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Minh Takes Over as Asean Chief
Source: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/minh-takes-over-as-asean-chief/565239
Source Date: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Citizen Engagement
Created: Jan 09, 2013

Former Vietnam deputy foreign minister Le Luong Minh became the first Vietnamese secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations when he took over the post from Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand in a ceremony on Wednesday.

But the grouping is facing greater challenges to unite its members as China and the United States both vying for influence in the region.

This issue has come to a head with the South China Sea disputes, in which Vietnam is heavily involved, and analysts were quick to warn Minh to stay neutral and refrain from making statements that could derail Asean’s position vis-a-vis China.

With Vietnam and the United States having worked very closely in recent years, Bantarto Bandoro of the Indonesian Defense University said China would view the selection of Minh as a signal that Asean, led by Vietnam and the Philippines, was trying to isolate Beijing further.

“While I am optimistic that Minh can speed up the process of creating a legally binding code of conduct for the South China Sea disputes to avoid the use of force in the region, he must be very careful going forward because the group needs China’s cooperation in solving problems in the region,” he said.

Bantarto said that Minh must work in the interest of the 10-member Asean rather than representing only the interests of his native Vietnam.

In his speech during the inauguration ceremony, which was attended by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the 60-year-old Minh stressed that the South China Sea remained the main challenge for him to address urgently.

“Asean should speed up efforts toward an early start of negotiations with China with a view to achieving an early conclusion of a code of conduct on the South China Sea,” he said.

He stressed that he would continue to uphold the organization’s most important goals during his term.

“Asean’s consistent mission has been one to unite all countries in the region striving for peace, economic, development, cooperation and integration,” he said.

The organization had succeeded in many aspects, Minh continued, but there were also many challenges remaining that required more specific solutions.

Among Asean’s many achievements in the political and security fronts, Minh said, were success in implementing the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and enhancing cooperation in response to terrorism, transnational crimes, natural disasters and issues surrounding defense and security, to name a few.

On the economic front, he continued, Asean achieved a 25.4 percent increase in the share of intra-Asean trade as the result of a free trade agreement established in 2010. Minh called for harder efforts in order to achieve Asean’s target to establish the Asean Economic Community by 2015.

“We have to maximize our common ground and minimize differences to ensure it adds value to every Asean member state,” he said.

During his speech, Minh also stressed the importance of improving the social and cultural sectors by paying extra attention to education and poverty issues.

Minh had a long career in Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, beginning in 1975.

From 2004 to 2011, he served as his country’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
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