Dili, East Timor – The prime minister of East Timor, Rui Maria de Araujo, said the country is "ready to become a member," with regard to the state's aim to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.
Furthermore, as the prime minister reflected on the state's recent history including provisional rule under the United Nations and independence from Indonesia in 2002, he commented, "(With regard to) human rights, peace, democracy and so on... these are the things we can bring (to) the table to share our experience with other countries" – emphasizing that despite its small size, East Timor is able to contribute to ASEAN.
However, as ASEAN marks its 50th anniversary this year, it is uncertain whether all 10 member nations will recognize East Timor's accession to the association.
Commenting on the intra-ASEAN conflict over member countries' positions on the South China Sea dispute, the leader said, "Timor Leste (East Timor) position was made clear. It's still very important to have international laws (on) conflict of resolution and the second thing is... talk to each other."
With regard to the dispute, it is thought that East Timor will distance itself from China, which did not accept the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejecting China's asserted interests in the region. East Timor itself filed for international court arbitration in April last year over its own dispute with neighboring Australia. The prime minister's comment can be interpreted as the country's intention to adhere to the court's ruling in the future.
If East Timor is accepted as an ASEAN member, it will have the smallest economy and the second smallest population, at 1.21 million, out of all member nations. In addition, other ASEAN members are concerned that East Timor "does not have the capacity to host major international conferences."
In response to such concerns, the prime minister points out that East Timor has hosted international conferences between 2014 and 2016 for the nine-member "Comunidade dos Paises de Lingua Portuguesa" (the Community of Portuguese Language Countries), adding, "We hosted many (conferences) of up to 19 to 20 countries." The prime minister insists that East Timor's accession would not hinder the association.
As for the relationship between East Timor and Japan, he touched on the helpful support received from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Asian Development Bank needed to shape up for ASEAN membership, explaining that, "Japan has been doing a lot particularly helping us to diversify our economy."