The adoptions of the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the Application of Timor-Leste for ASEAN Membership, and the ASEAN Leaders’ Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus at the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits respectively was nothing short of a miracle. The Phnom Penh Miracle.

Myanmar issues have divided ASEAN members, and disrupted the ASEAN process. It is commonly viewed that ASEAN is being held hostage by Myanmar issues. Timor-Leste’s application is similar to a long-term hangover for ASEAN as the application has been put in abeyance for 11 years. Bridging differences, not to mention finding consensus, on the two issues have been an uphill struggle if not mission impossible.

  1. ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the Application of Timor-Leste for ASEAN Membership, adopted at the 40th Summit

It is an open secret that Timor-Leste’s application for ASEAN membership has been blocked for more than a decade. Timor-Leste is at the verge of giving up. Member states were tired of discussing on issues that see no end result or decision. Under Cambodia’s chairmanship, the issue has been put as one of the ASEAN’s top priorities.

The fact-finding missions of the two pillars namely ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Social-Cultural Community (ASCC) pillars were conducted in July 2022 physically after a delay of two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact-finding mission of the ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC) was completed back in September 2019.  The reports of the three pillars pointed to a similar conclusion that, despite capacity and resources challenges, Timor-Leste should be accepted as member of ASEAN. A Comprehensive Assessment Report was also compiled based on the three mission reports.

Pushing for the agreement to accept the accession “in-principle” was a mission impossible. But ASEAN reached consensus on this point, and even started to accept Timor-Leste’s attendance in all meetings including at the Summit plenaries as an observer. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam also went through observership before becoming a full member. Being able to observe directly and physically the meetings are critically important for new member to experience and feel the dynamism of interactions and engagement as well as the weight of responsibility in attending and chairing those multilateral meetings.

Cambodia’s chairmanship has paved the way for Timor-Leste’s accession. Cambodia has put Timor-Leste one step closer to the official access to ASEAN’s multilateral windows of opportunities. The opportunities for high level multilateral diplomacy, economic integration, development, and benefits from the Community building efforts. Timor-Leste has a duty to prove that it can handle ASEAN affairs. Building upon the achievement of Cambodia’s chairmanship this year, the baton is passed on to the Indonesian chair to find way in ensuring full membership of Timor-Leste to ASEAN in the near future.

  1. ASEAN Leaders’ Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, adopted at the 41st ASEAN Summit

Myanmar issues have been treated as regional issues owing to the fact that Myanmar’s internal conflict has security implications for the whole Southeast Asian region. It is not an interference of Myanmar’s domestic affairs but ASEAN’s peace, stability and security are at stake if it cannot assist a member state in handling the violent turmoil that can turn into a full-blown civil war at any time. If ASEAN does not involve, it is also feared that external interference from other powers outside the region will further complicate the situation and prolong civil wars. External interference into the ASEAN’s own affairs will project also ASEAN’s incapability in protecting and maintaining peace in its own region too.

Myanmar has been a thorny topic for ASEAN member states who are divided into two different camps.

Source & Continue reading: “Phnom Penh Miracle” at the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits – Khmer Times (khmertimeskh.com)