East Timor discusses Commonwealth membership


Photo courtesy - forelignpolicynow.com  Sara Everingham reported this story on <http://www.abc.net.au/pm/archives.html>Monday, July 8, 2013 18:43:00

MARK COLVIN: East Timor’s president, Taur Matan Ruak, is on his first official visit to Australia since he won last year’s election.

One of the items on his agenda in Australia is East Timor’s push for membership of the Commonwealth. The former Portuguese   colony wants Australia’s support.

Sara Everingham reports.

SARA EVERINGHAM: East Timor’s president Taur Matan Ruak was in Canberra today meeting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

But his first stop in Australia was Darwin, where he met the Northern Territory administrator and raised the idea of East Timor joining the Commonwealth of Nations.

He’s travelling with East Timor’s foreign minister Jose Luis Guterres.

JOSE LUIS GUTERRES: The president has informed, has (inaudible) many foreign dignitaries that we will be presenting our candidacy to membership of Commonwealth. So the president is seeking the support also from Australia.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Jose Luis Guterres says it’s an idea that’s been considered in East Timor for some time.

JOSE LUIS GUTERRES: That’s an issue that has been pursued since the first constitutional government and the president in the last visit, just a few weeks ago to New Zealand, announced it publicly. So we will, very soon, we will write a letter to Commonwealth Secretariat to present our candidacy.

SARA EVERINGHAM: What are the benefits for East Timor?

JOSE LUIS GUTERRES: The benefits: Commonwealth is a form of countries that share the common values of democracy and human rights and Timor Leste is one of the countries in the world which has been very, a strong supporter of human rights and democracy, so we believe that that is a great forum for us also.

SARA EVERINGHAM: In December last year the Foreign Minister Bob Carr said it could be possible for East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, to gain Commonwealth membership.

BOB CARR: I think this is something very worthy of the consideration Timor Leste. Bear in mind that Rwanda, without a British heritage, is now an active member of the Commonwealth. Mozambique, out of a Lusophone community is a member of the Commonwealth.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Bob Carr said membership of the Commonwealth would not conflict with East Timor’s other international alliances nor with its push to join ASEAN. He also said there’d be many benefits for East Timor.

BOB CARR: They’d be joining an international forum where the votes and the views of a small island state count as much as the vote and the views of India or Nigeria or the United Kingdom.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Michael Leach is an associate professor in politics at Swinburne University of Technology.

MICHAEL LEACH: East Timor since independence has maintained a very open posture on joining a range of regional forums.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Michael Leach says East Timor’s interest in joining the Commonwealth reflects internal discussions about the young nation’s diplomatic strategy.

MICHAEL LEACH: That’s what’s more significant about this idea is that it reflects certain trends inside East Timor in terms of its alliances and certain debates that might be going on inside the government of East Timor, inside the elites of East Timor, inside the popular, the popular mind about whether they feel closer to the original countries or their historical alliances.

SARA EVERINGHAM: East Timor’s foreign minister says he and the president will discussing other issues while in Australia, but he declined to comment on the dispute over the development of the Greater Sunrise gas field.

East Timor and Australia are going to arbitration over the dispute.

MARK COLVIN: Sara Everingham.