Great hopes on Brunei as Asean Chair
Danial Norjidi in Phnom Penh

It was a proud day for Brunei yesterday as His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam received the Asean Chairmanship from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in a symbolic handover at the Peace Palace.

Over the course of the week in which the 21st Asean Summit and its related summits took place in Phnom Penh, the Borneo Bulletin spoke to a number of prominent officials on what Brunei's term as Asean Chair will mean not only for the country, but Asean as a whole.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in an op-ed he wrote on the eve of his recent visit to Brunei, had said, "Brunei practices a low-key but effective diplomacy, working quietly behind the scenes to foster Asean consensus. Singapore will give its full support to Brunei during its Asean Chairmanship."

Speaking to the Borneo Bulletin on the sidelines of the Asean Senior Officials' Preparatory Meeting last Friday, Mr Sihasak Phuanketkeow, Permanent Secretary for Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the chairmanship is very important for Brunei in underscoring the Sultanate's role within Asean.

He said that as Asean Chair, Brunei can help lead and strengthen Asean, and will play a vital role in helping the member states work towards an Asean community.

"It comes at a time when Asean is working towards the Asean Community," he said. "We're also facing various challenges, so we hope and have expectations on the leadership role of Brunei in helping to steer and lead Asean and in strengthening Asean itself, as well as to put us in a position to deal with these emerging challenges."

He affirmed that Brunei is "definitely" capable of taking on this role, and described the Sultanate as being a long-standing member of Asean, committed to the association's unity and solidarity.

The Borneo Bulletin also posed a question to the Asean Secretary-General, Dr Surin Pitsuwan during a press conference.

"Brunei has been a very active member of Asean. It has chaired Asean before and has hosted the APEC summit before and Brunei has a lot of initiatives readied for the consideration of the Asean leaders," he said.

Dr Surin went on to express his belief that Brunei "while small, is very agile".

"It is very, very capable and very, very able to steer the community towards the goal of 2015," he said. "Already, Brunei has been very active, consulting, preparing and working behind the curtains, planning for its own chairmanship beginning January 1."

"We have full confidence that the Sultan acting as Chair of Asean next year will bring a lot of progress to the Asean community and contribute to the community building and new architecture of cooperation for Southeast Asia."

Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary of State for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Borneo Bulletin that the leaders "fully support Brunei as Asean Chair next year".

Mr Siphan Phay, Secretary of State and Spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers, and Mr Teuku Faizasyah, Indonesian Presidential Palace's International Spokesperson spoke to reporters in the Peace Palace's International Media Centre, also expressed their confidence in Brunei's chairmanship. - Borneo Bulletin (21 November 2012)