Asean has long had a reputation as being an enervated institution, one with no real power that simply follows the caprices of each of its ten member states. The embodiment of such inactivity is often seen as the secretary general, a position that changes hands every five years and is tasked with heading the Secretariat, Asean’s coordinating body.
In 2008, the Economist described Asean’s secretary generals as “usually a senior regional official rewarded with the post as the crowning boondoggle in a career of not rocking the boat”.
In one way, Le Luong Minh, who took on the role in January 2013, fits this vignette: he is a senior official, formerly Vietnam’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, as well as an ambassador to the UN. Also, when compared to his gregarious predecessor, the former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, Minh can often appear “low-key”, said Jörn Dosch, chair of International Politics and Development Cooperation at the University of Rostock, in Germany.
This should not come as a surprise; the secretary general cut his teeth in the murky world of the Vietnamese Communist Party, known for its abstruse bureaucrats rather than extrovert personalities.
However, in terms of rocking the boat, a number of Asean scholars believe he has been instrumental in fomenting a more forceful Secretariat and strengthening the regional bloc’s institutions, which will be his “best achievements”, according to Edmund Sim, an international trade attorney and adjunct associate professor of law at the National University of Singapore.