Leader Speaks – Meeting President Jose Ramos-Horta

Jose Ramos-Horta

After previously interviewing him by phone I recently had the chance to interview President Jose Ramos-Horta about everything from investment to ASEAM membership and tourism.

To read my previous interview with him click here.

President Jose Romos-Horta visits Cambodia

The context of our meeting was a high-level delegation that were visiting the Kingdom from East Timor. My previous interview with the president, as well as my friendship with the Timorese ambassador thus led me to be invited to the main press conference.

As expected it was rather full with journalists yet only a few of us were actually up for asking questions, myself being one of them.

Why you should visit Timor-Leste – according to me and the President

My first question to President Ramos-Horta was why people should visit Timor, what needs to be done about the infrastructure and indeed what kind of tourists they actually wanted, to which he gave a very candid answer.

“Timor-Leste is blessed with bio-diversity, beaches, doing and fishing and at the moment is relatively undiscovered”

Currently Timor-Leste lags as the least visited country in South-East Asia, both a blessing and a curse, meaning a very off the beaten track experience, but a lack in things like hotels, hostels and even transportation.  As for myself whilst I loved visiting East Timor, for bringing groups this did prove to be a burden. Again though the President was looking for solutions rather than problems.

“We are actively seeking investment from both Cambodia and the wider world to help develop our tourism infrastructure and for example there will soon be a Hilton opening in Dili”.

For myself though as a travel agent I was particularly interested in what kind of tourists they were looking for, principally giving the example of Palau and Thailand, with his answer surprising me “We are pro-backpackers as they tend t spread more money around the community rather than just sitting in 5 star hotels that are foreign owned”.

Although he was keen to pint out that while they did not want to see caps on numbers, sustainable development was also key to their growth.

Another problem has been with flights to the country. As things stand you can fly from two destinations, namely Bali and Adelaide, but he announced hopes that a subsidised route could be introduced from Phnom Penh.

This follows on from the announcement of direct flights from KL in Malaysia and even a potential route from Battambang in Cambodia.

Expanding Timor-Leste Internationally

President Jose Ramos-Horta was also keen to pint out how he wanted Timor-Leste to grow internationally, particularly with regards to joining ASEAN as the 11th members. Despite applying 10 years ago their efforts have been hampered, allegedly by Singapore who consider them too near to China. Quite an irony when Myanmar has not only joined, but retained membership despite the coup’s in the country.

Again the President had his own opinion telling me “We now fit the criteria and except to join next year when Indonesia hold the chairmanship. For our point of view we are not too close with anyone, we are friends with everyone,including America, China and even states such as Cuba”.

Timor-Leste have been particular supported by neighbours Indonesia, who despite fighting a bitter war of independence from not enjoy extremely good relations. Cambodia and fellow Catholic nation the Philippines have also been key supporters in East Timorese membership in the block.

Timor-Leste has not been the only nation to struggle with ASEAN membership, with Papua New Guinea also being largely blanked by the block.

To read about why Papua New Guinea is such a mess click here.

In conclusion though the man point was that Timor-Leste was very much open for business not from Cambodia and beyond, with their special economic zone in Oecusse, as well as their famous coffee all being very much available!

A further business and tourism forum is due to take place in a few days, which of course I shall also be covering….