Bali, Indonesia, 19 November 2011

After some 12 months of intense meetings and activities, which left a new landmark in ASEAN’s history, Indonesia handed over the chair of the group to Cambodia today.

Visibly proud of what Indonesia’s achievements over the past year, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono handed over the symbolic gavil to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The simple but dignified ceremony was heralded by a short video of the highlights of ASEAN 2011.

For many delegates in the audience – particularly the exhausted staff of the ASEAN Secretariat – it was a moment of nostalgia, relief, and pride, as they were reminded of the activities which they had slogged for.

Everyone involved should give themselves a pat on the back. For all the moments of flared tempers, tireless persuasion, and sheer determination to see the fruition of seemingly endless stream of projects, they had helped make history.

It is indeed a page which ASEAN would look back with pride.

Early in the year, ASEAN showed its version of People Power, when young volunteers rallied to the Secretary-General’s call for volunteers. One of ASEAN’s surest friends – Japan – was hit by its “worst disaster since World War II”.

While ASEAN Member States immediately responded with aid and donations, its young people – especially those who had received the generosity of others during the 2004 Boxing Day Earthquake and Tsunami – decided it’s time for them to hold the torch for other victims.

The Caravan of Hope from ASEAN to Japan created a landmark page in citizen diplomacy. All the more remarkable that Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, had accomplished without spending a cent from the ASEAN Member States.

This was but a single activity among the many, which helped bond people across ASEAN. In itself, each may seem a modest effort. But taken in total, and looking further ahead, we may have planted the seeds of a more caring and humane ASEAN – one which plays an increasingly responsible and active role, in global affairs.

Cambodia’s slogan of One Community, One Destiny for ASEAN 2012, may well be a prophecy. Like the 10 rice stalks on the ASEAN logo, we are most effective as a group, creating synergy which extends well beyond Southeast Asia.

But for now, we bid a fond and heartfelt “Terima Kasih” to Indonesia, while we eagerly look forward to say ” Choum Reap Sour”, or “Sour Sdey” from Cambodia in 2012.