Timor-Leste hopes to become newest member of ASEAN

Timor-Leste hopes to become newest member of ASEAN


The former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste hopes to become the newest member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when the organization’s members discuss its application in December 2017.

An ASEAN working group plans to meet December 5, 2017, on the resort island of Bali to discuss whether to admit Timor-Leste, which is one of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region’s smallest countries with a population of 1.2 million, according to a Kyodo News report.

If successful, Timor-Leste’s bid could be another 2017 milestone for its fledgling democracy. The nation in July 2017 held its first parliamentary elections without United Nations oversight since it regained independence from Indonesia in 2002. Indonesia is now supporting Timor-Leste’s bid to gain acceptance into ASEAN. (Pictured: Citizens of Timor-Leste line up to vote during a parliamentary election in July 2017.)

Jose Tavares, director general for ASEAN cooperation at the Indonesian foreign ministry, said ASEAN has received the results of studies by three independent teams that examined the political, economic and sociocultural ramifications of admitting Timor-Leste into the association, according to a report in The Bangkok Post newspaper.

Those studies will be considered in December 2017 when officials make recommendations on whether to accept the country’s application. Timor-Leste applied for membership to ASEAN in 2011. Some members have not been receptive to the idea of admitting Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, voicing concerns about its lack of human resources to attend ASEAN’s meetings and about the socioeconomic gaps that exist between the small country and other ASEAN members.

Despite its oil and gas revenues, nearly 42 percent of Timor-Leste’s population lives below the national poverty line, according to statistics from the Asian Development Bank. Only 45 percent of the country’s population has access to electricity.

“With revenue from gas and oil depleting, East Timor would no doubt reap economic benefits of joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations economic community,” opined the website ASEAN Today, which produces commentaries on politics, business and international affairs in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Timor-Leste’s only producing gas field is projected to dry up in 2020, ASEAN Today reported. The website added that the long-term economic security membership could provide would be crucial to the newly elected coalition government. “ASEAN membership would boost the country’s foreign investment and tourism market and ease the economy’s dependency on oil and gas,” the website said.

Founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, ASEAN has 10 member countries since expanding to included Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam.