Singapore offers training to Timor-Leste officials to prepare nation for Asean membership

Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta calling on Singapore President Halimah Yacob during his visit to the Istana on Thursday. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta, with Singapore President Halimah Yacob, inspecting the guard of honour at the Istana on Thursday. The state visit comes after leaders of Asean said Timor-Leste will be admitted in principle as the 11th member state of the grouping. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Singapore on Thursday launched a training programme for Timor-Leste officials in support of the country’s bid for Asean membership.

More than 300 Timor-Leste officials will be offered training in Asean knowledge and skills such as negotiation and writing reports. They will also be trained to adapt the country’s education system to prepare the younger generation to join the Asean community.

The launch of the Singapore-Timor-Leste Asean Readiness Support (Stars) package comes during Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta’s six-day state visit to Singapore. It is Timor-Leste’s first state visit to the Republic.

President Halimah Yacob held a state banquet at the Istana for Dr Ramos-Horta on Thursday night, where she said in her toast that the countries were celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

But their friendship predates Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002, said Madam Halimah, with Singapore among the first countries to contribute to peacekeeping operations in Timor-Leste in 1999 through International Force East Timor.

“Singapore has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of Timor-Leste’s development,” she said.

Madam Halimah said she was pleased with the launch of the Stars package, which has been customised to support Timor-Leste in its preparations for Asean membership, and will include courses and workshops geared towards supporting its participation at Asean meetings.

She said: “Amidst the uncertain and complex geopolitical landscape today, the partnership between Singapore and Timor-Leste remains as important as ever.”

She added that as small island states, the countries share interests and similar world views, and face common vulnerabilities and challenges such as climate change.

“We should work together, as friends and partners, to overcome the challenges and to identify new opportunities for cooperation,” said Madam Halimah.

Dr Ramos-Horta agreed, and said: “Born from the pain and ashes of conflict of 1975 (to) 1999, we have a reconciled nation at peace with ourselves and living harmoniously with our neighbours. We know that much remains to be done towards a resilient, sustainable and equitable economy.”

He added: “I believe that Timor-Leste and Singapore should fully partner up for mutual benefits. We are ready to elevate our partnership to new heights.”

About 14,874 sq km in size, Timor-Leste comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, with Australia to its south, and has a population of 1.34 million.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Thursday that the Asean knowledge and skills courses aim to equip Timor-Leste officials to participate effectively in Asean meetings. Courses will include those on English-language communication, note-taking and report-writing as well as negotiation, for more than 200 Timor-Leste officials.

An additional 100 Timor-Leste teachers, school administrators and education officials will be trained in technical and vocational education, as well as school administration and curriculum development, to help develop the country’s education system.

On Thursday morning, Dr Ramos-Horta had an orchid named after him and planted a tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. He was then welcomed at the Istana, where he called on President Halimah and met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. PM Lee also hosted a lunch for Dr Ramos-Horta at the Istana.

MFA said of the meetings: “They reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to support Timor-Leste’s development through capacity-building programmes, and welcomed more Timorese officials to participate in the Singapore Cooperation Programme.”

These sentiments were echoed on Thursday evening by Madam Halimah, who said that more than 800 Timorese officials have participated in the programme’s courses in areas such as economic development and public administration.

The Singapore Cooperation Programme, established in 1992 to consolidate various technical assistance initiatives offered by Singapore since the 1960s, allows foreign officials to sign up for courses that the Government supports.

MFA said that PM Lee reaffirmed Singapore’s in-principle support for Timor-Leste’s Asean membership and the Republic’s commitment to work with other member states on an objective road map for Timor-Leste’s Asean membership.

Before attending the state banquet, Dr Ramos-Horta, who is visiting Singapore from Tuesday to Sunday, delivered the 45th Singapore Lecture organised by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Asean leaders said in November at the 40th and 41st Asean summits that Timor-Leste will be admitted in principle as the 11th member state of the grouping.

They said then that Timor-Leste, Asia’s youngest nation, will be granted observer status at Asean meetings, including at summit plenaries, and the grouping will formalise an “objective criteria-based road map” for its full membership in Asean.

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