Singapore, June 1, 2024. In an impassioned address at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta celebrated his nation living in peace with neighbors Indonesia and Australia, but expressed grave concerns over catastrophic wars raging in other parts of Asia and the world.

Ramos-Horta questioned whether political and military leaders have learned sufficient lessons from past conflicts and failures to prevent wars like those in Afghanistan and Ukraine. The Nobel Peace laureate proposed an bold idea – diverting 50% of Asia’s military budgets and personnel over 10 years to civilian efforts like:

  • Construction projects
  • Building schools
  • Establishing health clinics
  • Environmental initiatives

The aim would be to meet development goals, eliminate poverty, improve living standards and “assure overall life quality for hundreds of millions,” Ramos-Horta said.

On the ongoing conflicts in places like Myanmar, Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan, the president urged all parties to agree to at least 6-month humanitarian pauses. This would allow caring for casualties, reuniting families, restarting schools and economies, while mediators work on comprehensive peace deals.

“We are friends of all, enemies of no one,” Ramos-Horta stressed about Timor-Leste, which he said faces no major security threats.

J. Ramos-Horta

While apologizing he could not “guide you out of the dark tunnel,” Ramos-Horta called for strengthening regional and global conflict prevention mechanisms. He said the South China Sea should ideally be a “Zone of Peace and Fraternity” free of military installations.

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