Timor Leste Looks to Join ASEAN

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May 7 – Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said last Friday that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will allow Timor Leste to partake in future ASEAN meetings and summits.

“We are still waiting for a formal decision… [but the inclusion of Timor Leste] is a small but significant improvement,” Natalegawa affirmed during ASEAN’s 22nd summit in in Brunei Darussalam. “Making Timor Leste an ASEAN member is not merely a technical issue. It involves geopolitics. To Indonesia, Timor Leste is a Southeast Asian country. The region’s future would be unstable if it was not an ASEAN member.”

The approval of Timor Leste’s bid to have a greater role in ASEAN was also included in the summit’s chairman statement.

“We were encouraged by the progress in the discussions of the ASEAN Coordinating Council [ACC] and the ACC Working Group [ACCWG] on all relevant aspects related to the application by Timor Leste, as well as its possible implication for ASEAN, and agreed to explore the possibility of Timor Leste’s participation in ASEAN activities within the context of its need for capacity building,” read the statement.

Other ASEAN member states have also taken an interest in approving Timor Leste to be ASEAN’s 11th member. An ASEAN statement issued earlier this year noted that “to date, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines have been the three most active ASEAN member-states participating in the development projects of Timor Leste.”

However, ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said at the recent summit that “Timor Leste is not yet ready to join ASEAN. There is no definite time on when would it be joining ASEAN, but we are pushing it to be.”

Minh also added that Timor Leste still needs to develop its statehood system and mechanism, particularly with regard to its economic sector.

Timor Leste, formerly known as East Timor, was annexed by Indonesia in 1975. However, Indonesia lost control of it after a 1999 referendum, with Timor Leste declaring independence in May 2002.