During the visit to New Zealand from 24-27 June 2013, as part of official visit of the H.E President, TaurMatanRuak, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Jose Luis Gutterres expressed in the media his desire for New Zealand to support Timor-Leste’sintegration into (to join) Commonwealth (also known as Commonwealth of Nations) as reported by Radio New Zealand on 26 June 2013. In the same media, H.EJose Luis Gutterres further said that, the Commonwealth is an important forum and will give Timor the chance to express its views and hear what other countries have to say about international issues.This news may raise many questions among those who have little knowledge about what is exactly Commonwealth and more importantly does Timor-Leste eligible for the membership? If Timor-Leste is eligible to apply for Commonwealth membership, what are the advantages for the country and the population? What are the risks and disadvantages for Timor-Leste to join Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is an association of sovereign nations that support each other and work together towards international goals. It is also a ‘family’ of peoples. With their common heritage in language, culture, law, education and democratic traditions, among other things, Commonwealth countries are able to work together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding than generally prevails among nations. There are 54 member countries in the Commonwealth (http://www.commonwealthofnations.org/commonwealth/).
Commonwealth members are nations who have experienced direct or indirect British rule or have been linked administratively to another Commonwealth country except Mozambique (joined in 1995) and Rwanda (joined in 2009) (see commonwealth.org).
For Timor-Leste to join Commonwealth, it must fulfil the requirements set out in the Statute of Westminster (1931), the London Declaration (1949), the Singapore Declaration (1971), the Harare Declaration (1991), the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme (1995), the Edinburgh Declaration (1997), and the Kampala Communiqué (2007). New members of the Commonwealth must abide by certain criteria that arose from these documents, the most important of which are the Harare principles and the Edinburgh criteria.
Wikipedia described that, Timor-Leste is eligible under the criteria of ‘Perspective Members’, where it says, there are a range of other states that have expressed formal or informal interest in joining the Commonwealth or have merely made enquiries about membership (expressing no view on whether they wish to become members), despite not meeting the Edinburgh criteria as they are now. However, with the criteria being re-examined, they may be inclined to launch membership bids in the future.(See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_Nations_membership_criteria#Eligible_states)
Timor-Leste has very good chance and very good reasons to apply for the membership of Commonwealth, because: 1) Legally the RDTL Constitution article 159 recognized English as Working Language in the country. 2) Regionally, Timor-Leste is surrounded by English Speaking Commonwealth members such as Australia, New Zealand, PNG, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam. Timor-Leste has excellent diplomatic relations with these countries at present. This good relation will only get better if Timor-Leste joins the Commonwealth. 3) Timor-Leste has expressed its interest to join ASEAN (an English speaking regional organization) in which Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam are both members of Commonwealth and ASEAN. 4) Timor-Leste has very strong historical links to Commonwealth Countries where during 24 years of struggle against Indonesian invasion, the country received strong support from people in Australia, UK, New Zealand and Canada. Joining Commonwealth means that these ties will be strengthened. 5) Mozambique who is member of CPLP countries already joined Commonwealth, why not Timor-Leste?
Commonwealth has many attractive programmes that are in line with Timor-Leste Government priorities that are set out in Commonwealth in Action. The programmes are Good Offices for Peace, Democracy and Consensus Building, Rule of Law, Human Rights, Public Sector Development, Environmentally Sustainable Development, and Human Development.
Other advantages for Timor-Leste to join Commonwealth will also strengthenTmor-Leste’s bilateral cooperation with neighbouring commonwealth countries, such as, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, PNG and Brunei Darussalam, in the areas defined in Commonwealth in Action. In addition, Timor-Leste will have access to prestigious universities in English speaking countries, such as, universities in UK, Australia, NZ, Canada.
There is no risk for Timor-Leste to join Commonwealth of Nations. It is good because Timor-Leste does not have colonial-colonized relationship with United Kingdom or any other Commonwealth member.