Timor-Leste is a fledging tiny country but sparks shiny as diamond in the international affairs for its diplomacy savvy. The Diplomatic front was an integral part of the three pivotal pillars of Independence movement. It was a vehement vehicle to inspire international solidarity networks and movements to take action on behalf of Timorese. It contributed significantly as much as the other two pillars during the struggle for independence.
The Diplomatic Front was a precedent of non-violence strategy to gain the international recognition. Timor-Leste is almost imperceptible in the world map, yet for past during 15 years after Referendum of 1999 Timor-Leste has gained strong stance in the international affairs by participating actively in various international and regional organizations. One could argue that historical and strategic relations are the determinant factor for the success of Timor-Leste foreign affairs. Historical and Strategic relations are two myriad ways defining foreign affairs of Timor-Leste. It is now up to Timor-Leste how to employ both historical and strategic approach to garnish its foreign relations for the greater benefits of its interests.
Timor-Leste, a 10 years old nation with slightly over 1 million populations has to work harder to maintain this momentum of international recognition. Over a decade, Timor-Leste was the limelight in the international affairs for the presence of UN mission. It was a constant discussion subject in the UN forum, Security Council and other International high level meetings. However Timor-Leste was able to prove the UN presence is no longer in need as it can get its own feet economically and politically. In order to maintain and further enjoy continuous international recognition, Timor-Leste has established resilient relations based on historical and strategic interests.
Timor-Leste is inevitably part of connected world. The free flow of information, goods and services determine political and economic cooperation and social relation. Timor-Leste is part of the globalized world. Therefore geographical mile is not always the prerequisite to establish cooperation and diplomatic relations.
Timor-Leste is an active member of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) since it’s nascent as a sovereign country. The CPLP members located across the globe but having cultural similarities and shared history. It is home to more than 240 million people in four different continents. Brazil enjoys its economic heavyweight in the North and Latin America. Portugal plays important role in EU and the Portuguese African nations have influential role in the African continent. Therefore this wide range of diplomatic and political support from the CPLP members will elevate Timor-Leste’s stance in the international affairs or forums.
Supporters suggest that CPLP membership is monumental move to keep Timor-Leste profile in the international affairs. The CPLP are home to countries across the globe. Timor-Leste is the only Portuguese-speaking country in Asia. Besides cultural similarities and share history, CPLP members notably Portugal and Brazil have given unshakable political support to Timor-Leste during the struggle to Independence. Portugal had massive contribution to the security sector with the presence its peacekeepers police personnel known as GNR (Guarda Nacional da Republica). Therefore without doubt CPLP members are the long lasting supporters to Timor-Leste struggle to Independence.
The CPLP membership status granted greater benefits for Timor-Leste in the security sector. Last year Timor-Leste hosted CPLP chief of Defense Force meeting. The security cooperation is aimed to increase and develop defense sector of each member and seek to boost its influence on the region. As new nation, Timor-Leste is struggling to strengthen its security sector. Therefore, CPLP security cooperation will serve as a platform to help strengthen Timor-Leste security sector. Timor-Leste will have the honor chairing CPLP in the 2014-2016. It will be the crucial time for Timor-Leste to prove to the world especially ASEAN members that it is capable of chairing high level meetings. Therefore should Timor-Leste utilize CPLP as a vehicle to answer the doubts of some ASEAN members for its admission?
Timor-Leste currently serves as the chair of g7+. Although Timor-Leste has moved up its status from a fragile state to a developing state, government of Timor-Leste still displayed steadfast commitment to the group by increasing its budget from $1000 to $1500 in 2013 (Lao Hamutuk 2013 budget documents). Timor-Leste’s active leadership in g7+ without doubt increases its profile and influence in the international affairs. However is it economically worth to spend big sum of money to the organization that primarily serves as the mediator of fragile states with international donors in influencing global aid policy? Fundasaun Mahein suggests this money should instead be used efficiently for productive sectors as Timor-Leste preparing to be an ASEAN member and hosting CPLP official meetings.
Strategically, Timor-Leste has always considered ASEAN as a powerful regional organization. Fundasaun Mahein believes as the UN mission concluded last year, ASEAN is the ideal regional organization to offer partnership and assistance in building the country, especially in the security and defense sector. Timor-Leste has long maintained security and defense cooperation with some ASEAN members notably Indonesia, and the Philippines. Some ASEAN members particularly Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore have sent peacekeeper police and military to strengthen the security sector during UN mission. Timor-Leste has shown great desire and political readiness to be part of ASEAN.
It must be noted that right now ASEAN is pushing towards stabilizing the region toward the so called ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), an economic integration in the region and ASEAN Security Political Community (ASPC), a security community by 2015. It presents both challenges and prospects to Timor-Leste’s ascension to ASEAN. Supporters argue that ASPC will offer a regional cooperation and security coordination to Timor-Leste to deal with transnational issues such as human trafficking, money laundering, and illegal drug trading and international terrorism. Critiques suggest that Timor-Leste is not ready yet to participate in both AEC and ASPC due to limited human resources, poor infrastructure, low level of foreign investment, inability to host 1000 ASEAN annual official meetings. Fundasaun Mahein believes that government of Timor-Leste must address these challenges before joining ASEAN. Moreover, it is not about how soon to join ASEAN but how well to prepare economically, politically, diplomatically to be an active giver not a passive taker in the regional affairs.
In Sum, Fundasaun Mahein believes that both historical and strategic foreign affairs of Timor-Leste are beneficial to Timor-Leste interests. It is ultimately depending on government and the people of Timor-Leste on how get the most out of both approach. Both approaches impart great benefits to strengthen and develop security sector to Timor-Leste.