The 45th Singapore Lecture by His Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

President José Ramos-Horta delivered the 45th Singapore Lecture on 8th December 2022 entitled, “Timor-Leste: From Conflict to Reconciliation, Democracy, and Regional Integration.” President Ramos-Horta, the first-ever Timorese leader to deliver the Lecture, laid out Timor-Leste’s achievements over the past 20 years and its challenges for the future. He also expressed gratitude for Singapore’s support throughout his country’s journey and hoped for its quick entry into ASEAN membership.

Thursday, 8 December 2022 – The 45th Singapore Lecture, “Timor-Leste: From Conflict to Reconciliation, Democracy, and Regional Integration,” was delivered by His Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Organised by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, the Singapore Lecture was held in the Cassia Ballroom at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre on 8 December 2022 at 3 pm. In his close to 50-minute talk, the President laid out the achievements of Timor-Leste in the last 20 years, as well as the challenges moving forward, including its hopes for a quick entry into ASEAN membership.

Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan chaired the Lecture and introduced President Ramos-Horta as an independence fighter. Minister Vivian warmly opined that his favourite description of President Ramos-Horta was that of an “unemployed agitator” for Timor-Leste, as recounted to him by the President himself. He commended the President’s contribution to national reconciliation and his pledge to play an instrumental role in lifting Timorese out of poverty. The Minister also emphasised Singapore’s longstanding support for Timor-Leste and their strong connection in peacebuilding as they embark on the 20th year of their diplomatic relations.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Singapore, delivered the opening remark in which he acknowledged President J. Ramos-Horta’s contribution to Timor-Leste’s national reconciliation and affirmed their strong connection with Singapore in peacebuilding. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

President Ramos-Horta delivered his lecture candidly without script. He started by expressing his gratitude to his colleagues in the audience, including Timorese Ministers, parliamentarians, and three ordinary Timorese who were caretakers at his residency and who had never ventured beyond their country.

Peppered with many personal anecdotes, President Ramos-Horta sketched out the history of conflicts within Southeast Asia. The region survived the extreme violence of WWII and the communist insurgencies of the 1960s and 1970s, and experienced growth in the 1980s only to confront the economic and political turmoil wrought by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. While Timor-Leste seemed to be a mere “footnote” in the Southeast Asian conflicts, the President said that the country was never immune or free from the region’s problems. This included the effects of the Vietnam War and the capitulation of military power in several countries that shocked the political community in the region.

President José Ramos-Horta
President José Ramos-Horta delivered the 45th Singapore Lecture on Timor-Leste’s progress in peacebuilding and nation-building over the last 20 years. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

President Ramos-Horta went on to describe Timor-Leste’s journey to independence and reconciliation with Indonesia. Timor-Leste’s approach to reconciliation was to resist retributive justice and to extend the hand of friendship to Indonesia following the historic political change in the country. He spoke warmly about President Megawati Soekarnoputri’s presidency and her attendance at Timor-Leste’s independence ceremony in 2002. Without hesitation, he said no other countries in the region enjoy better relations than the two countries today.

The President acknowledged that negotiations and peaceful resolutions from both Indonesia and Timor-Leste, with the help of the international community, have brought about a successful reconciliation process – a sine qua non for peace and sustainable development. He also paid tribute to Singapore, which has been part of Timor-Leste’s peacebuilding efforts. This included the deployment of Singapore’s forces in 1999 and 2012. Singapore has remained committed to contributing to Timor-Leste’s growth and development and has aided in enhancing its capacity towards full membership in ASEAN.

Recalling how the state institution was built from scratch, President Ramos-Horta noted Timor-Leste’s rapid advancement as a 20-year-old independent nation-state and the progress made in its economic and human capital development. While still developing its domestic economic infrastructure, Timor-Leste today seeks potential foreign investments and contributes to peacebuilding movements abroad. Wrapping up his lecture, the President touched upon Timor-Leste’s accelerated preparation for becoming a member of ASEAN. He concluded with the hope that an imperfect ASEAN would welcome an imperfect Timor-Leste.

45th Singapore Lecture Memento
(Left to right) ISEAS Director & Chief Executive Officer Mr Choi Shing Kwok, President Ramos-Horta, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, and Chairman of ISEAS Board of Trustees Professor Chan Heng Chee unveiled an artwork by Chua Soo Kim (2018), entitled “Clean Water” as a token of appreciation to President Ramos-Horta. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

More than 155 people attended the 45th Singapore Lecture, including foreign dignitaries, members of the diplomatic corps, local business leaders, academics and intellectuals from Singapore’s universities and the general public. In the Q&A session chaired by Minister Balakrishnan, President Ramos-Horta addressed questions relating to the active involvement and potentiality of new generations of Timorese running the country. He also discussed ASEAN’s non-interference in the Myanmar crisis and expressed his sincere hope for the leaders’ wisdom and persistent effort for continuous dialogues.

45th Singapore Lecture
Participants at the 45th Singapore Lecture. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Related Links: Minister Vivian Balakrishnan Opening Remarks

  1. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan Opening Remarks
  2. Video: 45th Singapore Lecture by President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Dr José Ramos-Horta
  3. ISEAS in the News: “45th Singapore Lecture”
  4. Event photos