Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning.  I am truly honoured by the presence for His Excellency of the Foreign Minister of Indonesia Dr. Hassan Wirayuda at today’s handing and taking over ceremony.

Jakarta is one of my favourite ASEAN cities.  Whenever I visit Jakarta, I am touched by its warmth and hospitality of its people as well as captivated by its unique characteristics.  I am also quite familiar with Jakarta having visited this charming city several times in the past with the most recent in mid-December 2002 when I accompanied the Prime Minister of Singapore.  My visit his time will be different, as I together with my wife, Irene, will be staying in Jakarta over a much longer period of time.  It will also provide us with the opportunity to learn and understand more about the city and its people.  I look forward to our stay in Jakarta.

I have a long attachment to ASEAN, going back to when I joined the Foreign Ministry in Singapore more that twenty years ago.  Over the years, I have been both  a keen observer and a practitioner of ASEAN.  In all the different hats that I have worn over the last 25 years, I have always tried to keep abreast of the developments in ASEAN.  It was therefore truly an honour when the ASEAN Leaders at the Summit last year appointed me as ASEAN Secretary-General.  It is a responsibility that I will hold in high esteem.

Over the last five years, I have followed closely the work of the ASEAN Secretariat, in particular, Secretary-General of ASEAN His Excellency Mr. Rodolfo Severino’s tireless work.  The challenges that Mr. Severino has to face were major and unprecedented.  These challenges included the fallout from the financial crisis that swept through Asia and the impact of the September 11 attacks, as well as regional tragedies such as the Bali bombings, on the regional political, social and economic landscape.  These events also had an adverse impact on the image of ASEAN outside the region.  It is noteworthy that under his stewardship, ASEAN and the ASEAN Secretariat has weathered these storms admirably.

During his term in office, Mr. Severino also had a full agenda to pursue  These included the integration of ASEAN, the need to raise the profile of ASEAN, as well as the process of strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat.  Mr. Severino’s unstinting commitment and devotion to ASEAN will not go unnoticed and he has left behind a highly professional and dedicated tea of officers in the Secretariat.  I look forward his guidance in the future and to working with the staff. 

As I take up this post, I realise that there are many important challenges that lie ahead.  I will have to build on the successes of my predecessors.  In November last year, our Leaders had reiterated the direction ASEAN must take to remain successful and relevant.  In that light, I see the key challenges ahead as follows :

a. Continue to enhance the integration process of ASEAN by implementing far-reaching initiatives such as the Initiatives for ASEAN Integration, Hanoi Plan of Action, and Roadmap for Integration of ASEAN;

b. Deepen regional economic integration and liberalisation through programmes such as the AFTA, ASEAN Investment Area, AFAS, AICO and e-ASEAN;

c. Ensure ASEAN remains outward looking through engagements with its Dialogue Partners;

d. Raise ASEAN’s image and profile to get more understanding of ASEAN at all levels; and

e. Strengthen the ASEAN Secretariat by reshaping and sharpening its role and priorities so that the Secretariat will be able to carry out its tasks in a more professional and effective way with the resources at its disposal.

As  I embark on these tasks, I look forward to working closely together with my colleagues in the AEAN Secretariat.  I also look forward to working and fostering close ties with the respective National Secretariats, all agencies in the ASEAN countries, and the rest of the ASEAN network including the ASEAN Ambassadors and the Ambassadors of the Dialogue Partners in Jakarta.

Finally I would like to thank the Indonesian Government for its kind hospitality, His Excellency Dr. Hassan Wirayuda for presiding over this ceremony, His Excellency Mr. Rodolfo Severino for his advice and support, and to all of you for being present today.  Your cooperation and advice will help me in my task ahead.

I wish you all a happy and successful New Year.