By J. Ramos-Horta
Nobel Peace Laureate
President of Timor-Leste
Governor of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province,
The Hon. OH Young Hun,
Excellencies, Distinguished, Esteemed Delegates
I’m thankful for the kind invitation extended to me to take part in the 18th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity.
I have been to ROK in different capacities over many years and I am pleased to be back in Jeju, my third visit here. I thank Governor OH Young Hun and the people of this splendid island for your generous hospitality.
The Jeju Forum has gained reputation as one of the most influential for exchange of views on the challenges of our times, of fast developing regional and global issues, debt crisis, pandemics, sustainable development, digitization, AI, renewable energy, green economy, fresh water scarcity, food security, climate change, wars of aggression. We are gathering here to explore alternatives to war, peace, human fraternity.
I should first pay tribute to the people of the Republic of Korea, a people I deeply admire. Colonized, invaded, occupied for many decades, ROK transitioned from abject poverty to peace and prosperity in only three decades. With a 5000 year rich civilization, hard-working, resilient, a very proud people, modern livable cities, world class economy, one of the best education and health care systems in the world, unrestricted democracy and freedoms, ROK stands out globally.
Koreans have every reason to be proud of the dramatic achievements after the total destruction, millions of death and extreme deprivation caused by colonization and occupation, World War II and the Korean War.
COVID-19 pandemic, multiple natural disasters and the war in Ukraine caused the suffering and impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The impressive gains of the last 20 years on the battles against extreme poverty have been lost, tens of millions of fellow human beings, including millions of children, were thrown back into the shackles of extreme poverty. Child labor went back up exponentially. Hunger has set in in many countries.
The rich industrialized countries mobilized hundreds of billions of dollars to rescue European banks in the aftermath of the 2007-8 subprime financial crisis. Billions of dollars were quickly found for Ukraine.
However, there has not been similar mobilization to support developing countries shackled by external debt and the tragic consequences of the COVID pandemic.
ODA which was dramatically reduced following the 2008 financial crisis has not returned to the previous modest figures. All OECD countries should increase to 1% of their GDP their contributions to ODA.
There should a global write off of all the debt of the non mineral and non oil rich developing countries.
In the midst of global turmoil – the senseless war going on in Myanmar waged by the military dictatorship against its own people, the ongoing wars in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, and natural disasters occurring almost daily everywhere – I am pleased to say my country Timor-Leste is a lighthouse, a port of safety, a twinkling light of peace and fraternity.
While in Myanmar the military are waging a brutal war against its own people, in neighboring Thailand and Timor-Leste, free and democratic elections were held very recently.
I wholeheartedly congratulate the people of Thailand for their successful general elections and for the landslide victory of Move Forward Party led by the Hon. Pita Limjaroenrat.
On 21st May about 80% of our voters went to the polls to cast their vote for the party and leaders of their choice among the 17 political parties competing in the 21st May parliamentary. The election was hailed by national and international observers as very peaceful, orderly, free and transparent. Clear winner is the CNRT party led by Mr. Kai Rala Xanana Gusmao, our most revered elder statesman, the Father of the Nation.
We cherish our young, vibrant democracy, for which the Republic of Korea has made significant contribution. During the period September 1999 to October 2003, a total of 3, 212 Korean Peacekeepers served in Timor-Leste. Five of them lost their lives in 2003 in a tragic river storm while serving in our country under UN. Last year I welcome in the Presidential Palace family members of the brave soldiers of peace and honored them.
Democracy might not be the only legitimate form of government but a government freely chosen by the people, that respects fundamental human rights as enshrined in all democratic Constitutions of the world, with guaranteed right to dissent, that protects the sanctity of life, guarantees access to justice, education and health, remains the best form of government.
The Economist magazine “Democracy Index” rates Timor-Leste the most democratic country in Southeast Asia, and Freedom House classifies it as “Free.” World Press Freedom Index places Timor-Leste in 10th position globally.
We are an island of peace, tranquility, tolerance and inclusion; political violence, ethnic and religious based tensions and exclusion are absent from our daily life.
Our 98% practicing Catholics live side by side in harmony and fraternity with our brothers and sisters of the other two recognized religions in our country, Protestants and Muslims, who account for 2% of our population.
While voting, our people displayed kindness such as helping the elderly, women with children, and people with disabilities to move to the front of the queue.
Once ballots were in, thousands of citizens across the country crowded into open-air buildings despite the heat to watch them be counted.
Many of us from conflict countries know too well that ending conflicts, restorirng peace, reconcile divided communities, unite the nation and governing peacefully is never easy.
Some believe in the security approach, the use of force to deter and quell dissent and conflicts. From day one of Independence we opted for dialogue to resolve disputes, through patient listening, a dose of humility, empathy, intelligence, tact, restraint, forgiveness.
For countries and communities involved in years of conflict, one path to peace and stability is dialogue, reconciliation and forgiveness. We know that for many, the victimised families and communities with deep scars of wars and violence in their body and heart, the words “reconciliation” and “forgiveness” can be offensive.
The strength and motivation to reconcile with former enemies, and forgive, have to be found within ourselves and only wise and inspirational Leaders can help heal the wounds of the soul, inspire and help communities to free themselves from the shackles of conflicts and anger.
Timor-Leste has its fragilities and residual anger that we are still addressing now. But we do not have political, ethnic or religious-based violence, no revenge killing, arbitrary imprisonment and killing for past political choices.
We have an exemplary relationship with all our neighbors whatever the nature of past relationships, good and bad.
