Tuesday, February 28, 2012

First Public Discussion of the Next ASEAN Secretary General?

We have what appears to be the first public mention of the new ASEAN Secretary General candidate, Le Luong Minh.   This comes from a Myanmar Times interview with current ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan conducted by Roger Mitton (I should note that Dr. Surin did not confirm the identity of his purported successor, but Mitton did in his introduction to the interview). 

Minh currently serves as Deputy Foreign Minister of Vietnam, and has had several high-level ambassadorial level postings, most notably to the United Nations in Geneva and in New York.  At the UN, he served as president of the Security Council during Vietnam’s rotation.  From all accounts, Minh is well-respected in diplomatic circles and well-spoken in English (e.g., “Bahasa ASEAN”). 

This information is consistent with what I have heard from other sources, but it remains unofficial until formally announced by Vietnam (the next ASEAN Secretary General must be from Vietnam under the rotation system maintained by the Charter).  It also remains to be seen whether Vietnam will follow Thailand’s past practice of offering multiple candidates for the post.   Nevertheless, it seems that Minh is the frontrunner and would be an excellent choice if he is indeed a candidate. 

In previous posts, I had indicated a preference for an ASEAN Secretary General with business experience or an economics background, as has been suggested by others.  However, given Vietnam’s more recent immersion into the global economy, the talent pool of ministerial-level Vietnamese officials with such experience is smaller than would be the case in the ASEAN-6. In any event, given Vietnam’s commitment to globalization, any ministerial-level Vietnamese official will be well versed in economic affairs.  Also, Minh’s diplomatic background will be very useful in potential political-security issues such as Preah Vihear or the Spratly Islands/South China Sea.

Nevertheless, if Vietnam is going to nominate an ASEAN Secretary General with a more diplomatic background, then it is even more important that the ASEAN Deputy Secretary General for the ASEAN Economic Community have deep experience in economic matters.  The incumbent, S. Pushpanathan, has been excellent and hopefully can be reappointed to another three year term.  If the ASEAN member states decide otherwise, then a candidate with previous corporate experience would be very useful and provide a useful prospective on the ASEAN Economic Community.  Either way, the AEC needs more experience, not less, particularly as we head into the critical period before 2015 with an ASEAN chair (Myanmar) who is not experienced at all in international economics.