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ASEAN's 11th member

Jakarta Post Editorial - November 19, 2022

Jakarta – With a strong endorsement from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, ASEAN leaders agreed to accept Timor Leste as the 11th member of the group during their summit in Phnom Penh last week.

The state still has to go through several steps, albeit formality, to formalize its accession to ASEAN, so that Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta can attend next year's ASEAN Summit in Indonesia.

The membership will pave the way for Timor Leste, Indonesia's former colony, to accelerate its economic development and boost its international credentials as a member of one of the world's most successful regional organizations. Timor Leste can expect to spur its growth even faster to help the government alleviate poverty as quickly as possible.

"We [...] agreed in principle to admit Timor Leste to be the 11th member of ASEAN," the ASEAN leaders said in a statement. The next steps would include a "roadmap for full membership" to be submitted during next year's summit.

President Ramos Horta was invited to the summit and was greeted by the host, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Nobel co-laureate also met with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsian Loong, who initially opposed Timor Leste's admission plan. It seems Singapore has realized that economic consideration is not the only factor for a country to join the club.

Indonesia invaded then-East Timor in 1975 with support from the United States and Australia to prevent the former Portuguese colony from falling into the communist bloc. The occupation lasted about 24 years until 1999 when president B.J. Habibie granted an independence referendum for the people. Ramos Horta had campaigned for his country's inclusion in ASEAN since 2011. In an interview with Reuters, however, Ramos-Horta had envisioned East Timor as a member of ASEAN when he was a young diplomat back in the 1970s.

Timor Leste's admission to ASEAN is historical because now the whole Southeast Asian region has embraced the group. The ASEAN membership will create a tremendous opportunity for Timor Leste to access the big regional market. The resources-rich nation clearly can only grow and prosper further with support from its closest neighbors.

It will not be easy for Timor Leste to adapt to the ASEAN dynamics at least for the first few years. ASEAN holds hundreds of meetings every year, from the level of senior officials, ministers to heads of state and government. There are many more meetings ASEAN member states have to take part in. Timor Leste may find difficulties in managing human resources for ASEAN meetings.

Indonesia and other members should help Timor Leste secure the status as a full-fledged member of ASEAN and make sure the country can catch up with the progress of other members.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/11/18/aseans-11th-member.html