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ASEAN New Chief's Pressing Concern
Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/southeastasia/view/1249699/1/.html
Source Date: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Created: Jan 23, 2013

JAKARTA: ASEAN's newly-installed secretary-general has voiced concern over the slow progress towards building an ASEAN Community by 2015.

Le Luong Min said member states have yet to ratify the numerous treaties and agreements necessary to transform the region into a single market.

This is going to be one of the main areas he will be focusing on during this 5-year term in office.

Mr Minh, 61, has called Jakarta his home since taking over as ASEAN secretary-general at the start of the year.

The Indonesian capital is where the ASEAN Secretariat - the nerve centre for the 10-member grouping of Southeast Asian countries - is located.

Mr Minh, the first Vietnamese to hold the post, helms ASEAN at its most challenging time.

One of his most pressing concerns is the slow progress in building an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

"No, we are not on track. A lot of work still needs to be done," said Mr Minh.

"One of the major challenges is that while we have been able to agree on many measures, we have been able to adopt many treaties and agreements, the pace of ratification and of course implementation on the part of the member states is rather low."

While acknowledging challenges faced by individual states, Mr Minh said these have to be overcome if ASEAN is to become a single market.

"For example, the issue of removing trade barriers. While we are trying to establish a common market, a singe market for ASEAN, a single production base for ASEAN, this has to be overcome," said Mr Minh.

The secretary-general has also set his sights on getting ASEAN and China to start discussions on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.

Towards this end, he sees a positive mood change in China.

Mr Minh said: "In their policy statement, the Chinese leadership mentioned that one of their priorities is to strengthen relations and cooperation with neighbouring countries.

"I would say that a strong and united and stable ASEAN is the interest not only of the ASEAN countries but also of neighbouring countries and of course of China."

He added that ASEAN has overcome last year's show of disunity at its summit meeting in Phnom Penh and is now ready to start dialogue with China.

As secretary-general, Mr Minh certainly has his work cut out for the next five years.

ASEAN Economic Community is only three years away, and he has to make sure ASEAN maintain its centrality in the region that has attracted interest among the big powers.

- CNA/ir
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