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Incoming ASEAN chief faces new challenges

12 January 2023

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By Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, Senior Communications Advisor: An astute scholar of ASEAN from Cambodia, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, has now become the 15th Secretary General of ASEAN.

Dr. Kao is no stranger to the academic world, as he used to be active in ASEAN-related think tanks. He has also written books and numerous articles about Cambodia’s foreign policy. He therefore knows exactly what he wants to do when leading ASEAN.

In his inaugural speech, he minced no words in pinpointing the six priorities to which ASEAN must continue to pay attention. He called it the Six P’s: peace, prosperity, planet, people, partnerships, and potentials. He added that ASEAN has always been at its very best when it works collectively, in a spirit of unity and solidarity, whether that be among its member states or with its external partners.

“I am confident that, if we stand united, act collectively and positively, and look after one another in the true spirit of amity and cooperation, there is nothing that ASEAN cannot achieve,” he stressed.

According to Ambassador Pou Sothirak, Executive Director at the Cambodian Centre for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), Dr. Kao is the best choice from Cambodia, because he is intellectual, astute and has a deep knowledge of ASEAN. He was the Executive Director of CICP in 1993, during which time he wrote about the importance of ASEAN for small countries such as Cambodia.

Dr. Kao also served the Cambodian Foreign Ministry as Vice Minister and represented Cambodia as an Eminent Person to draft the ASEAN Charter. In his last position, as Minister Delegate attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, he assisted the Cambodian Prime Minister during the country’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022.

“He has all the intellectual capacity to serve as a suitable ASEAN Secretary General and Cambodia should be proud of him,” the current CICP chief reiterated.

Ambassador Pou pointed out that his posting comes at a path-altering moment for ASEAN. “The regional grouping is confronted with unprecedented challenges that constantly question ASEAN’s relevance. He will have to create new impetus for a more resonant universality and centrality which ensure the interests of all 10 ASEAN members and effectively manage all ASEAN dialogue partners in a neutral way.”

Dr. Kao is the first Cambodian to take this top job at the ASEAN Secretariat. He was appointed at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in November.

He succeeds Dato Lim Jock Hoi, whose term ended on December 31st. In his farewell article, published in The Jakarta Post, the outgoing chief said that ASEAN members must reimagine the 54-year old organization, given the kinds of challenges faced by the ASEAN community, especially in relation to the post-2025 ASEAN agenda. It should be more dynamic and capable of launching new initiatives and implementing measures in response to changing market and economic conditions.

According to the ASEAN Charter, the Secretary General of ASEAN serves a five-year, non-renewable term and is elected from among ASEAN member nations based on alphabetical rotation, with due consideration for integrity and capability, among others.

Immediately after he took office on 9th January, he opened a twitter account, to ensure that followers of ASEAN on social media will be informed, straight from the horse’s mouth, of the latest developments in ASEAN.

This opinion piece was written by ERIA's Senior Communications Advisor, Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, and has been published in Thai PBSClick here to subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

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