Dili – East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said Thursday his country is "doing our best" to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but Asean members Myanmar and Singapore are still withholding their support.
"We have full support from Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries but still some reservations from Singapore and Myanmar up to now," Alkatiri said during an interview in Dili, adding that both countries are fortunately "open to discuss the issue."
"We are doing our best to join Asean... I do believe that soon we will be a full part of Asean," he said in his first exclusive interview with a foreign media outlet since he became prime minister in September.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, declared its independence in 1975 but was invaded and annexed by Indonesia later that year. It became independent in May 2002, following a 1999 referendum in which its people voted to split from Indonesia after 24 years of occupation.
It submitted its application to become Asean's 11th member in 2011, but some members have been cool to the idea. Singapore, for example, has voiced concern over the country's lack of human resource capability to cope with the large number of Asean meetings.
Alkatiri said his tiny country of only some 1.2 million people deserves to be in Asean as it is part of Southeast Asia, despite its proximity to the South Pacific, and it has economic, trade and security interests in joining.
Despite receiving oil and gas revenues since 2005, East Timor remains one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with official statistics indicating that around 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Alkatiri confirmed that he will attend next month's Asean Summit in the Philippines as an observer. "I will be there to continue our lobbying, to push for being member of Asean," he said.
Among the preparatory steps East Timor has so far taken for Asean admission are nationwide programs for Asean awareness, the establishment of an Asean National Secretariat, capacity building through training and dialogue, participation in the Asean Regional Forum and other regional and global meetings and the establishment and strengthening of embassies in all Asean countries.
Asean was formed in 1967 among Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It welcomed Brunei in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.
On relations with Japan, Alkatiri thanked it for its contributions to peace-building in East Timor over the years and sought further assistance in the field of human resource development.
In particular, he expressed hopes that Japan will give East Timorese people more opportunities to receive education in Japan, while also contributing to vocational training in East Timor. (Kyodo News)