Timor-Leste welcomes ASEAN admission “in principle”. | Tech US News

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East Timor welcomed the decision on Saturday by leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to accept the small country “in principle” as its 11th member, marking the end of an 11-year bid to join the trade bloc.

Timorese Ambassador to Cambodia Kupa Lopes thanked Cambodia for its “unwavering support” in guiding his country to the group, adding that Dili was happy to carry out pending fact-finding missions for East Timor to achieve full membership next year.

“We want to join ASEAN,” he told VOA on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN Leaders Summit. “So, this is very important for East Timor and this is also important for ASEAN,” he said, using East Timor’s official name.

ASEAN said on Friday that its members had agreed “in principle” to accept East Timor while granting it observer status, which would allow the country to participate in all ASEAN meetings and summit plenary sessions until full membership is achieved.

ASEAN said in a statement that full acceptance would be achieved “after taking into account the results of the fact-finding missions in Timor-Leste conducted by the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.”

The statement said the ASEAN Coordination Council would formalize “a roadmap based on objective criteria for East Timor’s full membership, including milestones identified in the reports” of the fact-finding missions.

Lopes said the final report of the coordination council would be submitted to next year’s summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, for adoption along with his country’s formal application for membership. East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.

“Timor-Leste is ready to work with the ASEAN Council and also the ASEAN Secretariat and complete the technical details for the plan to be a full member at the next ASEAN summit,” he said.

East Timor was expected to join ASEAN this year with strong support from Cambodia, which holds the presidency this year, but those hopes were dashed at an ASEAN foreign ministers summit in August when Dili did not receive unanimous support.

In July, Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta expressed earlier disillusionment with ASEAN to Indonesia’s foreign policy community, saying: “It seems that the way to heaven – to reach the perfection of heaven – is easier than to reach the door of ASEAN.”

Diplomatic sources said two questions dogged Dili’s bid – whether East Timor could afford the costs associated with membership and that it appeared too tight with China.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, however, told foreign ministers that East Timor’s application was well advanced, that Indonesia would review it in 2023 and “by next year we could welcome this country into the ASEAN family.”

Ambassador Lopes said membership would give East Timor’s 1.37 million people access to the ASEAN Economic Community and open up a market for ASEAN’s 683 million people. This would allow the Timorese to travel and work in Southeast Asia in industries such as tourism and manufacturing, while expanding their economy.

“East Timor’s economy can be more resilient – and then we can diversify away from oil and gas into agriculture and tourism,” Lopes said.

David Totten, managing director of Emerging Markets Consulting in Phnom Penh, said the benefits to the impoverished country would be huge once it was fully accepted, and the continued delays in East Timor’s admission had taken too long.

“East Timor applied for membership more than 10 years ago, and the continued delay seems senseless,” he said. “ASEAN is a huge market – for a country like Timor-Leste, it would undoubtedly provide a much-needed economic blueprint for the local population.”

Cambodia was the last country to join ASEAN in 1999.

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