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Timor-Leste has demonstrated its commitment to democracy – it deserves to join ASEAN

One of the important ways Timor-Leste has been able to deliver sustainable democratic reforms has been through its openness to regional and international support. To this end, organizations like IRI have worked with civil society, government bodies and political parties to help them represent Timorese citizens responsively and effectively. IRI has worked in the country since 2002, and its assistance has been an important contributor to the country’s democratic consolidation.

Likewise, when I served as the US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and traveled to Timor-Leste in years past, I saw the importance of regional and international economic assistance to this and other developing countries first-hand. The ADB has supported infrastructure expansion, macroeconomic capacity-building and community-based development in Timor-Leste, and is well-positioned to assist not just in improving the country's roads, but also its water supply and sanitation systems. I grew to appreciate the complementary nature of different types of development assistance, and found that the aid provided by the ADB complements the kind of assistance provided by organizations like IRI, and vice-versa. 

As ASEAN continues to grow in importance, it is vital that its members collectively pursue policies that advance the region’s development in a sustainable manner. At a time when democracy is backsliding in much of the region, Timor-Leste’s accession to ASEAN would provide the region with a valuable example of how citizen-centered democracy can deliver a brighter, more prosperous and stable future. 

Additionally, Timor-Leste’s accession to ASEAN would be economically beneficial to the region. Despite its small size, Timor represents a relatively untapped market for Southeast Asian trade; likewise, Southeast Asia represents a largely untapped market for Timorese goods. In short, this would be a win-win situation for the entire region, and an important example for how inclusive economic development can sustain growth that benefits all.

During the lead-up to the election, election administrators, political parties and other stakeholders worked collaboratively to ensure a credible electoral process. This commitment to the rule of law and democratic institutions bodes extremely well for Timor-Leste’s potential as a cooperative and responsible member of ASEAN. My experience travelling through this small yet vibrant nation has driven home the benefits for all of proceeding with Timor-Leste’s accession.  

Now is a time for coming together.  We owe no less to the many people who across Asia's newest nation proudly held up an indelibly-inked finger as a mark and proof of democracy in action. – Rappler.com

Curtis S. Chin is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC., and served as U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank. Follow him on Twitter at @CurtisSChin.