We are able to have this relationship because we have put the past history of violence behind us, built mutual respect and trust and developed active bilateral cooperation.
The multi ethnic, multi religious Indonesia, spread over several time zones and thousands of islands, is an inspiring example for the world. Its journey from dictatorship towards democracy was a bumpy one in the beginning but in a very short span of time it emerged as a dynamic, multi party democracy, a tolerant, inclusive and increasingly prosperous country, a recognized regional power.
Myanmar military should learn from the rich experiences of the Democratic Republic of Korea, Thailand, The Philippines and of Indonesia’s democratic transitions from dictatorship to flourishing democracy, harmony and prosperity. I hope for the day when the Tatmadaw emulates the inspiring lesson of its own neighbors.
Membership in ASEAN is a strategic goal for us. ASEAN membership – regional economic integration, peace and inclusive prosperity – is not only a “foreign policy priority”, it is very much a pillar of our national life and agenda.
Timor-Leste participated for the first time in a Summit of ASEAN Leaders held in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, marking a new chapter in our country’s history as we reach important milestones in our long journey towards regional integration.
Timor-Leste is now an Observer State with the right to participate in all ASEAN meetings including Summits.
ASEAN leaders approved the Road Map for Timor-Leste formal accession as the 11th ASEAN Member State, formall admission as the 11th Member State may occur as we implement key milestones.
The adoption by ASEAN Leaders of an objective criteria-based Roadmap for our Full Membership enables us to move progressively with sufficient time towards full membership in the near future.
Timor-Leste is firmly committed to undertake institutional, policy, and regulatory reforms, enhance human resources development, invest in strategic infrastructure that creates new opportunities for our economy and addresses common regional challenges in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. This would ensure that our membership benefits not only our country but the region as a whole.
Timor-Leste and ASEAN Member States share common interests in promoting durable peace and sustainable development through active cross regional strategies encompassing socio-cultural and economic dimensions.
Integration into ASEAN provides opportunities for Timor-Leste to realize strategic development goals, investing in strategic pillars that would significantly improve health, education and quality of life of our people.
For the implementation of the Roadmap in particular enhancing the pool of Human Resources, we are grateful as we can continue to count on the active support of ASEAN Member States and partners like ROK, Japan, China, Australia, NZ, the US, UK, Portugal, the EU. Dozens of Timorese officials are now undergoing capacity building in Indonesia. Singapore has launched a comprehensive plan to train up to 800 Timorese officials.
We express our deep appreciation to all ASEAN Member States and external partners who have launched capacity-building programs for Timorese officials covering a wide range of development.
While Asia continues to lead the world in growth and prosperity, dark clouds hang over our region, ranging from extreme poverty and inequality exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic, man-made climate change, the war initiated by Russia against its neighbor Ukraine, food chain and international trade disruptions, commodity prices, inflation, external debt..and nuclear proliferation, North Korea, South China Sea, Taiwan.
The situation in North Korea remains unchanged over the times. Millions of human beings are deprived of basic human rights, are hostages of the totalitarian regime. In the meantime, I believe that the much desired “Denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula for which many have tirelessly labored over decades will remain an unattainable goal.
I should add more clearly…The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea does possess nuclear weapons…DPRK is already an armed nuclear power and I don’t see how a totalitarian nuclear power would willingly dismantle its arsenal.
Having said that, I submit that to help keep the peace in the Korean Peninsula and foster peace and prosperity in the world, China and the US must reengage at Summit level, agree that strategic competition is inevitable, normal, to be expected even between friends. Peace in the Korean Peninsula and wider region should outweigh differences in other areas of competition and rivalry between the two superpowers.
To help keep the peace in the region, the three Northeast Asian powers, China, Japan and ROK should continue their mutually beneficial exchanges, expand trade and investments, expand people to people contacts, and find ways to overcome the bitter legacies of the past.
South China Sea should be declared a Zone of Peace and Cooperation, free of permanent military facilities, and all must observe the provisions of UNCLOS on Exclusive Economic Zones.
To keep the peace in the region, outside powers should refrain from making statements and/or taking actions in regards Taiwan that are considered provocative and contrary to the clearly established reality of one China policy.
The US and China must manage their economic, trade, scientific, technological and influence seeking competition so as not to weaken themselves as credible deterrents and guarantors of peace and stability in Asia and beyond.
China, the region’s superpower, whose extraordinary rise as a global power, was made possible through peace with its neighbors and the world, its global expansion based on open skies and open seas, based on a world of rules of trade and freedom of navigation, should be in the forefront supporting a strengthened international rules based order. The same is to be said of the US, it should work to revitalize WTO and strengthen multilateralism.
One can applaud the unilateral imposition of sanctions only when the UNSC fails to sanction a country that violates UN Charter and International Law on non-use of force or fails to take action against a regime that perpetrates war crimes and crimes against humanity. But as a principle unilateral sanctions of any nature should be discontinued and should not be applied as a political tool.
Conversations held annually at the Forum for Peace and Prosperity in Jeju Island, the Island of Peace, help us visualize paths to peace. This forum, now in its 18th year is driven by a central mission to build peace in East Asia by facilitating a multilateral dialogue on diplomacy and security.
Since its inception, the discussions and topics have expanded to encompass a wide range of relevant, and important themes and talks worth having. Peace is rarely, if ever, negotiated quickly, it takes careful planning, faith, perseverance and dialogues like the ones we are having here this weekend.