See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Politics

Country Profile: Timor Leste

Southeast Asia’s newest country has made significant strides in its short history but acceptance by its neighbours remain fleeting.


Written by

Updated: March 26, 2018

Rated the most democratic nation in South East Asia according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index in 2016, the small and sparsely populated nation of East Timor, also known as Timor Leste has made great strides forward in recent years – progress made all the more impressive given its turbulent past.

Bordered by Indonesian West Timor and Australia, the state has changed hands several times. It was colonised by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century and remained under their rule until the second World War. When the Japanese in invaded in 1942, East Timorese aided allied guerrilla forces at great cost, leading to the deaths of up to 66,000 locals.

Portuguese rule was reinstated after the war, but in 1974, the country’s dictatorship was overthrown in a coup which ultimately led to decolonisation under the new government. The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) declared the former colony independent following a brief civil war, but state’s newfound freedom was short-lived.

Just nine days later, Indonesian forces invaded East Timor, marking the start of another brutal period of occupation during which an estimated 200,000 people died. In 1999, the United Nations endorsed an agreement between Portugal and Indonesia allowing Timorese to vote for either autonomy within Indonesia or for independence. The overwhelming vote in favour of independence was met with another round of violence during which a further 1,000 people are believed to have lost their lives. With the help of the UN, the country finally attained independence in May 2002, making it one of the world’s youngest nations.

Since then, the fledgling nation has fought hard to carve out its place in the world. According to the World Bank, the country has greatly reduced infant and child mortality rates and has made significant gains in health and education. Though poverty rates remain high, it succeeded in achieving lower-middle income status in 2011, thanks to high global prices for oil, on which its economy is heavily dependent.

In terms of government, the nation may even serve as a model for its older, Southeast Asian neighbours, as Curtis Chin suggests in his article for The Jakarta Post. In the years since it gained independence, East Timor has managed to establish a well-functioning democracy – so well- functioning, in fact, that the country was ranked in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 Democracy Index as the most democratic in Southeast Asia.

Still, the nation has its eyes on one prize which it has yet to attain: becoming the 11th member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). As Bec Strating outlines in an article for The Interpreter, the country’s motivations for joining ASEAN range from security and geopolitical interests to developing its economy. In addition, ASEAN’s commitment to upholding the rights of its member states to political independence, territorial integrity and self-determination, as well as non-interference in domestic affairs may make it an attractive option for the small former colony.

Timor Leste expressed an interest in joining the regional grouping shortly after it gained independence. The nation formally made a request for membership in March 2011, and has enthusiastically pursued its goal, even hosting the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) in 2016. But seven years down the line, full membership to the bloc eludes it.

Some member states, including the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand support Timor Leste’s application. Even Indonesia, who initially opposed its membership, has since strongly supported Timor Leste’s application.

However, other members of the grouping have raised concerns about granting Timor Leste membership, stating that the young nation is not developed enough to fulfil its obligations as a member of ASEAN.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Nadia Chevroulet
About the Author: Nadia is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Politics

UN panel adopts resolution condemning NK human rights abuses

It is expected to pass the UN General Assembly next month for the 14th consecutive year. A United Nations committee on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for accountability for gross human rights violations in North Korea. The UN Third Committee, which oversees humanitarian issues, passed the document by consensus without a vote. The South Korean government said it joined the consensus-based decision in accordance with a policy to work together with the international community for a “substantive improvement” in the human rights of North Korean people. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this year’s reso


By The Korea Herald
November 16, 2018

Diplomacy, Politics

‘Historic’ Khmer Rouge verdict to be delivered

Tribunal to deliver verdicts against two Khmer Rouge leaders for Cambodian genocide. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are to deliver the verdict on Friday, in the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, in a pronouncement hailed as a “historic event for Cambodia and the world”. The verdict from the ECCC, also known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, will come after Case 002/2, which charged the men with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, took 283 days to be heard over a three-year period. Trial Chamber of the Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said at a press briefing on Thursday that the verdicts in Case 002/02 will be announced from 9:30am, with around 500 representatives from the UN, the Cambodian government, embassies and members of the public present. “The trial is a part of the process of providing justice for the


By Phnom Phen Post
November 16, 2018

Diplomacy, Politics

Rohingya refugees refuse repatriation

Repatriation postponed as Rohingyas feel return to Myanmar still not safe. The much-awaited launch of the Rohingya repatriation was cancelled at the last moment yesterday as the refugees refused to return to Rakhine for fear of fresh persecution. “The refugees don’t want to return now,” Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali told reporters after briefing foreign diplomats in the capital’s State Guest House Padma in the evening. He said Bangladesh sheltered the persecuted Rohingyas with an open heart when they fled Rakhine last year. “We can’t force them to go,” he said, adding that Bangladesh would now discuss with Myanmar sending a group of Rohingya leaders (majhis) to Rakhine to


By Daily Star
November 16, 2018

Diplomacy, Politics

China says Pacific island ties no threat to any nation

Government says Xi’s visits to help improve region’s development, people’s livelihoods. China said on Tuesday its cooperation with and assistance to Pacific island countries never target a third party, and called for other countries to jointly help promote the region’s development and improve people’s livelihoods. Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang made the remark at a news briefing on President Xi Jinping’s state visits to Papua New Guinea, Brunei and the Philippines, and his attendance at the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting. Xi’s visits will start on Thursday and last to Nov 21. During Xi’s stay in Papua New Guinea, he will meet with leaders of the eight Pacific island countries that have established diplomatic ties with China and deliver a speech at a group meeting with them. In the speech, Xi is expected


By China Daily
November 14, 2018

Diplomacy, Politics

Pakistan says Asia Bibi’s rights will be respected

Imran Khan on Tuesday reaffirmed his government’s resolve to respect the Supreme Court’s judgement in the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman recently freed from prison after her blasphemy conviction was overturned. “As citizens of Pakistan, Asia Bibi and her family are entitled to all rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan,” the premier told European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who had telephoned Khan. According to a press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, Tajani thanked Khan for ensuring the safety and security of Bibi and her family. Assuring the prime minister of the EU Parliament’s cooperation with the Pakistani government, Tajani said that a debate on Bibi scheduled to be held in the EU Parliament had been postponed. Bibi has been blocked from leaving Pakistan after the overturning of her conviction prompted a wave of


By Dawn
November 14, 2018

Diplomacy, Politics

Malaysia Cabinet agrees to scrap death penalty

If approved by lawmakers, capital punishment will be replaced with minimum 30 years in jail. Malaysia’s de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong told Parliament yesterday that the Cabinet has agreed to scrap the death penalty, including for murder, but Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail appeared to hedge over the matter by telling reporters that the government would review abolishing it for murder. “We are reviewing it. The death penalty is one of those that we will review,” she said when asked if the government would keep the death penalty for child murders. But when The Straits Times contacted Datuk Liew again, he insisted that “all 32 death penalty offences found in eight of our laws” would be abolished.


By The Straits Times
November 14, 2018