JAKARTA: ASEAN's new Secretary-General says one of his top tasks will be to finalise the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
Le Luong Minh, a veteran Vietnamese diplomat, said this in opening remarks after assuming the post as head of the regional grouping on Wednesday.
It's the end of an era for Thai diplomat Surin Pitsuwan who had helmed the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta since 2008.
Mr Surin led ASEAN through some tumultuous years, including heightened tensions with China over the South China Sea, as well as Myanmar's political transformation.
Now it's time to hand over the reigns to his successor Le Luong Minh, who was formerly Vietnam's deputy foreign minister.
In his remarks, Mr Le said ASEAN should speed up efforts towards an early start of negotiations with China to achieve a conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
Mr Le has a difficult task in front of him. Not only does he need to maintain regional stability and finalise the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea issue, he also needs to maintain economic progress and resilience in the region, as well as strive for a people-centred ASEAN, especially ahead of integration for the ASEAN Community in 2015."
Since 2010, ASEAN has established a free trade area allowing for free flow of goods within the region with tariffs reduced to zero for six member countries.
The share of intra-ASEAN trade has also increased to 25.4 percent last year.
Mr Le said: "The more open flow of investments, capital, labour, goods and services will pose different challenges and opportunities for our member states. But it will also have a tremendous multiplier effect on the region. We have to maximise common grounds and minimise differences to ensure it adds value to every member state of ASEAN."
He said he wants to further implement ASEAN policies across its political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars, and improve national and regional coordination.
"Our ability to reach the goals we set for 2015 and beyond lies in our collective efforts. As we approach that important date, I am certain that our attention will not just be on ourselves. Just as partners have helped us grow, we must be ready to share our experiences not just internally, but with the world as well," he said.
The 61-year-old is a career diplomat who joined the Vietnamese Foreign Service in 1975.
He studied at Vietnam's Institute of Foreign Affairs, as well as India's Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
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