The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

ASEAN hands Timor-Leste an invite

Tuesday 25 July 2006 at 11:29 am

As part of this week’s ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, and in the leadup to Friday’s ASEAN Regional Forum, it was reported today that Timor-Leste intends to join ASEAN.

Considering how little I can find in (the shiny and new!) Technorati, I suspect few people are interested by this. So I’ll comment about it, particularly because I’m fascinated :-)
(hey, it brings together something I’ve been blogging about with something I’m studying!)

First up, it should be noted that this isn’t really a sign of improved stability in Timor-Leste; the old government had been in negotiations to get down with the ASEAN kids for months before the current unrest. Mr Ramos-Horta was at last year’s ASEAN Regional Forum, and there was even talk of him attending the next East Asia Summit.

The announcement does, however, cast some doubt over the old hopes of ASEAN leaders for a nicely rounded clique of ten (which they finally got in 1999). When Timor-Leste first won its independence, some folk in the region said it was more Melanesian than Southeast Asian, and thus didn’t belong in ASEAN. That sentiment has since been overridden by the more widespread belief (particularly strong among the Singaporeans) that ASEAN and its spawn should be inclusive and welcoming to anyone who’s entitled to join.

I doubt that joining ASEAN (if and when it happens, since this announcement is just a statement of intent) will have much impact on the Timorese themselves, except perhaps to help legitimate their government overseas. Whether that’s a good thing is unclear — the last person to have been in the region whom I’ve spoken to was convinced the new leadership is far from clean.

I am vaguely concerned about the effect of continued expansion on ASEAN. Then again, the late-90s naysayers were wrong to claim that picking up Burma and Cambodia would ruin the group, so maybe there’s nothing to be worried about. Actually, it’s quite likely ASEAN will just keep plodding along like it always has, talking lots while making steady (but glacially slow!) progress towards integration.

Timor-Leste, meanwhile, will plod along in poverty, still short of stability or much-needed economic growth …

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