Accession of East Timor to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

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Flag of East Timor
ASEAN (blue) and East Timor (red)

The accession of East Timor to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a process that started following the independence of the country in 2002 when its leaders stated that it had made a "strategic decision" to become a member state of ASEAN in the future.[1] Closer ties with ASEAN are supported by all political parties in East Timor.[2] East Timor would have by far the smallest GDP in the ASEAN, less than 15% of the smallest current ASEAN member state Laos.[3]

In 2002, East Timor was recognised as an observer of ASEAN and joined the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2005.[1] In January 2007 the country acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, pledging to renounce the use of force and binding East Timor to non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states.[4]

In 2005, East Timor said it wanted to be a member by 2010.[5] In December 2007 President José Ramos-Horta restated that joining was a top priority, and he hoped to join by 2012.[6] In January 2009, the Prime Minister of Thailand said that his country would support East Timor's membership of ASEAN by 2012.[7]

East Timor officially applied for membership in ASEAN on 4 March 2011.[8] After elections in 2012, the new government reaffirmed their commitment to joining the association.[9] While Indonesia, which East Timor gained their independence from in 2002, has pushed for them to be granted ASEAN membership, other countries, such as Singapore and Laos, have objected on the grounds that East Timor is not yet developed enough to join.[10][11] However, after the ASEAN summit in April 2013, Secretary General of ASEAN Le Luong Minh stated that all member states now supported Timor-Leste's admission to the Association.[12] Minh also stated that "Timor Leste is not yet ready to join ASEAN. So we are pushing them to qualify the obligations."[13] President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III pledged his country's support to East Timor's ASEAN membership in June 2013. The Philippines has previously supported Timor-Leste's ASEAN membership through official documents in 2002 and 2010.[14]

By September 2013, the ASEAN's Coordinating Council Working Group was still evaluating Timor-Leste's membership application, and Minh said that there was no timeline for when the assessment would be completed.[15] Singapore pledged that it would not block Timor-Leste's membership in the Association, with their Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Grace Fu, saying "For any member to come into ASEAN and to be ready for 2015 will be quite a big step. Whether Timor Leste is ready, whether it has its eyes on 2015, we like to have a working group to evaluate."[16] In November 2013, U Aung Htoo, ASEAN Affairs Department deputy director, said that Timor Leste would not be ready to join in 2014 since they do not have an embassy in all 10 current ASEAN member states, a necessity for membership.[3]

In 2015, East Timor said it is now ready to join the association at any time, telling via East Timor's ambassador to Malaysia that their country had at least fulfilled two major requirements for ASEAN membership such as the country was located in this region and it had opened embassies in ASEAN member countries. The Philippines re-echoed its support for East Timor's accession to ASEAN on the same year..[17]

In 2016, Indonesia has announced that Timor-Leste's ASEAN membership bid might be realized in 2017 since the feasibility studies conducted by both countries on Timor-Leste's stability, security, economy, and culture will be finished by the end of 2016. Middle of 2016, Cambodia's Prime Minister announced that they back Timor-Leste's membership in ASEAN. At the same time, the Liberal Party, ruling party in the Philippines that backed East Timor's full accession to ASEAN, was defeated in the presidential elections. The newly-elected administration in the Philippines has yet to announce its position on Timor-Leste's ASEAN application, causing cripples to East Timorese membership at an important time since the following year's ASEAN summit will be hosted by the Philippines.

