Dili welcomes fact-finding mission to report on Catholic country
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of the 40th and 41st ASEAN summits in Phnom Penh on Nov 13. (Photo: AFP)
The 10 countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed “in principle” to admit Timor-Leste as its 11th member but this will depend on fact-finding missions, which are expected to report back to the bloc next year.
In a statement issued on Nov 11 at the annual leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh, ASEAN also said its members had also agreed to grant observer status to Timor-Leste enabling Dili to attend ASEAN meetings and summit plenaries.
It said the “in principal” agreement was reached “after considering the outcomes of the fact-finding missions to Timor-Leste conducted by the ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.”
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However, the agreement did not say when the tiny Catholic country of just 1.3 million would be allowed to join the group.
"Timor-Leste launched its bid to join ASEAN about 11 years ago"
Instead, the statement said that “an objective criteria-based roadmap for Timor-Leste's full membership including based on the milestones identified in the reports” is to be made by the fact-finding missions and to be formalized by the ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC).
The ACC will then submit its report for adoption at the 42nd ASEAN leaders’ summit to be held in Jakarta next year after Indonesia assumes the rotating chair from Cambodia.
Timor-Leste launched its bid to join ASEAN about 11 years ago but has been frustrated by its ability to win unanimous acceptance.
Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Cambodia, Kupa Lopes, told UCA News his government was delighted with the agreement and that it had requested ASEAN states to grant Dili full membership in 2023, while thanking Cambodia for its “unwavering support.”
“We are delighted to collaborate and work with the ASEAN Coordinating Council and the ASEAN Secretariat towards preparation of the roadmap and for Timor-Leste's full membership including the milestones identified in the reports of the fact-finding missions,” he said.
He also said Timor-Leste expected its economy to grow and diversify into oil and gas and tourism in the years ahead as a result of ASEAN membership.
“It seems as if to reach ASEAN, you have to fulfill all the criteria to enter heaven"
“If you look at what ASEAN membership did for the economies of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; they did grow and benefited enormously as a result and we hope to do the same in Timor-Leste,” he said.
Earlier this year President Jose Ramos-Horta said: “It seems as if to reach ASEAN, you have to fulfill all the criteria to enter heaven. And then the next step is ASEAN.”
Diplomatic sources said two issues had compromised Dili’s bid. The first is whether Timor-Leste can afford to pay for the costs associated with membership, and secondly, it was seen as being too close to China.
A further concern was the Timorese government’s refusal to vote on a United Nations General Assembly resolution against the Myanmar junta last year.
“It has been very difficult for Timor-Leste to win acceptance within ASEAN, and it doesn’t seem fair that they still have to wait at least another year for full acceptance,” one Western analyst, who declined to be named, said.
“As the current chair of ASEAN, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was convinced he would steer the country into ASEAN this year, but this is a mixed result,” he added.
Indonesia has previously indicated it would back Timor-Leste’s entry.
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