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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2588

Is Singapore Ambassador U.S. favorite to be next U.N. Secretary General?

Daya Gamage – US Bureau of Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 09 September (Asiantribune.com): Several months ago United States ambassador to the United Nation John Bolton posed a question regarding the next secretary general of U.N: Why not from East Europe that never produced a secretary general, or why a male, why not a female?Professor Chan Heng Chee  was her country’s permanent representative in the United NationsProfessor Chan Heng Chee was her country’s permanent representative in the United Nations

The first question, as Asian Tribune understands, is very much settled: The United Nations unofficial system of regional rotation has been accepted by most in the Security Council, which has the main say in the selection of the next secretary general, and it is now almost confirmed that Kofi Annan’s successor this December will come from Asia.

There is some development that Ambassador Bolton’s second suggestion "Why not a woman?" may come true as it is being rumored that the United States favors Singapore’s ambassador to the United States Professor Chan Heng Chee to be the next secretary general of the world body.

The Security Council held a straw poll last June but it has been reported that none of the candidates – India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and South Korea – are considered formidable contenders.

It is no secret that the United States has a stake in the election of the next secretary general of the United States as it had ten years ago when it opposed the second term of Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the compromise was Kofi Annan of Ghana.

Since the U.S. is somewhat interested in getting India into the Security Council it may not support the Indian nominee who is the current U.N. undersecretary general for public affairs.

Sri Lanka’s Jayantha Dhanapala, a former undersecretary for disarmament, is undoubtedly a very qualified candidate but given Sri Lanka’s internal political situation the United States may not back his candidacy, Asian Tribune learns. On the other hand, another Sri Lanka, Devaditya, a Member of the European Parliament, with the support of Fiji, has declared his candidacy complicating the candidacy of Dr. Dhanapala.

Singapore’s ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee is extremely well known among Security Council members, and has maintained very close contacts with influential members of the Bush White House, senior lawmakers in both the Senate and the House, and U.S. State Department officials. Furthermore, she has developed a reputation among senior diplomats representing other nations as an intellectual and an erudite personality.

How? Ambassador Chan has been Singapore’s representative in Washington since 1996, and has been active, during this period, in many Washington Think Tanks that have influence over policies in both in Washington and New York.

"Think tanks are different here," says Chan. "This is a very policy-oriented town. Public policy is deliberated. Other political systems are quite closed. This system is open, and think tanks can be an important way to contribute to the debate."

Before the current position, she was her country’s permanent representative in the United Nations.

In a recent (April 2006) interview with The Washington Diplomat she said, "Getting attention is competitive. In Washington, there are 185 ambassadors, so you have to ask yourself: What would compel any lawmaker or official to spend time with me? Ambassadors have to be quite entrepreneurial about how they present and represent their country. If you are from a small country and a good country that doesn’t cause any troubles and with no real issues, why should a senator or congressman spend time with you? What could you say to make the meeting worthwhile?"

Chan pointed out that this struggle to be noticed is related to the scramble for access to key officials in (US) Congress and the White House. "Getting access is the name of the game here. Getting access when your leaders come. Getting access so you can immediately put in your points. I think that if you represent a great power, it’s easier. When you are from a small country or a middle power, it’s harder. One has to work doubly hard and know the right people," she told in that interview.

According to Ambassador Chan, a key element of the ambassador’s job is trying to use these contacts to understand current U.S. policy and to predict where debates and policies are heading.

Ten years in Washington as her country’s ambassador, and before that as Singapore’s Permanent Representative in the United Nations, she made those contacts and made an impact on principal players in the American capital. It is understood that she is liked by many principal players in the Bush administration.

At Singapore’s 41st National Day celebration in Washington on August 9, 2006, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Treasury Robert M. Kimmitt declared that Singapore has long recognized the benefit of a strong U.S. presence and engagement in Asia. He said, "Prime Minister Lee has said that American security forces and political influence helped provide the conditions under which developing Asian economies like Singapore could flourish. Thus, even as China, India, and other economies grow, the United States can and will continue to serve as a force for stability and growth in Asia. In that endeavor, as for the past 41 years, we will have no more valued partner than Singapore."

This is how the United States sees Singapore. And her ten-year tenure in Washington helped the United States to know who she is and how she is comfortable with knowing the sole super power’s sentiments, objectives and targets.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, 64, took up her appointment as her country’s ambassador to the United States in July 1996. She served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1989 to 1991 and was concurrently the High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to Mexico beginning her career in her country’s Foreign Service.

She received her education at the University of Singapore where she graduated with a Master of Arts in Political Science in 1966, and Master of Arts degree in 1967 at Cornell University in New York. In 1974 she received her Ph.D. from the University of Singapore.

Ambassador Chan was the executive director of the Singapore International Foundation and Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies before joining the Foreign Service. She has been a member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, since 1995, and a council member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, since 1993.

She has been a committee member of the Singapore National Committee for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, since 1993, and a member of the International Council of the Asia Society, New York, since 1991.

Ambassador Chan Heng Chee was a member of the Australian National University/Australian Research Council Joint Review Team of the Institute of Advanced Studies, Australia, 1995; external specialist to review the Center of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 1995; and was also a member of the International Advisory Panel of the East West Center, Honolulu, 1993. In August 2005, Ms. Chan received Singapore’s Meritorious Service Medal, the highest National Day Award conferred.

When will she announce her candidacy for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations?

Asian Tribune

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