Hariz Baharudin, Phnom Penh – Timor-Leste will be admitted in principle as the 11th member state of regional grouping Asean, said leaders of its member states on Friday.
The leaders, who are in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the 40th and 41st Asean summits, said in a statement that Asia's youngest nation will be granted observer status at Asean meetings, including at summit plenaries.
The grouping will formalise an "objective criteria-based road map" for Timor-Leste's full membership in Asean, said the statement.
This will be based on milestones identified in the reports of fact-finding missions conducted by the group, and the bloc's coordinating council will formulate such a road map.
This road map will be reported at the 42nd Asean Summit in 2023 for adoption, the leaders said. The 10 member states and the bloc's external partners will fully support Timor-Leste to achieve the milestones by providing "capacity-building assistance and any other necessary and relevant support needed for its full membership in Asean".
This is the first time in more than 20 years that Asean has admitted another nation. Cambodia's accession to the bloc was in 1999.
Timor-Leste was officially recognised by the United Nations in 2002, making it Asia's youngest democracy. The resource-rich country of 1.3 million people immediately started the process of accession to Asean, but formally applied for membership only in 2011.
At the 40th Asean Summit on Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore welcomes Timor-Leste's eventual membership in Asean, which should take place in accordance with an objective, criteria-based road map.
"Asean should help Timor-Leste build capacity, and we should work with external partners on this," he said.