BRUNEI'S upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN in 2013 comes at a time of great change within the region and also within the bigger strategic landscape, according to a political analyst and regional expert.
In an interview with The Brunei Times yesterday at the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Kavi Chongkittavorn said that next year will see Brunei hosting the first ASEAN-US Summit which is set to underline the country's chairmanship of ASEAN. He added that this is the first time that ASEAN and the US have the "confidence to transform" the leaders' meeting.
"What does it mean to have the first ASEAN-US Summit? It means that the American president is coming to Brunei. No more predictions, no more forecasting. He's coming no matter what. That is a very big commitment from the US," he said.
Ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to Brunei for the landmark summit, Chongkittavorn urged ASEAN to do its homework by preparing on the issues that affect peace and stability in the region. He also said that the management of ASEAN's relations with major powers, particularly the US and China, remains crucial.
"Brunei is one of the very committed members of ASEAN and has shown leadership in various areas, so next year I think Brunei can play several roles," he explained, adding that the most important role is to ensure ASEAN members can narrow the perception gap on global issues.
Chongkittavorn said that as a small country sans engagement in conflict, Brunei can present itself as a neutral facilitator when it assumes chairmanship in 2013. He underscored Brunei's 28-year membership in handling ASEAN protocol coupled with the Sultanate's strong ASEAN spirit. "I'm confident that Brunei can handle the chair very well," he remarked.
The analyst also said that Brunei will play a "very important" role towards ensuring that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) meets its 2015 deadline. He added, however, that efforts should focus on the substance and quality of the economic integration.
"I'm confident that Brunei can handle the chair very well. As you know Brunei is also a claimant to the South China Sea. But you seldom hear anything from Brunei, so it has maintained a very proper sort of profile in all this. When it assumes chairmanship, it will not create a sort of controversy that is witnessed in other member countries," he commented.
As member countries conclude their discussions at the 21st ASEAN Summit at the capital's Peace Palace today, Chongkittavorn believed that several issues will continue to top the agenda at the next summit in Brunei.
He elaborated that the most important issue is to explore ways to accelerate the economic integration and the implementation with ASEAN's dialogue partners, particularly the US and China. "I'm confident. I don't worry at all on this issue. I think Brunei can handle it very well," said the expert.
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