The Jakarta Post
The path for Timor Leste to join ASEAN is clear now that ASEAN has formed a working group to review the readiness of the country to join the grouping, despite Singapore’s continued rejection of the application.
“ASEAN ministers welcome Timor Leste’s application. We have formed a working group to review the roadmap Timor Leste will take to become a member based on the ASEAN Declaration,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told a press briefing.
Timor Leste submitted its revised proposal of formal application for full membership of the bloc to the current chair of ASEAN, Indonesia, on Tuesday.
Previously, Timor Leste’s application had always faced rejection from Singapore, which argued that the country would hinder ASEAN’s moves toward a community by 2015.
Singapore proposed that a working group be set up to create criteria as a basis for Timor Leste’s review.
“The Singaporean foreign minister [Masagos Zulkifli] wants a joint working group, a senior officials’ meeting and a senior economic officials’ meeting to evaluate the proposal,” an official said.
It will however be very difficult for Timor Leste to pass the evaluation, especially in a senior economic officials’ meeting. Particularly as Singapore’s objections to the country’s membership request are based largely on the development gap between the country and ASEAN member states overall, which will make the region’s economic integration by 2015 more difficult.
However, during the foreign-minister meeting on Wednesday, foreign ministers from Cambodia and Malaysia directly questioned Singapore’s insistence on rejecting Timor Leste’s bid, saying that they supported the renewed application and there was no reason not to review it based on the declaration.
Indonesia agreed with the creation of the working group, but proposed that the group directly review the application based on the ASEAN Declaration. Eventually, other ASEAN members, including Singapore, agreed to welcome Timor Leste’s bid.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Timor Leste President José Manuel Ramos-Horta met in a bilateral meeting, but did not speak to the press afterward.
Indonesia has been throwing its full support behind Timor Leste’s bid for full membership of ASEAN since it took up the ASEAN chairmanship earlier this year.
Timor Leste was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century until its decolonization in late 1975 when then-East Timor declared its independence. Later that year it was invaded by Indonesia.
In 1999, following a UN-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory and Timor Leste became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002.
Several experts have agreed that Indonesia’s move in pushing for the admittance of Timor Leste to the bloc reflects ASEAN’s maturity and shows that ASEAN belongs to all Southeast Asian nations, despite economic differences.