Friday, January 11, 2008

S'pore ratifies charter


S'pore ratifies charter

Surin will take charge of regional grouping's secretariat today

Published on January 7, 2008

Singapore is taking the lead and becoming the first member to ratify the Asean Charter, barely seven weeks after it was signed by the group's leaders.

The island republic will present its instrument of ratification of the Asean Charter to new Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan today, immediately after it hands over stewardship of the alliance to Thailand at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta, a diplomatic source told The Nation.

The Nation has learned Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda will chair the ceremony, attended by all Asean ambassadors.

Singapore, which chaired the charter-drafting committee, wants to serve as a model member and display confidence in the charter, one Asean diplomat said. Malaysia is in the process of ratifying the charter, too.

Other members, including Thailand, have not indicated when their ratification will come. Only the Philippines has said it might have a problem ratifying the charter.

At the Singapore summit late last year, Asean leaders pledged to expedite ratification within 12 months, in time for the next summit in Bangkok.

The charter will be effective after all 10 members have endorsed it.

Outgoing Asean chief, Ong Keng Yong of Singapore, welcomed Surin and his family on Saturday to their new home. His tenure is for five years. Ong briefed Surin for three hours.

Surin was selected from 12 local candidates. After interviews and presentations, he was selected by a unanimous decision of a six-member committee. It was this country's Foreign Ministry's first transparent selection of a senior official for an international position.

Surin became the highest-ranking former official to hold the chief's job. Previous secretaries-general have been from the permanent secretary and directors-general levels.

His first assignment will be to preside over the third meeting of the Asean Ministers Responsible for Culture and Arts between January 12 and 13 in Naypyidaw, Burma.

When he was foreign minister, Surin proposed flexible engagement as a means to engage Asean in sensitive issues, dominated by the Burma political situation.

He is scheduled to bid farewell to the National Legislative Assembly in Thailand tomorrow, after 21 years of serving as an elected politician for Nakhon Si Thammarat.

In a telephone interview with The Nation yesterday, Surin said Asean needed to identify its strengths and weaknesses if it was to improve competitiveness in an age of regional economic integration and globalisation.

He said the bloc must map out a strategy to promote competitiveness, ensuring stronger economic growth and the overall value of the region.

"It serves as leverage for Asean with the rest of the world," Surin said yesterday after his arrival in Jakarta.

One of the crucial areas which the grouping can synergise is the energy sector, he said, adding that the regional union could serve as a hub of future energy storage, bridging the Middle East as energy producer with the Far East as energy consumer. "Asean can do more than be just a transit point."

Surin said the alliance was well-positioned to add value to its energy security as a hub of consumers, producers and refiners. "About 80 per cent of energy from the Middle East goes through Southeast Asian sea lanes."

He said in years to come, energy security would affect regional economic integration and prosperity. "With energy security, the 21st century will be our century," he said.

Surin stressed regional-coalition members must be willing to contribute more financially, in order to materialise schemes their leaders envisaged, both in the Vientiane Plan of Action and the new charter.

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