Timor Leste Hopeful of Joining ASEAN in 2023

President meets Indonesian counterpart . . .

Timor Leste’s President Jose Ramos-Horta is visiting Indonesia this week, his first bilateral visit since assuming office earlier this year. In a joint news conference held after Ramos-Hostra met with his Indonesian counterpart Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo on Tuesday, the Timorese President argued that his country has fulfilled all the requirements needed for membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and expressed hope that Indonesia would maximize its role as chair of ASEAN in 2023 to accelerate the acceptance of his country as the regional bloc’s 11th member. Timor Leste, with a population of 1.32 million, applied to join ASEAN in 2011, but some ASEAN member states blocked the application due to the country’s small economy and high poverty level.

Trade and development needed . . .

The two leaders agreed to increase bilateral trade, and Jokowi pledged to strengthen Indonesia’s role in helping Timor-Leste’s economic development. To further assist Timor Leste, last month, the Asian Development Bank launched a new partnership strategy for the young country. The strategy will support development in Timor Leste through two pillars: the first focusing on improving connectivity, equitable access to basic resources, and governance; the second aimed at strengthening rural development and agriculture, helping private sector development and financial access, and regional co-operation and trade. This second pillar will also include technical support to help Timor Leste gain entry to ASEAN.

ASEAN-11 by 2023?

While Timor Leste’s accession to ASEAN remains uncertain, various commentators have spoken in its favour. The editorial board of the Jakarta Post endorsed Timor Leste’s accession, highlighting its high score on democracy and press freedom and arguing its accession would “light a tiny bright spot in the otherwise gloomy Southeast Asian freedom and democracy map.” Others have commented that it is in ASEAN’s interest to welcome Timor Leste to its ranks, pointing out its strategic location, geopolitical importance, and the need to ensure no country is left out of regional integration processes. ASEAN’s third and final fact-finding mission in Timor Leste is planned for the end of July. The results of these missions will be compiled in an assessment report that will inform Timor Leste’s possible accession to ASEAN in 2023.