Finding Partners: Timor-Leste’s Evolving Security Ties with Southeast Asia

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste gained its independence in 2002. Since then, the small country has been busy diversifying its foreign relations, building on nascent bonds forged through United Nations missions on its soil since 1999. Amid the international flurry, Timor-Leste must contend with a range of pressing domestic issues. The country has only 1.3 million citizens, 74% of whom are under the age of 35.1 Timor-Leste aspires to become an upper middle income country by 2030 with healthy and educated citizens, a diversified economy, high quality infrastructure and food self-sufficiency. Timor-Leste’s oil dependence, as well as its erratic economic growth, do not bode well for the secure future the young nation’s leaders have described. Its location in-between much larger Southeast Asian states adds to a further sense of vulnerability which, coupled with domestic imperatives, shape its strategic outlook.

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