JAKARTA ( Jan 6) – Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Dr. Hassan Wirajuda said one of the many tasks ahead for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is to eradicate the threat of terrorism by developing the region and promoting closer ties among Southeast Asian nations and key partners in the international community.

Speaking at a ceremony for the handover of office of the Secretary-General at the ASEAN Secretariat, Dr. Hassan said some of the formidable challenges faced by Southeast Asia today is international terrorism that ASEAN has responded to comprehensively and vigorously.

“The attacks that terrorists carry out against innocent civilians can be so massively brutal that entire societies and humanity itself are traumatized,” said Dr. Hassan.

“We must carry out our Work Programme on Terrorism with vigour and resolve,” he added. “But for this programme to succeed, and for all our efforts at maintaining security and stability in our region to be effective, we must also be able to advance our agenda for development… It is therefore imperative that we make our development goals – the goals spelled out in ASEAN Vision 2020 a living reality.”

Dr. Hassan said development within ASEAN has not been as balanced in the past 35 years since the establishment of the regional organization, as had been envisaged by its founders.

The Indonesian Foreign Minister called on ASEAN governments to strengthen and enlarge the mechanisms and networks of political cooperation to match the demands of regional and global situations.

“This means the strengthening of the ASEAN Secretariat and the recasting of our decision-making processes so that we can address issues more squarely and decisively. This also means that we should strive for closer and more constructive bilateral interaction so that we will be more concerted in our work at the regional level.”

Dr. Hassan said ASEAN will have the opportunity to develop closer linkages with other subregional organizations during the Asian-African Conference in Bandung in April. He said both Asia and Africa are strong players in the political and economic affairs of the two continents and building bridges of cooperation and mutual help will compliment the relations established with the Americas through Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and with Europe through the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).

Dr. Hassan also called for stronger ties between ASEAN and the United Nations which can provide the regional grouping with support to become more effective.

The Foreign Minister said the vast experience of the new Secretary-General, Ong Keng Yong, as a diplomat and chief executive director of the People’s Association of Singapore, will be an asset in his stewardship of the ASEAN Secretariat over the next five years.

“It is essential that we continue to tell the story of ASEAN – what it has done and what it is doing to transform the lives of the peoples of the region. It is an authentic and inspiring story that is worth telling not only to the world at large, but also and even more importantly, to our own peoples in ASEAN. They must realize the high stakes that they have in the work of ASEAN. And they must be drawn into participating in the great drama of development that is taking place in our region,” said Dr. Hassan.

The former Secretary-General Rodolfo Severino said it is vital for ASEAN to focus on four areas of integration – market integration, the integration of new members, the integration of ASEAN cooperation and the integration of the spirit.

“The people of our region must begin to think of themselves as citizens of ASEAN as well as of their own countries,” said Mr. Severino. “They must absorb the reality that more and more, their interests and the interests of their nations coincide with those of the region as a whole, rising above the mutual suspicions and little rivalries that are the legacy of a receding past.”

Mr. Severino said greater understanding and closer cooperation must be fostered among the peoples of Southeast Asia.

“We must draw a sense of realistic urgency from the necessity, in today’s world, of dealing with more and more of our problems and reaching for more and more of our aspirations together, as a cohesive region, rather than as a mere collection of states…Surely we can aspire, as we must, to create out of our ethnic and national diversity a region that can and must act in solidarity in the pursuit of common interests and a common vision.”

Mr. Severino said the goal of economic integration must be achieved through the implementation of programmes and plans.

“This means several things,” said Mr. Severino. “One is approaching regional integration schemes no longer as venues for trading concessions but as common endeavours to achieve the regional purpose on which the progress of our economies in large measure depends. Another is taking seriously the findings and recommendations of the study of ASEAN’s competitiveness that we have commissioned. Another is supporting the work of the high-level task force that is to map our the next stage of regional economic integration and following through on it.”

Secretary-General Ong said he is committed to increase efforts to boost the effectiveness and capabilities of ASEAN by relentlessly pursuing steps towards enhancing the integration process through the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), Hanoi Plan of Action (HPA) and the Roadmap for the Integration of ASEAN (RIA).

By deepening regional economic integration and liberalization through programmes like the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), ASEAN Investment Area (AIA), Asean Industrial Cooperation (AICO) and e-ASEAN, Mr. Ong said much more can be achieved for economic progress.

The Secretary-General said it is vital that ASEAN remains outward-looking through engagements with its Dialogue Partners by maintaining relationships and finding ways to strengthen them for mutual benefits.

Mr. Ong said ASEAN’s image and profile must be increased to promote its achievements and to do so, he acknowledged the need to improve the efficiency and professionalism of the ASEAN Secretariat by reshaping and sharpening its role and priorities to undertake its tasks more effectively.