Hunan University, Changsha, Hunan Province, China
12 May 2017
HE the President, Professor Duan Xianzhong
HE the Vice-President, Professor Cao Yijia
HE Mr Li Shutao, Dean of Graduate School
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour to be invited by the Heads of this University to be here today before such a distinguished audience, to whom I convey my respect and my most sincere appreciation.
Hunan University is known throughout the world not only for its academic excellence but also because it has educated many renowned professionals who have held, and currently hold, leading roles in academic institutions, the government and the private sector, contributing to make China the superpower it is today.
I am also aware that seniority in China is appreciated as a mark of respect and wisdom. As such, I could not feel more privileged to have been chosen by this prestigious one-thousand-year-old institution to humbly receive this great honour. Whilst I do not feel I have deserved it, I would nevertheless like to share with you some of my life experiences, which have shaped my very personal view of the world and its international relations.
I was born one year after the end of World War II, which had turned Timor-Leste into a battlefield between Japan and Australia. Indeed, many Timorese assisted the Australians in this war and around 70,000 Timorese lost their lives. Moreover, for an important part of my life I endured a difficult 24-year struggle. I watched the years roll by as we entered today’s modern world – a world in which technology has become a driving force in a way unthinkable mere decades ago, and which is contributing to a new geopolitical uncertainty.
Today, we are witnessing incredible moments in the history of humankind, where everything that happens around the world affects the daily lives of common citizens, institutions and States.
Wherever we are in this globalised world, we can sense the relationship between people – and between people, history and nature – being redefined. The past and future are converging into the present, with everything interrelated and in which the physical distance separating local and global events is circumvented by technological advances.
In this context, we cannot continue ignoring the complexity of our days and the manner in which financial, economic and political crises and their impacts intertwine and reverberate across the world. We cannot continue perpetuating old mistakes because we do not take the time to learn and to reflect about our history, even though the root of many of today’s problems, or at least their seed, can be found there. And because we do not learn from history, we do not make a proper effort to predict the future.
We are living in times of great tension. This is in part due to the compression of both time and distance and to the abrupt changes in the international landscape, both in terms of climate as well as of the political and financial environment.
My people taught me that with sacrifice, consistency and perseverance towards the common good it is possible to change the course of difficult or even painful processes.
Those who know me will surely know that my ‘schooling’ did not involve academic institutions. Instead, it was what I call the ‘school of life’. Although I did not have the opportunity to enrol in academic studies, I was nevertheless given the mission of leading for over 20 years the complex journey of a resilient people that dared to dream of freedom.
My people taught me that with sacrifice, consistency and perseverance towards the common good it is possible to change the course of difficult or even painful processes. The mountains, where I have lived for a good part of my life during the time of the resistance, has taught me to see the world with perspective, learning from the successes and failures of other countries and from victories and losses in other wars, enabling me to adapt my mindset to the realities of our own war.
And this is how I learned in the mountains about the dynamics of international relations and power relations, since these considerations were essential to the survival of my people – the Timorese people. As you all recall, a new geopolitical scenario emerged after World War II with the so-called Cold War, with two superpowers dividing the world. The wars that persisted were not exactly between capitalism and socialism, but rather liberation wars, to free people from colonial oppression. Consequently, European countries, albeit sometimes reluctantly, began granting independence to their territories in Asia and in Africa. So too did Timor-Leste free itself from European colonial domination in the 1970’s, embracing the hope of living in freedom.
However, nine days after we unilaterally declared our independence on 28 November 1974, we were brutally invaded and annexed by Indonesia. Instead of having the time to heal the sorrow caused by centuries of colonisation we found ourselves in a war for liberation that lasted for 24 years.
Over this period, we fought alone against Indonesia, a giant supported by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. These countries supplied the Indonesian military with weapons, gunships, tanks, aircraft, mortars, cannons and even counter-guerrilla training, so that they could increase their fighting ability and more quickly crush the resistance of the small Timorese guerrilla force.
The battle tactics of direct engagement with the enemy that we adopted at the start of the Indonesian invasion led to a major strategic defeat at the end of our first three years of fighting. The Leadership of the Struggle was almost exterminated, with many killed and some imprisoned, leaving our military capacity drastically reduced. Meanwhile, the people who had taken refuge in the mountains, under our protection, were now captured and under enemy control in the villages.
