ASEAN is launching a fact-finding mission to accelerate East Timor’s accession into the bloc, a task expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The decision was announced in a virtual meeting on February 14 between foreign minister Prak Sokhonn and ASEAN secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi.
In a statement published after the meeting, the ministers acknowledged the additional difficulty that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused in the indo-pacific nation’s decade-long application process to join ASEAN as its 11th member.
But they said the bloc is “determined” to complete the fact-finding mission of the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community in the first quarter of this year, “so that ASEAN member states can start to deliberate on the roadmap and timeline for [East Timor] to accede to ASEAN,” the statement said.
Heng Kimkong, a visiting senior research fellow at the Cambodia Development Centre, said the meeting demonstrates Cambodia’s activeness in pushing for East Timor to become an ASEAN member.
He said that, should East Timor membership be confirmed during Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN this year, it would help raise the profile of the Kingdom within the bloc as being a supportive new member.
“Cambodia is the latest member of ASEAN. Therefore, if [East Timor] becomes another member, it shows that Cambodia is working towards and putting in effort to achieve unity and inclusiveness in the region,” he said.
Sokhonn and Lim also spoke at length about the political situation in Myanmar and its impact on ASEAN, according to the ministry.
The meeting included “heavy emphasis” on the importance of cessation of violence and building of trust and confidence in the beleaguered nation, “so that all the concerned parties can engage in an inclusive dialogue in order to achieve long lasting peace”, it said.
Sokhonn told Lim about plans for his first visit to Myanmar as its ASEAN special envoy, for which no date has been set. Lim offered that the ASEAN Secretariat was ready to support his visit as well as to provide aid in order to alleviate the humanitarian situation in the country.
Both sides also discussed the important role of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in the ASEAN community building process. In recent years, many countries had signed the peace treaty and have subsequently become dialogue, sector and development partners to ASEAN member states, they noted.
“Going forward, ASEAN will continue to strengthen its capacity and capability, so that it is equipped to contribute effectively to the rapid growth of its partners for mutual benefit,” the press statement said.