Adress by H.E. José Ramos-Horta,
President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Nobel
Peace Prize Laureate (1996)
Opening session of the
International Conference of Asia Political Parties
Nanning, P.R. of China
4th September 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First, may I thank our Chinese hosts for the warm welcome extended to me and my delegation
since our arrival in Guangxi Province this Friday? I have had the unique privilege of enjoying
some of the most astonishing natural wonders of the world. When our Creator designed the
Guangxi region of China, He must have intended to create Heaven on Earth as this Province is
among the most treasured wonders of Nature. It is also one of the most sustainable developed
regions in China with 80% of the land covered with forests and it's majestic river completely
pollution-free. I thank the Provincial party and state officials for their generous hospitality.
It is almost a cliché to state what is now known to all, the dizzying economic modernization of
China and the social development across the country, freeing hundreds of millions of people
from centuries of extreme poverty and humiliation. The Chinese people and their visionary
leaders can feel rightly proud of their country's enhanced prestige in the world.
On the occasion of the 90th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party I congratulate the
Chinese party leaders and the people for their long road from feudalism, foreign occupation,
colonial slavery and extreme poverty to present time of peace and prosperity.
Our conference comes at a moment of hope and optimism for our peoples and our continent.
Asia’s social and economic performance has been the single most important new development
in the economic world order in the last two decades. Many hundreds of million people have
been freed from abject poverty, in particular in China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, India and
in some Southeast Asian countries.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, some Asian economies have become the
powerhouse of global economy. The theme of our Conference, Deliver the fruits of
Development to the People, is thus timely.
Before I address the international situation and Asia’s global impact, I will start by sharing with
you briefly some developments in the situation in my country. Timor-Leste has come a long
way since the restoration of Independence in 2002. Some of you may remember the sheer joy
of our people after the 1999 referendum and the wave of violence that followed and destroyed
in a deliberate manner the country’s infrastructure. We were handed over smouldering ruins.
Ten years on we feel proud that the recently released UNDP Human Development Report
accords Timor-Leste a Human Development Index for 2010 that jumped to the value of 0.502,
placing our country in the medium human development category. In 2005, Timor-Leste’s
Human Development Index was 0.428, and at independence was 0.375.
Since 2005, life expectancy at birth in Timor-Leste increased by more than two years and now
averages 62.1 years. GNP per capita increased 228 per cent during the same period to over
US$5,000. Average annual growth has exceeded 10 percent for the last four years and real
non-Oil GDP growth remains strong as we speak. According to forecasts by The Economist,
Timor-Leste is among the nine fastest growing economies of the world in 2011.
School enrolment jumped from a modest 63 per cent in 2006 to 90 per cent now for basic
Education, according to the 2010 National Census. More than 100,000 adults have also
graduated from illiteracy to functioning literacy in the last couple of years. Illiteracy will be
eliminated by 2015.
Infant mortality and child mortality under five have been halved. Incidences of malaria and
dengue and the prevalence of poverty have decreased significantly. With less than one case of
leprosy per 10,000 people, Timor-Leste is now considered by the WHO to be free from this old
disease, for the first time in centuries.
We are also very much aware of the daunting challenges still to overcome. Poverty has seen
significant reduction as its prevalence declined from 49% in 2007 to 41% two years later
according to estimates by the World Bank. But this means poverty is still high and remains a
major challenge. Our Public Administration is still lagging on procedures and lacking qualified
human resources. We are committed to improve efficiency on budget expenditure and State
investment in basic infrastructure. Access to clean water, sanitation, Public Health and
Education are key priorities that need robust investment now and for years to come.