Since I was a mere soldier in the Portuguese army during the colonial period, I could have never led a war over the next 21 years against Indonesian career generals if it was not for the teachings on theories of warfare by the great Mao Zedong. From those theories, I learned to distinguish the general principles of war from the individual circumstances of particular wars, both in terms of historical time as well as geographical characteristics. I learned the importance of understanding my country, including the characteristics of our land, the way our people thought and behaved and our own technical and military capacity.
I studied guerrilla wars the best I could, from the former Portuguese African colonies, to Cuba and Vietnam. This allowed me to develop the principles for a guerrilla war that was adapted to the reality of Timor. This in turn forced me to review our successes and failures every year and in every situation, so I could better understand our enemy, its strengths and weaknesses, both in the military sector and in other sectors, in Timor, in Indonesia and in the world.
We never received any type of military support from abroad, as our principle was always to “rely on our own strengths”: our human, psychological and ideological resources – and consequently this meant that we fought with a minimum of military hardware.
Even at that time, the war was no longer just about military victory, through the force of arms (as this concept is still being applied in the wars we are witnessing today). There was already a major psychological component resulting from human nature, where someone shoots to kill knowing that they in turn can be shot and killed.
And still we fought! Needless to say, we lost many battles and many valiant men and women, but we won the war! On the 20th of this month, Timor-Leste will be celebrating its 15th anniversary as an independent State.
At the time of Perestroika and Glasnost, we in the mountains of Timor-Leste hailed Gorbachev, because he brought the end of the Cold War and we believed that, when we finally achieved our independence, the world would be enjoying a new world order.
Today, what we see throughout the world, is just very saddening, and that hope for a new world order has become the realisation of a true world disorder.
One needs only to look at the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where wars started in the name of democracy and human rights have never finished and, rather than reaching a positive conclusion, have been assuming increasingly problematic shapes.
When the Arab Spring started, enthusiastically heralded by the ‘musketeers of democracy and human rights’, I stated publicly at an International Forum in Jakarta that those mass mobilisations spoke of troubling times ahead. I was foreseeing what happened – the breaking down of the social and political fabric of those countries.
In addition to those endless wars caused by regional and global interferences, today’s world is powerless in face of a new climate of tension: ethnic rivalries within countries, religious rivalries and extremism, have been taking on worrying proportions.
The most critical threat today is insecurity, which entails far greater risks and dangers than in the Cold War period. Additionally, these are risks and dangers that no one quite understands yet. Meanwhile, distrust and uncertainty undermine relationships among people, between people and States, and among States themselves.
In the name of democracy and human rights we are forcing everyone all over the world to be good disciples of the great powers, in which there is also violence, racism and human rights abuse. As if this rhetoric was not enough, these countries, the self-proclaimed paladins of democracy, have their own weak and corrupt institutions, that fail to adapt to the changes that balance the international system, having also millions of homeless people without social assistance, causing difficulties and unbalances not only in their societies but also in the rest of the world as a chain reaction.
We see a Europe insecure about acts of terrorism here and there, while conflicts in the horn of Africa and in the Middle East go unresolved because international powers want to perpetuate their dominance, indifferent to the exodus of millions of people into Europe.
And yet, Europe is not the one that is on the brink of its capacity… It takes courage to admit that the refugee problem is not a European problem, but rather a world problem. It takes honesty from the major powers, inside and outside Europe, to take responsibility for this problem and to admit that their international policies also contributed to it.
There is a global inability to seek proper solutions for the problems affecting humankind, since social inequalities, poverty, lack of access to basic subsistence services and wellbeing continue to affect millions of people. And if we are talking about democracy and human rights we should remember the many people who try to reach those “lands of freedom” only to be held hostage to that dream and to be detained in camps from the Pacific to Europe.
In 2015 I was invited by a European Parliamentary Commission to take part in a Conference at Expo Milan, in Italy, on the subject of “Human Rights, Right to Food and Land Rights. What is missing?” I said at the Conference that the one thing missing was Peace!
At that time, Europe was already witnessing the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people, travelling in fragile boats, many of which sank in the Mediterranean because the international community prefers to intervene to impose democratic values over handling the root causes of problems.
In Milan, like in other forums in which I have taken part, I have urged world leaders to stop funding wars abroad. The cost of war is steep in every aspect… and it would obviously be much safer if they would invest in the fight against poverty, which would actually make a positive contribution, among other things, towards world peace.
