Thomas Daniel was quoted in China Daily Global, 24 May 2023


Timor-Leste’s bid to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expected to spur growth in Asia’s youngest nation, experts said.

Membership in the regional bloc will not only benefit Timor-Leste, but also bring gains to ASEAN. Other Southeast Asian nations can learn from Timor-Leste’s development path, governance and policies on human security, they said.

Timor-Leste, which celebrated its 21st Independence Day on Saturday, has an observer status in ASEAN.

“For ASEAN to be reflective of its name, it would be better if all Southeast Asian nations that are recognized as independent be allowed to join,” said Thomas Daniel, senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia.

By joining ASEAN, Timor-Leste can attend its meetings, giving the country more access to development or technical assistance either from any of the ASEAN members or the bloc’s dialogue partners such as China, the European Union and the United States, Daniel said.

“So being a part of (the ASEAN) family is something Timor-Leste clearly sees as potentially beneficial.”

But it is not just the nation that stands to gain from an ASEAN membership. Timor-Leste has “extremely interesting and enlightened views” on development and human security that it can share with other members, Daniel said.

Raising living standards

While poverty levels remain high, Timor-Leste has made inroads in raising living standards, with the national poverty rate decreasing to 42 percent in 2015 from 50 percent in 2007, according to the World Bank.

Ravindra Ngo, founder and CEO of The Asian Network in Singapore, said Timor-Leste’s bid as ASEAN’s 11th member will allow it to become part of an “advanced and integrated regional organization”.

ASEAN can also help in promoting political stability in Timor-Leste since the bloc is committed to developing a peaceful and stable region.

Yasmi Adriansyah, founder of the Center for Policy, Business, and International Studies at the Al Azhar University in Jakarta, said membership of ASEAN will encourage more investors to come to Timor-Leste since it will become part of the ASEAN Economic Community.

While Timor-Leste may be less economically developed than other ASEAN countries, it is politically developed, he said.

“It holds general elections regularly, and human rights issues are given proper attention.”

On May 11, at the conclusion of the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Indonesia, its leaders adopted a road map on Timor-Leste’s full membership to ASEAN. Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, who attended the summit for the first time, thanked the leaders for their support.

Leonardus Jegho in Jakarta contributed to this story

This article first published in China Daily, 24 May 2023.

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