In 2017, the Philippines, a close ally of Timor-Leste, became the ASEAN host for 2017. A general meeting is expected to conclude in November 17, however, foreign reports in November 4 have said that ASEAN would bypass Timor-Leste's membership in 2017, mostly because of its lack of human resources which was pointed out by Singapore. Despite this, it was announced that East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri will continue East Timor's participation in ASEAN as an observer during the 2017 summit. The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia reiterated Timor-Leste's membership application during the summits, however, the other 6 ASEAN member states led by Singapore did not support the move.[18][19] On the last day of the summit, the Philippines was mandated by tradition to pass the ASEAN chairmanship to Singapore, whose chairmanship begins in January.[20] A final report in the November summit released stated that "Timor-Leste’s application for ASEAN membership is ongoing, and therefore, looked forward to the outcomes of discussion by the ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group..., which will be held on 5 December 2017 in Bali, Indonesia," making it the last opportunity for Timor-Leste's accession in ASEAN under the Philippines' chairmanship which technically ends on December 31. The Philippines made a last bid to declare Timor-Leste as an ASEAN member state, but failed after 6 (Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam) blocked the proposal, while only 4 (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia) approved of it. The proposal needed a unanimous vote (10) for it to pass. In 2018, the Philippines was in talks with Brunei, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam regarding the approval of Timor-Leste's accession to ASEAN. Talks were also set with Malaysia and Singapore, but both nations rejected the proposal again. Singapore, as the ASEAN chair for 2018, noted that Timor-Leste's membership will be tackled during the year, but its accession as a member state would not be approved, pushing the possible approval of Timor-Leste's bid to 2019, where Thailand will be chair.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b East Timor Needs Five Years to Join ASEAN: PM Archived 9 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine., AFP, 27 July 2006, accessed on 22 December 2008
  2. ^ Political Parties and Groupings of Timor-Leste Archived 21 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Australian Labor Party's International Projects unit, 1 May 2007, accessed on 26 December 2008
  3. ^ a b Aung, Nyan Lynn; McLaughlin, Tim (7 November 2013). "Timor Leste on the ASEAN waiting list". The Myanmar Times. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  4. ^ France, East Timor sign nonaggression pact with ASEAN, International Herald Tribune, 12 January 2007, accessed on 22 December 2008
  5. ^ Timor-Leste wishes to join ASEAN in 5 years, Xinhua, 2 December 2005, accessed on 26 December 2008
  6. ^ Timor's key concern: preparing for ASEAN membership Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine., ACP-EU Courier, 1 December 2007, accessed on 26 December 2008
  7. ^ Thailand to support East Timor's membership of Asean, East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin, 13 January 2009, accessed on 27 November 2009
  8. ^ McGeown, Kate (4 March 2011). "East Timor applies to join Asean". BBC News. Retrieved 24 February 2017. 
  9. ^ "Timor Leste remains steadfast to ASEAN aspiration". Secretary-General of ASEAN. 7 December 2012. Archived from the original on 12 December 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Padden, Brian (29 March 2011). "Indonesia Supports East Timor's Bid to Join ASEAN". Voice of America. Retrieved 20 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Philippine Civil Society To Support Timor-Leste Bid for ASEAN Membership". 7 June 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  12. ^ Tisnadibrata, Ismira Lutfia (16 May 2013). "Timor-Leste poised to win ASEAN membership". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "Timor Leste faces uphill to join ASEAN". Xinhua News Agency. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "Singapore and the Philippines express support for Timor-Leste's bid for ASEAN membership after Official visits". Government of Timor-Leste. 19 June 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  15. ^ "Timor Leste must wait for full ASEAN membership". Brunei Times. 12 September 2013. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  16. ^ "S'pore won't block Timor Leste's bid to join ASEAN". Brunei Times. 21 September 2013. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  17. ^ "Timor Leste is ready to join Asean grouping". Bernama. Daily Express. 11 April 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  18. ^ News, Kyodo. "ASEAN to pass on letting East Timor join grouping this year: Kyodo sources". ABS-CBN News. Retrieved 2017-11-26. 
  19. ^ Hunt, Luke (27 May 2016). "East Timor Hopes for ASEAN Membership by 2017". The Diplomat. Retrieved 24 February 2017. 
  20. ^ "PH turns over ASEAN chairmanship to Singapore | Philippine Canadian Inquirer". Retrieved 2017-11-26. 
  21. ^ "Timor Leste application for ASEAN membership still being studied - chairman's report". InterAksyon. 2017-11-16. Retrieved 2017-11-26. 
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