Instead, we have seen the wave of refugees continue to swell until today. Indeed, some countries have had to build electrified walls to keep away the millions who are, after all, merely fleeing from the wars that are ravaging the land where they would plant their own food and build their own houses. All they need to return home is peace… and I am sure that after so much suffering and deception of being refused the entry to the ‘wonderful world’ where, after all, their basic rights to live in security and peace were denied, in every heart and in every soul they are thinking that going back home would be a journey of hope for their future.
There is an atmosphere of tension and unease caused by the lack of trust and mutual respect between States and within States! Elections all over Europe, a continent that seems unable to think about its own future, show that the European people tend not to trust the system and rhetoric, but allows itself to be under manipulation as mere pawns of diversionary manoeuvres that exacerbate xenophobic feelings. The traditional ideological currents that used to govern Europe are suffering the harshness of mistrust, since its society no longer knows exactly who to believe, putting into question the validity of the European Union itself.
I would stress that the nowadays dialogue is either completely non-existent or, when it exists, it is not even disguised to hide the fact that it serves only for each power to maintain its influence. It is never the warring sides that win, since the real interested parties are those in the background, defending their interests, which are mainly economic, to be used later on as “debts to be settled” in return for the military support provided, which always comes at a cost.
I have mentioned the psychological element of war and our tactic of unpredictability in our attacks. Now I see that the acts of extremism, which cause destruction where one would least expect, serve a more powerful agenda and will persist until world leaders change their perspectives regarding this complex reality!
With the current policies of prominent global leaders of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” which cause even greater distance between people and an escalating desire for revenge and destruction, I truly believe that this nightmare will continue plaguing the world for many years to come.
We all know that there are conflicts, whether armed or not, in many parts of the world, which reveals, on one hand, the intolerance, hatred and ethnic or religious divisions, and, on the other hand, the fragility of States where the institutions do not function properly.
Regardless of our perspective of conflicts, the approach of the international community, if we can’t say it was always negative, at least we can say it was always wrong.
The large amounts spent on peacekeeping operations that, instead of leading to peace, end up prolonging conflicts in order to justify its continuous presence, only reveal these bad policies of the international community.
People who are tired because of war, misery and hunger, naturally are not ready for a preaching approach. When someone is thirsty for peace, it is first necessary to “quench that thirst”, that is, to create the conditions for establishing peace.
Timor-Leste is a small country that fought essentially alone to achieve its independence, dreaming of being part of a better world.
The path we have walked since our independence has had its ups and downs, and I acknowledge the assistance by many great nations who have supported and continue to support our development, among which I cannot fail to highlight the great contribution and cooperation from the People’s Republic of China. Still, even regarding assistance, we have also had some setbacks.
Our obvious inexperience and immaturity during our transition, including the psychological, from decades of conflict into a stable State and Nation took us not only towards a cycle of internal crisis during our first years of independence, but also to a dependence on foreign financial aid and institutional assistance, including in regard to human resources.
In truth, who is dependent on another will never be free! We learned at our expense that without peace there can be no development and that without development there is no room for peace.
It was also during this process that we realised that international assistance is not always directed to the actual needs of the recipient countries, since donors – those who spout principles and values – also spout their own interests.
Here, history also matters, as it is not difficult to understand that a new country, with recent history, with young and inexperienced institutions, will not sit at the table of negotiations with the same weight, the same knowledge and even the same institutional dignity as other countries, simply because it has not had the time to mature its institutions. Our history also shows that the crisis that shook the society and the young State until its climax in 2006 was engendered by external agents as this served the interests of their countries.
This is one of the reasons why Timor-Leste has been working with other fragile countries and countries in conflict or post-conflict situations as a founding member of g7+, which is a group of around 20 countries across the world that have come together as one in order to try and change global development policies, which is to say, to being effectiveness to international assistance.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr António Guterres, is himself committed to reforming International Assistance Practices, in order to be more focused on the results that truly benefit the people of the recipient countries.
As we try to place the needs of these countries on the global development agenda, sharing our experience and knowledge, our primary effort is to promote peace in our societies and in the world, whilst demanding that “nothing about us will be without us”.
Conflict, poverty and intransigence are evils that affect all the people in the world, like a serious transmissible disease that spreads across borders. I advocate that to achieve common security entails strategic alliances in favour of reconciliation and tolerance, with a proactive diplomacy in favour of peace.
