While Timor-Leste may be considered a small country in a remote corner of Asia, its recent history holds many valuable lessons for the wider region. José Ramos-Horta, former President of Timor-Leste and 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, gave a visionary outlook on the future of Asian governance in his lecture at United Nations University Headquarters in Tokyo.
Mr. Ramos-Horta’s lecture on 28 November 2012 was part of UNU’s U Thant Distinguished Lecture Series. The lecture, entitled “Global Governance and Peacebuilding: Perspectives from Timor-Leste” provided a grand vision for Asia in the 21st century. “If Asian leaders are able to lead, mend fences and overcome the legacy of World War Two”, said the former president, “we will have an Asian century”.
Starting his journey across the Asian continent in his homeland, Mr. Ramos-Horta highlighted the challenges that Timor-Leste had overcome since independence, pointing out that it was now the fastest growing economy in Asia, with growth in double-digit figures. He argued that the foundation for the remarkable progress of his country lay in three critical decisions that had been made: first, to put the past behind and look forward; second, to firmly entrench the principles of democracy, accountability and transparency; and third, to use the nation’s mineral wealth to stimulate economic growth.
The former president emphasized, in particular, the success of his country’s reconciliation. “We are very pleased and proud that our process of reconciliation has been successful”, said Mr. Ramos-Horta, referring to the former occupying power as “our Indonesian brothers and sisters”. He added that “there are no two countries in Asia that have a better relationship than Indonesia and Timor-Leste”.
Mr. Ramos-Horta argued that the friendly relations of Timor-Leste with its neighbours could serve as a model for cooperation in the rest of Asia. He pointed out a territorial conflict between Timor-Leste and Australia, which was resolved amicably with an agreement whereby the resources of the area are utilized in cooperation between the two countries. He suggested that this example could serve as a model for a peaceful resolution to the Senkaku/Diaoyu conflict between Japan and China.
Turning his attention further afield, Mr. Ramos-Horta proceeded to outline the challenges that the Asian continent faces as it advances in what is often predicted to be an “Asian century”. While he welcomed the great economic growth and technological advances of the continent, the former president underlined that “centuries are not made of technology, but of people and societies”. Frequently referring to the position of women in Asia, he stated that “only when women in Asia are empowered, then Asia will rise”.
A central element to Mr. Ramos-Horta’s recipe for an Asian century is peace and security, to be safeguarded by a pan-Asian organization to help resolve regional conflicts. Mr. Ramos-Horta called on Asian leaders to surmount the conflicts of the past, citing the example of former German Chancellor Willy Brandt who showed “greatness and grandeur” in his historical knee-fall apology to Poland during his 1970 visit to Warsaw.
Mr. Ramos-Horta’s lecture was followed by comments from Sukehiro Hasegawa, Professor at Hosei University and Visiting Professor at United Nations University, who formerly was representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Timor-Leste and Head of the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). Prof. Hasegawa highlighted the changes in perspective on the role of outside help in countries in transition. In the past, the view had been that “representatives should tell local leaders what to do”, while now the view is that “local leaders should be helped”. Prof. Hasegawa also contrasted Mr. Ramos-Horta’s view of “restorative justice” with the UN’s traditional view on “retributive justice” in order to combat a culture of impunity.
The event concluded with an insightful question-and-answer session, during which the former president answered questions on diverse topics, including the role of women in 21st-century Asia, Timor-Leste’s strength in regionalization, socio-economic equality, the linguistic situation of Timor-Leste and the position of the UN’s G7+.
Listen to President José Ramos-Horta’s full 28 November 2012 U Thant Lecture, with an introduction from Madoka Futamura, Academic Programme Officer at the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP).
As part of his visit to United Nations University, President José Ramos-Horta gave an insightful video interview elaborating on his experience in Timor-Leste and the broader lessons for governance and development throughout the Asian Region.
To see a video webcast of the U Thant Lecture please visit the UNU video portal