New ASEAN Secretary-General Takes Office

JAKARTA ~ A former Thai foreign minister, Surin Pitsuwan, took the helm of Southeast Asia’s top political and economic grouping this week, saying he would keep alive the dream of the founders of the 40-year-old ASEAN.

Surin, a Muslim former academic and eight-time member of parliament in Thailand, formally took over the five-year post as secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from Singapore’s Ong Keng Yong on Monday.

“We all inherit the dream of our founding fathers 40 years ago on the 8th of August, 1967, in a small village close to Pattaya (in Thailand),” Surin told a ceremony attended by diplomats and officials at the ASEAN secretariat building in Jakarta.

“That was when ASEAN was born, inspired by a common desire for a brighter and more secure future … We all inherit that dream, we all want to translate that dream into a reality,” he said.

“I prepare to travel a lot; I prepare to eat all those (airplane) meals repeatedly; and I will keep the dream of our forefathers alive,” he added.

Surin said that he believed the international community had faith in the potential of the regional bloc, which is home to some 567 million people and signed a charter last November transforming ASEAN into a legal entity.

“Because they know if one region, Southeast Asia, can take care of itself achieving prosperity, securing peace, our friends in the international community will have one less region to worry about,” he told the audience.

Outgoing secretary-general Ong said that the ASEAN charter, signed during his tenure and which commits the region’s disparate nations to promoting human rights and democratic ideals, would transform the bloc.

“This is not just about the design of the batik, but the fabric of the batik. All mindsets have to be transformed,” he said, referring to a traditional Indonesian fabric.

Singapore handed over its “instrument of ratification” to Surin during the ceremony, making it the first ASEAN member to formally ratify the charter.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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