Like many countries in the early years of Independence, Timor-Leste has had to confront social
and political challenges. In some instances, violence has flared up. However, we have been
able to quickly overcome these crises. As the UNDP Human Development report and other
indicators show, we have rebounded stronger from the brief periods of instability. The political
situation in Timor-Leste in recent years has been remarkably free of tension.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ours is an open society, open to the world. Transparency of our public life is a process that we
set upon ourselves to promote and to deepen with the assistance of the international
community. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) rates Timor-Leste best
performer in Asia, and third in the world, in terms of accountability and transparency in the
management of our Petroleum resources. In the pursuit of good governance and transparency,
our National Parliament has passed an Anti-Corruption Law and we have since created an
Anti-Corruption body. The offices of the Ombudsman and the investigative powers of the
Prosecutor-General have been strengthened; both have seen robust investment in organization
and training. Our security institutions are now stronger with active support from Development
We have a dynamic multi-party democracy with nine parties in the National Parliament. Almost
30 per cent of the elected MPs are women. Several women hold key ministerial portfolios. We
have ratified all major International Human Rights Treaties and complied with reporting
obligations. According to Reporters Without Borders, Timor-Leste has one of the freest media
in the region and with a liberal and humanist Constitution that prohibits the death penalty and
I will turn now to the International situation. The most striking feature in the international
economic system is its lacking of transparency and accountability. Key decisions that impact
the financial health of the United States and other major developed countries are being made in
opaque boardrooms of financial institutions with global reach.
For some years now, Governments and public financial regulators have been at a loss with the
lack of transparency of financial instruments and financial dealings that unceremoniously drag
the public purse to foot the bill whenever they go wrong.
European countries and the United States are burdened by debt incurred in the last few years
to save banks and the international financial system from collapse and by an ever increasing
gap between obligations and tax returns, the latter dwindling as developed economies stop
Political options in the allocation of resources that used to be in the hands of democratic
institutions, have been hijacked by private financial institutions, oblivious to the national and
social disruptions imposed upon countries. Dealings on the opaque financial derivatives that
caused the 2008 crisis are back in fashion and still mostly free of regulation and public
On the other hand, private entities, the so-called credit rating agencies (CRAs) with dubious
record and certainly lacking in independence pass speculative judgements on countries,
causing havoc and forcing budget and fiscal policies on elected governments and hundreds of
millions of taxpayers across countries. CRAs have been known to go from passively giving
triple AAA ratings to banks on the verge of bankruptcy, in 2008, to a hectic activity in recent
months, downgrading countries ratings without transparent, consistent rationales.
If one is looking for examples of opaque workings and lack of transparency of the worst kind
look no further than to the world financial sector. The lack of transparency and the huge size of
transnational financial groups have undermined the golden rule of the capitalist mechanism of
risk and reward: there is now the widespread belief that if financial institutions are powerful
enough, there will always be public money to bail them out no strings attached – thus
rewarding and promoting irresponsible high risk behaviour, indifferent to the social disruption
this may cause.
US treasury bonds are traditionally regarded as the world’s safest investment instruments. This
is due to the role of the US dollar as the World reserve currency and also to the historical
record of the US, which enjoyed triple AAA rating since ever in the history of ratings... until very
recently, that is, thanks to political stalemate in Congress and to CRA Standard & Poor! And
given the US high debt and weak economic performance since 2008, the role of the US dollar
(Timor-Leste’s currency as well) in international Commerce has itself been put into question
Timor-Leste’s Petroleum Fund was created in 2005 and has since accumulated assets of over
8 billion US dollars. Until recently, we were putting all the eggs in one basket, which we thought
then to be safest: U.S. treasury bonds – as we were advised to do by our well-intentioned
foreign advisers. So imagine how we watch, apprehensive and in amazement, the stalemate in
the US Congress and the highly charged instability it caused across financial markets.
We and the billions of people who trusted the American economy and entrusted our savings to
the American government, would expect mature and prudent behaviour from elected
representatives in the sole global power. Instead, signs are that light-hearted adventurous
conduct may return soon to Capitol Hill, with its wake of instability and atmosphere of
impending global crisis. The radicalism of many Republican representatives is sending a
deeply negative message to American partners and overall to the international community.
