Asean members supportive of Timor-Leste’s participation, Singapore committed to helping it: Vivian

(From left) Timor-Leste's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Adaljiza Magno, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at the Asean foreign ministers’ retreat in Jakarta on Feb 4. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SINGAPORE

JAKARTA - Asean members are supportive of observer Timor-Leste’s participation in the bloc, but full membership comes with heavy responsibilities and obligations that can be a steep hill to climb, said Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

He also underscored Singapore’s full support in helping the country build capacity to fulfil its obligations and responsibilities and fully join Asean.

Timor-Leste made its debut as an observer on Friday and Saturday, attending the first Asean Ministers’ Meeting under Indonesia’s chairmanship of the bloc.

Speaking to reporters at the close of the meeting in Jakarta on Saturday, Dr Balakrishnan said Timor-Leste’s presence at the meetings was important, and that all the Asean members there were supportive of its full participation.

“We look forward ultimately to their full membership, but that membership of Asean carries with it heavy responsibilities and obligations. And I think Timor-Leste is also... now getting a better and deeper appreciation of just how heavy that load of responsibilities and obligations will be,” he said.

“So I’d say everyone is welcoming them. But we know that it is quite a steep climb up that hill.”

Singapore is fully committed to helping Timor-Leste climb this hill, and build its capacity to fulfil all of its obligations and responsibilities, added the minister.

More than 800 Timorese officials have attended training programmes under the Singapore Cooperation Programme in areas such as economic development, finance, public administration and urban development.

In December, Singapore also launched a training programme for Timor-Leste officials to support the country’s bid for Asean membership.

Dr Balakrishnan said he had spoken to Timor-Leste’s Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno and reassured her that Singapore stands in full support of its membership.

“Their presence at this first meeting was important. And I think they were very pleased to have this chance,” he said.

At the 40th and 41st Asean summits in November, it was announced that Timor-Leste would be admitted in principle as the 11th member state of the grouping, and be granted observer status at Asean meetings, including summit plenaries.

Asean leaders said then that the grouping would formalise an “objective criteria-based road map” for Timor-Leste’s full membership. This road map, to be formulated by Asean’s coordinating council, will be based on milestones identified in reports by the grouping’s fact-finding missions.

The road map will be tabled at the 42nd Asean Summit in May 2023 for adoption.

Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia 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.

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