The ASEAN Dilemma: Timor-Leste's Prospective Membership

The ASEAN Dilemma: Timor-Leste's Prospective Membership

At the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, held until mid-November 2022, ASEAN gave its in-principle approval for Timor-Leste to become its 11th member. This decision has triggered different perspectives from different member countries, creating an interesting dynamic in Timor-Leste's journey towards full membership.

According to a report published by the ASEAN Studies Centre, which provides data on support for Timor-Leste's membership in ASEAN, a total of 61.5 percent of ASEAN respondents expressed support for Timor-Leste's membership. Among those responding positively to Timor-Leste's membership, nearly half, 48.7%, believed that its presence as a new member would strengthen unity and centrality within ASEAN. Meanwhile, 39.9% expressed optimism that Timor-Leste's membership would lead to an increase in trade and investment among countries in the region.

On the contrary, only 11.4% believed that there would be no significant changes in the ASEAN framework. In Vietnam, the majority of respondents, 70.0%, hoped that Timor-Leste's membership would have a positive impact on ASEAN's unity and centrality, a figure higher than the ASEAN average of 48.7%.

Among those opposed to Timor-Leste's admission, about a third (34.4%) argued that ASEAN's economic integration would slow down because of Timor-Leste's presence. In this context, Indonesian respondents were the most dominant with 66.7%, almost double the average. In addition, 29.8 percent of respondents across ASEAN believed that there would be no significant change in ASEAN's dynamics, while 28.8 percent believed that Timor-Leste's membership would complicate ASEAN's consensus-based decision-making process.

On the other hand, only 7.0% believe the move will increase disunity among ASEAN member states, with Singaporean respondents showing the second highest level of disagreement after Vietnam. In line with this, Singaporean respondents also show disagreement among ASEAN countries about Timor-Leste's application for membership, which is often associated with Singapore in a historical context.

The dynamics of perspectives on Timor-Leste's membership in ASEAN paint a mixed picture among respondents. While most respondents support Timor-Leste's membership, there are striking differences in views between those in favor and those opposed. Supporters emphasize expectations of strengthening ASEAN's unity and centrality, as well as increased trade and investment. 

Opponents point to a possible slowing of economic integration and the complexity of regional decision-making. With divergent views among ASEAN countries on Timor-Leste's membership, the next steps in this process remain fascinating to follow. ASEAN faces the challenge of maintaining cohesiveness and building consensus in managing divergent opinions on the accession of a new member, reflecting the complexity of its role as a regional community.

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