President Barack Obama’s steady judgement and prudence averted catastrophe earlier in
August but it remains to be seen how it will all play out again, after the US Congress
reconvenes this week.
The overall morality I would like to point out to is that heavy debt burdens, political radicalism
and deficit of oversight in the international financial sector are a dangerous mix undermining
business confidence, social stability and trust in elected representatives – ultimately
undermining conditions for prosperity.
But the fact is that while most economies in developed countries are stagnant or at best have
had anaemic growth for the last four years, Asian economies and other emerging economies
have continued booming and have become the life jacket of the global economy.
China, the Republic of Korea, India and Indonesia have been growing at annual rates of
between 7 and 10 percent for sustained long periods. The economies of China, Korea, Japan
and India put together account for over US$14 trillion dollars of annual GDP. ASEAN, another
fast growing economic region, represents some US$2 trillion dollars of combined annual GDP.
Asia's combined GDP of US$16 trillion dollars is equal to the combined EU GDP of US$16
trillion and larger than that of the US of US$15 trillion dollars according with IMF estimates for
And, every day, the sustained high economic performance of leading Asian countries help
pulling smaller neighbours into the path of growth and economic development. Asia is home to
four billion people out of seven billion people inhabiting this crowded world.
In one word, Asia’s weight, its performance and the financial and economic predicaments of the
US and Europe require Asia to lead. But to lead we must inspire. Leadership is the ability to
inspire others, build bridges and forge partnerships. Beyond the immediate economy, our world
faces global challenges. Asia can and should lead on tackling the challenges we face in the
21st Century. We have resources to alleviate and finally eradicate poverty; we have
technological advances and know-how to lead the search for global answers to the challenges
of climate change and the need to achieve food security. Asia can and should lead on the ways
to reversing environmental damage and ensuring sustained development, while keeping up
with the welfare of our peoples.
But in our globalized world, Asia can lead only in partnership with other stakeholders,
especially those in emerging countries like Brazil, South Africa and other fast developing
economies and societies that are looking for solutions to the challenges similar to those we
face. But Asia must also forge partnerships with the US and the EU, two technological
powerhouses and large economic areas that have much to contribute to global solutions.
The challenges are daunting. In some respects they are unprecedented. They can be
overcome only by pooling resources through a partnership of equals and without exclusions.
The world needs a roadmap of priorities and resource allocation to answer our challenges and
it needs also leadership to establish and implement that roadmap.
I believe that our time is the time for Asia to provide leadership and guide the world while
navigating the challenges of the 21st Century. This concerns us all, who search for prosperity,
justice and the pursuit of happiness for our peoples. Let’s work together and lead to ensure
peace and prosperity.
The political parties from our region represented here have a unique opportunity as well as the
moral responsibility to offer our peoples a vision of hope and a clear road map towards a 21st
Century Asia free from extreme poverty, where all have a roof, food and clean water, access to
education, health care. We must realise a 21st Century Asia free of ethnic and religious
conflicts, border disputes and wars, of the nuclear threat and all weapons of mass destruction.
In recent years, with the rise of modern China and other success stories in our region, there
has been much talk about how global power has shifted East. While it is a fact that China and
India, with more than two billion people and impressive economic gains, are pulling the center
of economic gravity nearer to our region, we should not be over optimistic and overlook the
enormous challenges and perils facing our region. Asia, the most nuclearized region of the
world, and home to 60 per cent of the world's poor living side by side with the extreme
opulence of few, is in my view, the most dangerous region.
The opportunities are there. But so are the challenges. Let us celebrate our achievements but
we must do so with humility and always mindful that we still face a myriad of seemingly
intractable problems that require vision, courage, compassion and determination to overcome
them so that the 21st Century will be the Century of Peace and Prosperity for Asia and for the
rest of the world.
May God the Almighty and the Merciful Bless us all.