The Process and Challenge for East-Timor to ASEAN


East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, is located at the crossroads of the southern Asia and Pacific Islands. The country attained its independence in the year 2002. Since then, the government of the country expressed its willingness to become a member of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN). The minister of the foreign affairs, Jose Ramos Horta, raised the issue during the meeting between Indonesia and East Timor that was held in October 2002. During this time, ASEAN had ten members and the East Timor was going to be the eleventh member of the association.

The government of East Timor viewed as a way of solving most of their problems that they face as a country and with the neighboring countries. The step could ensure the economic growth of the country through trading with the neighboring countries. Through trading, the country could promote peace as well with the other countries who are members of the ASEAN in the region hence promoting the relationships between them and other countries (Gusmao 2014, 11).

Gusmao (2014, 13) narrates that, the move to join ASEAN was to help them be stable politically and reduce the insecurity they faced as a country and with the neighboring countries that border them. Also, the country also faced the lack of transparency and good governance from its government since they had just achieved their independence recently.

The above mentioned are some of the problems that East Timor wants to overcome by joining the ASEAN. However, East-Timor faced various challenges both internally and externally during the time they were to join the ASEAN. From this literature, these challenges are covered and their solutions as well as the impact or the effects of East-Timor joining the ASEAN. Also, the process of joining the ASEAN by the East-Timor is as well looked into in the literature. East-Timor faced a lot of challenges to join ASEAN, but it also had impacts on the country.

Challenges to attain membership process

East-Timor made its application to become a member of the ASEAN on March 2011. One of the qualifications that were looked at by the ASEAN members was the relationship that the East-Timor had with the ten ASEAN members. It was found that East-Timor had all it requires to join the ASEAN as it full filled the ASEAN declaration and the ASEAN charter. It was also observed that East-Timor had attended all the meetings since 2002 (Xanana 2013, 31). However, the admission of the East-Timor to become the eleventh member of the ASEAN was still a problem. Some of the countries were not ready to allow the admission her admission due to the lower economic state. They did compare the East-Timor economy with other countries which did attain their independence almost the same time with her but were better placed regarding their economic development. These resistant countries viewed the lower economic state of the East-Timor that it will sabotage the development that they have achieved in the past. From this argument that these members had, they were not willing to absorb East-Timor into ASEAN. They thought that it would totally rely on them for it to achieve a stable economy.

In spite of some of the members of the ASEAN resistance on the East-Timor joining them in the association, its discussion on joining them was carried on because most of the members were in for their support and to ensure that they become part of the ASEAN family. On to the contrary, this resistance was also experienced in East-Timor by its leaders in 1999 as they were of the opinion that they should join the South Pacific Forum (SPF) instead of joining ASEAN. They thought they belong to the South Pacific Nations and not part of the ASEAN (Fabio 2007, 27). During the meeting of the SPF region, Ramos Horta said, “we are one of the South Pacific Nations, not part of ASEAN.” However, they found out later the policy of the SPF was not sustainable for long, and they could not gain any positive impact on the stability and economic growth of their nation. After this realization, they changed their mind to join the ASEAN, which had a sustainable policy that could accommodate them (Xanana 2013, 210). The ASEAN could help them grow economically and become politically stable as opposed to the SPF, which they thought could give the hard lines to trade on with them despite the strong bond of “brotherhood” that they have.

The resistance of the East-Timor on joining the other members of the ASEAN was also political. The Dili’s were of the opinion that they should join the SPF while others wanted the ASEAN, which brought a lot of controversies on which side to join (Mereani 2012, 5). If East-Timor can have a consensus of joining the ASEAN, they will realize a positive impact there economy and political situation of the nation.

Impact of being ASEAN member

            If East-Timor is enthusiastic about joining the ASEAN, it will achieve its national objectives that it has set. East-Timor believes that its involvement with the ASEAN will help them grow their economy. The president of the East-Timor, Ramos Horta said that joining ASEAN will make them work extra hard hence will ensure that there is a positive acceleration in the economic growth (Selver 2012, 273). When East-Timor makes it to be one of the ASEAN members, it will enjoy the fair policies that these countries that are in partnership have. In 2007 the leaders of the ASEAN adopted the policy of coming up with a single market and a production base, a competitive economic region with the liberation of the economy, trade, and services (Selver 2012, 350). Therefore, the East-Timor would have the freedom free trade in all the member countries of the ASEAN. The free trade normally gives the involved countries free movement of people from one country to the other. One needs only to have the identification card to move. The taxes on the goods and services are also taxed fairly as opposed to the non-member countries. East-Timor could use this opportunity to grow its economy (Mereani 2012, 15).

