Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor-Leste, Dr Dionisio da Costa Babo Soares, gave an RSIS Distinguished Public Lecture titled “Timor-Leste: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Referendum from Past to Present” on 8 July 2019 at NTU@one-north.
Dr Dionisio highlighted developments in Timor-Leste since its independence 17 years ago. The country has made a concerted effort to focus on both peace-building and state-building. In 2011, the government further demonstrated its determination to bring the country out of its post-conflict status by implementing the first phase of the Timor-Leste Strategic Development, in the hopes of transforming the nation into a middle-income country by 2030.
Dr Dionisio reiterated that the priority of the current government is to strengthen its economic and human capital, build more infrastructure, support private initiative and entrepreneurship, and implement good governance. However, Timor-Leste’s goals go beyond economic development alone and encompass a range of socioeconomic factors, such as working towards a more just society by providing protection to vulnerable groups, improving access to health (especially in rural areas), and boosting the tourism sector.
After providing a glimpse into Timor-Leste’s progress and priorities since its independence in 2002, Dr Dionisio then talked about the progress of Timor-Leste’s request for accession into ASEAN. Timor-Leste is expecting fact-finding missions from ASEAN countries in September this year in a bid to assess Dili’s readiness for full-fledged ASEAN membership. He asserted that the government has received advice from various academics and consultants to meet all requirements.
In terms of the political-security pillar, Timor-Leste has met all minimum criteria. Timor-Leste has also demonstrated that it has established all democratic institutions, implemented nationwide elections with a turnout rate of 75 per cent as well as had a minimal settlement of seething issues in court.
Dr Dionisio also pointed out that Timor-Leste had embarked on its own initiative to make its future ascension into ASEAN membership a smoother one. For example, Timor-Leste is currently expanding its trade networks with Indonesia, Singapore, China, and Vietnam. At the same time, it is also developing a customs system that is in line with the customs and tax reforms of ASEAN integration.