In 2013 Indonesia co-hosted a United Nations International Conference in Bali on the ‘Alliance of Civilisations’. I recall that everyone urged mutual respect for the culture, diversity, religion, history and identity of others, urging for dialogue to bridge differences and for reconciliation to ensure mutual acceptance. Unfortunately, few years after that Conference, we see that intolerance, hatred and vengeance have been breeding fear and unsafety in several parts of the world.
Needless to say, hundreds of thousands of Timorese people died during the hard times of struggle for independence. Some were killed directly on the battlefields, others were gunned down in systematic cleansing operations. And others still, who managed to survive aerial bombing, ended up dying of starvation, exhaustion and disease. Meanwhile, history shows that, against international law, some legitimated the illegal occupation of Timor-Leste with agreements in order to take over our resources.
From our side, it took us a few years and much destruction before we realised the need to bring the Timorese together around the common ideal of independence, which implied reconciling our differences.
While we always urged the Indonesians to choose peace, we were always faithful to our struggle, believing that all Timorese were resisting and that we all were ready to accept either independence or total extermination.
This existential commitment came from the people themselves. Despite the physical, moral, psychological and political destruction we suffered, upon achieving independence we were ready to forgive and to reconcile. We knew that the sacrifices made liberating our Homeland would be for naught if we allowed hatred and vengeance to take root in our hearts. One cannot heal the deep wounds caused by war while harbouring those feelings. Living in peace means more than living in the absence of war; it also means to live free from corrosive feelings and distrust of one another.
And so, the Timorese reconciled not only with the Indonesians but also with their Timorese brothers and sisters who had opted to advocate for integration, as well as with themselves. I should add that I twice visited cemeteries of Indonesian soldiers, to pay my respects to the Indonesian who died in the war, which has also contributed, for two Indonesian Presidents of the Republic to repay the gesture and honour our national heroes who fell during the Resistance.
When President Suharto died, I went to his funeral with a group of young Timorese citizens, showing to the Indonesian people that the past should not stand in the way of our present.
That does not mean we forgot that over two hundred thousand Timorese died as a result of that illegal and criminal occupation. Nor do we say that reconciliation was an easy process. It is much harder to fill one’s heart with peace than to instil a few drops of hatred!
However, the Timorese people showed once again just how big their souls are! And today we have the best of relations with Indonesia.
In the world, there are over 1.5 billion people living in extreme poverty and misery. We also witness the enormous suffering of children, women and of millions of people directly affected by war, either wounded or dead by bombings, or without food, without water and without shelter, not knowing where to go!
Asia needs Peace!
Every country in Asia has its own problems and challenges, which are different not just in terms of their nature but also of the impacts on their societies. Timor-Leste, as a small country that suffered from a Japanese invasion during World War II and from international complicity during a 24-year resistance struggle, knows all too well what it means to live in war.
Timor-Leste recognises that China is a great power that has much to teach to countries like Timor-Leste, notably about its economic miracle and its development. I was here at Changsha back in 2014, at the invitation of the Chinese government, to take part in a conference on investment cooperation in Timor-Leste that enabled the strengthening of the economic and commercial ties between our two countries. During that trip, I also went to the Boao Forum for Asia, where we discussed international social and economic cooperation. On another occasion I visited Macau, participating in a Conference on Infrastructure.
China is also a member of the United Nations Security Council. Being a new country, Timor-Leste is against power struggles and favours honest and sincere dialogue from every party so that we can bring safety, peace and stability to all people in our region and across the world.
Multilateral actions by world leaders must be tireless in pursuing this goal. The way of dialogue is unquestionably the only weapon that can ease tensions and settle disputes.
Timor-Leste also advocates the principle, often violated by large and rich countries, of good cooperation, but relations between countries should be guided by the principles of good faith, justice and respect for international law.
We expect that large and rich countries should respect smaller countries as equals, instead of imposing their interests on them, often using the tactic of divide and rule.
This is even more important when we speak of relations between close neighbours. It is our differences that make us unique in our identity, but by reconciling our differences and by having honest cooperation without hidden agendas that we can strengthen peace and stability in the region. Indeed, that is what we have achieved with Indonesia.
I would like to leave my final words to the young students who have the privilege of attending this unique “institution of many talents”, in which one of the mottos is to “daring to be pioneers”.
I would add: Dare as well to be pioneers of peace. The future, which belongs to you, depends on that, and the region and the world can only benefit!
Thank you very much.