            East-Timor could also gain stability politically. If East-Timor attains its membership in the ASEAN, it will help her have the provision on the control in dealing with some of the powerful nations that are within the region, such as China and Australia, which have helped them in the recent past years. The two countries helped in the acceleration of East-Timor independence against the Indonesian colony. After their independence, there has been violence in this country that has led to the death and displacement of the Dili residents (Human Rights Reports 2008, 31). However, this was solved in a diplomatic manner by the Chinese and the Community of Portuguese Language Nations (United Nations Report 2006, 43). The East-Timor government believes that joining ASEAN will provide them with the best datum to improve and manage its domestic situations and the international relationship with the member countries in the region as well as other non-member states (Fabio 2007, 27).

            East-Timor efforts

            East-Timor has made tremendous efforts towards joining the ASEAN since the time they got their independence. This is evident from the time that the minister for the foreign affairs announced their willingness and pleaded to be included in the ASEAN membership during 2002 meeting. The leaders of the East-Timor have also made several regional meetings and bilateral meetings with other ASEAN member countries to give them support in joining them in this association, which has a positive impact on the member countries (Mereani 2012, 7). It has tried to a bid by the ASEAN policies. They have made attempts of registering with other regional associations that are under ASEAN such as ASEAN Regional Forum in 2005 and Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. These commitments have shown the willingness of the East-Timor in joining the ASEAN membership as outlined in the in the ASEAN Charter, Article 6(2) that stipulates the criteria for admitting new members (Sean 2012, 222). East-Timor has fulfilled some of the requirements to become a member of the ASEAN. It is within the geographical area; it has shown her commitment and willingness to be a member by attending the ASEAN meetings, and she has registered with other organizations that are within ASEAN. The commitment that East-Timor has shown has impressed most of the ASEAN members.

            Solutions to the problem of joining ASEAN

            Gusmao (2014, 43) stipulates that one of the major problems that are facing East-Timor is the discrimination by some of the ASEAN family members who do not appreciate their efforts that they have made to join ASEAN. Therefore, the leaders of the East-Timor should make an attempt at meeting these countries that are not in their support. These meetings should take the advantage of convincing the leaders of these countries to support the to make their admission into ASEAN be successful. They have struggled for a long time so that they can be included as the eleventh member of the family. This would make it easy for the entire family of ASEAN approves their membership.

            According to Sean (2012, 246), the government should try to improve the economy of the nation to stop other ASEAN members from viewing them as a burden if they get registered. The government should invite investors into their country to help them boost their economy. The government should as well travel to other developed countries to enable the borrow ideas of how they can develop their country to accelerate their economy.

            In addition to the above mentioned, the leaders of the East-Timor should preach peace in their country to prevent political wars that usually interfere with the economic development of the nation. These political wars do scare away the potential investors within the state Sean (2012, 248). The preaching of peace will promote friendship with the neighboring countries hence promoting trade and international relations.

            Peace in the country will ensure a stable government that will help in the growth of the economy. Transparency within the government should be ensured and all the stakeholders to be engaged in the state’s affairs so that a common consensus is arrived at to prevent the different opinions that may arise during the implementation stage. This will only hinder the country’s development.


            From the discussion above it is clearly evident that East-Timor is facing both the internal and external challenges for its admission to become ASEAN member. East-Timor is greatly facing domestic political problems, economic growth challenges and human resources constrain (Sean 2012, 218). If the government will take the initiative of solving the problems that they are facing and make the attempts of convincing the resistant members they will be registered as the eleventh member of the ASEAN (Gusmao 2014, 82). Also, the East-Timor should have a quick move irrespective of whether they are registered or not to amalgamate its government, economy, and its infrastructure. East-Timor should continue attending the ASEAN meetings as it will enable them to solve the problems that they are facing in their country.


Fabio Scarpello. 2007. “Politics and Poverty Hopes Rest Firmly on Timor-Leste’s First Post-Independence Election,” South China Morning Post.

Gusmao, 2014. “Timor Leste and ASEAN: Perspectives and Challenges,” speech delivered at the University of Malaysia, Sabah, Timor-Leste-ASEAN_Perspectives-and-Challenges-2.4.14.pdf.

Human Rights Reports. 2008. Timor-Leste, Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, released February 25, 2009.

Mereani Gonedua, 2012. “Melanesian Spearhead group’s partners recognized in Fiji. Observer nations also responsible for regional funding,” Pacific Islands Report, March 29, 2012,

Selver B. Sahin, 2012. “Timor Leste: A More Confident or Overconfident Foreign Policy Actor?” Southeast Asian Affairs, p.350.

Sean Jacobs, 2012. “No thanks, not yet: PNG’s ASEAN bid,” East Asia Forum,

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on Justice and Reconciliation for Timor-Leste,” S/2006/580, July 26, 2006. 

Xanana Kay Rala Gusmao. 2013. “Timor-Leste’s Role and Future in a Rising Asia Pacific,” Lecture delivered at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore,