By Danny Lee
Director for Community Affairs Development at the ASEAN Secretariat

Malaysia will have the responsibility of tying up the loose ends, AND organizing the celebrations, as ASEAN heads to the 2015 Community under Kuala Lumpur’s Chairmanship.

This is just one of the initiatives decided by the leaders of the ASEAN Member States in the Cambodian Capital this morning. There were some questions as to which point of 2015 is deemed to be the proper date for the ASEAN Community target.

The day had started with a sense of anticipation, as Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen welcomed his counterparts at the 21st ASEAN Summit. Speaking to at the packed “Nuon Srey” Hall at the Peace Palace, he urged ASEAN Member States to stay vigilant against tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, especially against a backdrop of global economic and financial uncertainties.

The issue is of special relevance to the regional gathering, as it approaches the ASEAN Community in 2015.

Warning that ASEAN’s credibility would be at stake, if the grouping falls short of its Community target, the Prime Minister said “realizing the ASEAN Community by 2015 should remain our top priority. Timely implementation of programmes and Plans of Actions for building the ASEAN Community through the accomplishment of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community Roadmap, a mid-term review of the implementation of the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan II (2009-2015), and a timely implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, are urgent matters that need our clear and sincere guidance.”

“Regionally, although the development gap among ASEAN Member States has noticeably narrowed over the years, it remains significant. This requires us to redouble our efforts to promote faster growth and improve equitable distribution of the fruits of growth among the Member States. Moreover, we have slightly more than 3 years ahead to realize the ASEAN Community by 2015, while daunting tasks remain to be addressed,” he cautioned.

For economic development to stay on boost, Prime Minister Hun Sen reminded his audience that it is essential to preserve the peace and stability of the region. Urging his fellow Member States to further strengthen its capacity and role in their discussions and cooperation mechanisms with the ASEAN Dialogue Partners, he said these efforts should be addressed along with the on-going work in implementing these priorities under the ASEAN Political-Security Community blueprint.

“Moreover, ASEAN must promote the effective functioning of existing mechanisms to ensure regional security and peace, such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia, the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ADMM-Plus and the ASEAN Convention on Counter-Terrorism,” he said.

Showing their commitment to peace and stability in the region, the Summit also witnessed the launch of of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR). And in a sign that ASEAN has not forgotten its promise to improve the livelihood of its people in every way, ASEAN achieved another landmark today with the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

“The document is the result of a lot of hard work, determination, and dedication by all the members of AICHR (ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights),” said Assistant Director Leena Ghosh from the ASEAN Secretariat. “I also want to thank my team for all the late nights and long hours they put it to support AICHR in their work.”

The Leaders adopted the Bali Concord III Plan of Action 2013 – 2017, which is a manifestation of ASEAN’s global outreach to contribute further in a more coordinated, cohesive and coherent manner. It reflects ASEAN commitment to take an increasing role in addressing global challenges by enhancing collaboration to adopt common positions on issues of mutual interest in regional and international fora.

This morning also saw the leaders in a full plenary session. All of them were unanimous in expressing their condolences to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia, and its people, for the loss of their late King. Fondly known as King-Father Norodom Sihanouk to many people – even non-Cambodians – the charismatic leader passed away on 14 October in Beijing.

The leaders also approved the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre in Cambodia. Expressing his appreciation to his counterparts for their support, Prime Minister said the move is timely and essential, as almost all ASEAN countries had to deal with the menace of land mines.

At the plenary session, the leaders also expressed their appreciation to Dr Surin Pitsuwan, who will complete his term as Secretary-General of ASEAN next month. Noting his valuable contribution in raising ASEAN’s global profile, the leaders thanked him for his tireless efforts in promoting ASEAN, and drawing support for many of ASEAN’s initiatives and projects.

The leaders also confirmed, and welcomed Vietnam’s Deputy Foreign Minister Le Luong Minh, as the next Secretary-General of ASEAN. Earlier this year, the Jakarta Post had noted that Mr Minh comes with extensive diplomatic experience at a global level.

It reported that the incoming Secretary-General had spent 14 years working at the United Nations, “including seven years as the permanent representative of Viet Nam in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York City in the US”.
“The 60-year-old became the president of the UN’s most powerful body, the Security Council, twice — first in July 2008 and again in October 2009 — when Vietnam held a non-permanent seat on the Security Council,” said the Jakarta Post.

With ASEAN’s agenda accounted for, the leaders will continue with their hectic schedule in Phnom Penh over the next few days, as they meet other senior leaders to discuss economic, political, social, and cultural cooperation.