Timor Leste to be Asean's 11th member, Myanmar's chair remains empty at summit

Timo-Leste first applied for membership in 2011.

Tan Min-Wei | November 12, 2022, 11:31 AM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates: https://t.me/mothershipsg

Nov. 11, the first day of the 40th and 41st Asean Summits and Related summits saw the in-principle acceptance of Timor Leste as the 11th member of Asean, as the grouping met in Phnom Penh.

In-principle admission

According to Reuters, the grouping has agreed in-principle to accept Timor Leste.

This means that the country will be granted observer status in Asean, and will allow it to participate in all Asean meetings, including at the summit plenaries.

Asean will now formalise an objective, criteria-based roadmap for Timor-Leste's full membership.

The accompanying Asean leaders' statement also said that Asean members and external partners will fully support Timor Leste in achieving the milestones set out for it regarding membership.

Singapore welcomes the move

According to CNA, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that "Singapore welcomed, in-principle, Timor-Leste's eventual membership of Asean" and that its membership should take place "in accordance with an objective, criteria-based Asean roadmap.

He also said that Asean should work with external partners to help Timor-Leste build capacity.

First new Asean member since 1999

Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, would be the first country to join Asean in over 20 years, the last country to join being Cambodia in 1999. Coincidentally, Cambodia is the current Asean chair, and is hosting the Asean summit.

As stated by Fulcrum, Timor-Leste has been seeking Asean membership since 2011. It gained independence in 2002 after over 20 years of occupation by Indonesia. The country's application to Asean has been held up over worries that it lacked capacity.

Fulcrum said that when Timor-Leste first applied, there might have been some concern about the nation's ability to take on Asean's membership obligations, such as hosting Asean meetings or other bureaucratic demands.

Both Fulcrum and the Diplomat note that from 2017 until this year, Singapore had raised concerns about Timor-Leste's economic capacity, and that these concerns were still raised as late as August 2022's Asean Foreign Ministers' meeting.

Myanmar's chair left empty

Also on Asean's agenda at this summit is Myanmar, with the country undergoing a period of political turmoil after the military, known as the Tatmadaw, initiated a coup against its democratically elected government in 2021.

Asean had called an emergency meeting on Oct. 27 to discuss developments.

Asean had negotiated an a roadmap towards normalisation known as the Five-Point Consensus that, amongst other things, required the end of violence in the country and diplomatic access to opposition figures such as Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar had initially agreed to adhere to the 5PC, but has so far not fulfilled its stipulations, even going so far as to impose 26 years of jail on Suu Kyi, and execute four opposition figures.

Asean has refused to invite any representative of Myanmar's junta to its summits, asking that Myanmar instead nominate a non-political figure to attend, something that the Tatmadaw has refused to do.

This was shown on the first day of the Asean summit by Myanmar's chair symbolically being left empty.


But Asean has now tacitly acknowledged that the 5PC has not met its objectives.

While saying that the 5PC should be "implemented in its entirety", Asean foreign ministers were now tasked with creating an implementation to plan to outline "concrete, practical and measurable indicators" to support the 5PC.

The summit continues until Nov. 13.

Related Stories

Top image by @bongbongmarcos/Twitter