November 12, 2017 3:59 pm JST

ASEAN to discuss next month admitting East Timor as new member

MANILA (Kyodo) -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will convene a meeting of senior officials next month to discuss admitting East Timor as a member, ASEAN officials said Sunday.

The ASEAN working group on East Timor will meet Dec. 5 on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Chandra Widya Yudha, director of ASEAN political and security cooperation at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Kyodo News on the sidelines of meetings of the leaders of the 10 current member states of ASEAN, and of its major dialogue partners including China, the United States and Russia.

Chandra did not elaborate, but another ASEAN official said "no breakthrough is on the horizon" despite Indonesia's wish for East Timor's admission as quickly as possible.

According to Jose Tavares, director general for ASEAN cooperation at the Indonesian foreign ministry, the association has now received the results of studies by three independent teams which examined the political, economic and sociocultural aspects of admitting East Timor as the influential regional group's 11th member.

Those studies will be considered by officials in making recommendations as to whether East Timor is ready to join six years after first applying, Tavares said.

East Timor applied for membership in 2011 when Indonesia was chairing the group. Indonesia's then foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said that geographically East Timor is part of Southeast Asia and there are only two options for the group: to invite it to join or to ignore the tiny country.

Some ASEAN members have been cool to the idea, with Singapore in particular voicing concern over the country's lack of human resources to cope with ASEAN's many meetings and economic gap with other members.

Despite oil and gas revenues, East Timor remains one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with official statistics indicating that around 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, declared its independence in 1975 but was invaded and annexed by Indonesia later that year.

Following a popular vote to split from Indonesia in 1999, East Timor became independent in 2002 after two and a half years under U.N. administration.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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