Mar 14, 2011
INCLUSION IN ASEAN
MR BARRY Wain highlighted how Indonesia is pushing for inclusion of Timor Leste in Asean while Singapore was cited as leading the objectors ('Timor Leste's bid to join Asean faces objections'; last Thursday).
It appears the main reason for excluding Timor Leste now is that its institutions and human capital are undeveloped and, therefore, cannot keep up with Asean's integration efforts, especially economically.
The worry, it seems, is that Asean must substantially integrate its economies by 2015, failing which it would be rendered irrelevant; a loser in the face of rising China and India. The newer, and generally poorer, Asean members like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are also worried about the likely diversion of aid if Timor Leste joins.
I take a different view. We should commend Indonesia and Thailand for supporting Timor Leste's inclusion, with few or no reservations. Timor Leste had a painful birth 12 years ago, after an angry Indonesia withdrew from then East Timor in an orgy of killing and destruction. Jakarta is now relenting and championing Timor Leste's inclusion.
Singapore also had a painful birth in 1965 when it was evicted from the young Malaysian federation, two years after joining it amid fanfare. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were a struggling island trying to be a nation. Many doubted Singapore would make it; there was a danger of a failed state. Then, we appreciated any help given to build Singapore and our human capital.
Asean's formation by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand was a blessing, ensuring security and stability in the previously tumultuous region after the colonial powers left. Singapore has prospered since then.
There is a parallel with Timor Leste's case. The small, former Portuguese colony is now at peace with itself, its people ready to learn and to advance the country. Given its beautiful landscapes and coral reefs, tourism is taking off while various industries are budding. It needs more help in developing transport, health care, education and financial services, and guidance on economic development and security.
Singapore, as a small successful state, should go out of its way to help Timor Leste stand more firmly on its feet on various fronts. Asean economic integration is important, but even more vital is the need to ensure that Timor Leste, located in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago, does not fail. Asean cannot be at peace with itself if this happens.
[By all means help Timor Leste. But ASEAN membership with the accompanying obligations are not necessarily the best way to help Timor Leste.
Everyone in ASEAN is studying for their "A" levels and Timor Leste comes along graduating from kindergarten and wants to take the "A" levels with the rest? It will fail. The best thing for Timor Leste is to pass PSLE first. the ASEAN members can help by providing tuition, even as they focus on their "A" levels.
This letter just appeals to emotions. There was no ASEAN when Singapore was "born". It is only when Sg was stable and ready was ASEAN formed. Timor Leste can be helped but dragging them into ASEAN when they are not ready is just a show at best and political maneuvering by Indonesia and Thailand at worse, using Timor Leste as the patsy.]