Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said East Timor's application would likely come up during the Asean summit next month. (AP Photo)
Lynn Lee - Straits Times Indonesia | April 18, 2011 - JAKARTA POST
Bogor. Indonesia is backing East Timor's bid to join Asean because excluding it would be “economically unnatural” and “politically destabilizing” for the region in the long term, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
In an interview earlier this month with The Straits Times, he said: “I think its good if ... East Timor finds a wider family of Asean that is welcoming. What kind of impression are we setting if we keep them at arms' length and say they are not quite part of us?”
He said East Timor's application to join Asean had not yet been discussed among leaders of the 10 member states, but would likely come up during the Asean summit. As chairman of Asean, Indonesia is hosting the annual meeting next month in Jakarta.
East Jakarta, off eastern Indonesia, became independent 12 years ago after a largely violent secession struggle with Indonesia. Relations between both countries are better these days but East Timor, with around 1.1 million people, is still struggling to grow its economy after bouts of domestic turmoil.
As a result, some Asean members — including Singapore — believe that admitting East Timor could be a drag on community-building efforts, given that member economies are due to integrate by 2015.
Marty agreed that it would take special effort to get EastTimor “economically up to speed” with the rest of the region. But similar efforts had been made before with less-developed members, he said, noting that oil- and gas-rich East Timor would eventually be a net contributor to Asean.
“Is the answer to... isolate [East Timor]? I think, politically, that would be destabilizing and economically, it is unnatural.
“How can you have a neighborhood where everyone is happy and prosperous apart for one that you exclude? We think it is best to have them in now,' said Marty, who was Indonesia's ambassador to the United Nations and Britain before taking up his current post in 2009.
Marty, who spoke on the sidelines of a meeting between Thai and Cambodian foreign ministry officials on their border dispute, also gave his views on Asean's evolving role.
Even as they nurtured strong ties with one another, member states were at a “critical juncture,” he said, as to whether the future of the region would be marked by tense competition or remain peaceful and conducive to economic growth. Hence the need to promote common ground amongst all countries and to “wage peace aggressively,” he said.
Marty also said he did not see Asean as a bloc to balance the rise of powerful countries or to face thorny regional issues head on, such as the ongoing South China Sea maritime boundary dispute that six South-east Asian countries have with China. Indonesia is not one of them.
“We are not attracted to the notion of having fault lines in our region, as if there is an 'us' and there is a 'them,'” he said.
Instead, Asean could help create the space to discuss thorny issues diplomatically, he said, citing the ongoing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.
“I hope it creates positive energy and encouragement (for both countries) to get it right rather than if they were on their own,” he said.
Marty said Indonesia was of the view that Asean should work towards speaking with a collective voice on the global stage. This was already happening to a certain extent, he said, but a similar plan — like the one that kickstarted the process of the Asean Economic Community — was needed.
Indonesia, he said, was hoping that this road map could be agreed on at the second Asean meeting in Bali later this year.
“We expect to have this road map by 2022, that Asean speaks with greater cohesion and collective voice on various global issues, but it will... not be at the cost of individual national policies.
“We are keen for this to be a post-2015 Asean vision.
“We cannot stand still, otherwise there is inertia and we are left behind from global trends".