prolonged political deadlock in parliament.

Ramos-Horta, who won a decisive victory in a run-off last month, said ties with Indonesia, Australia and the region should be high on the national agenda and that relations with China would be strengthened.

“We intend to expand bilateral cooperation with China,” he said.

“Particularly in the areas of sustainable organic agriculture, small industries, commerce, new technologies, renewable energies, connectivity, digitization, artificial intelligence and urban and rural infrastructure.”

He said he would push for greater food security and would propose setting up a coffee fund to protect farmers against fluctuations in world prices.

One of the most oil and gas dependent countries in the world, the semi-island nation of 1.3 million people has struggled to diversify its economy and reduce high rates of poverty.

While running in the presidential elections as an independent candidate, Ramos-Horta was backed by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party, led by former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao. Contents

Gusmao has been heavily promoting the Tasi Mane project, which would see oil and gas from the Greater Sunrise field developed onshore, and with China touted as a potential developer.

Ramos-Horta also said he would continue to foster a special relationship with the United States and advocate for East Timor to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Friday’s inauguration ceremony marked 20 years since East Timor’s restoration of independence.

(Reporting by Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies)