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Thein Sein assumes the ASEAN helm

In a symbolic handover ceremony on Thursday, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah handed the gavel representing the chairmanship of next year’s ASEAN meetings to Burma’s President Thein Sein.

“At [this] time, our citizens and the entire world are watching closely on us,” Thein Sein said in an address to Southeast Asian and other world leaders.

“It is extremely crucial for us to show unity and full feeling of our common objectives.”

Many see the ASEAN chair as an opportunity for Burma to move forward with democratic transition and improve its relations with the international community.

Over the next year the country will host world leaders at more than 1,000 summits, conferences and meetings.

“Peace and fundamental ideas [will] formulate the theme of the 2014 chairmanship as [will] moving forward in unity towards a peaceful and prosperous community,” said Thein Sein.

But the country lacks basic infrastructure and suffers constant power cuts; hosting world leaders, their delegations and international media could be a logistical nightmare.

Despite recent peace talks in Kachin state earlier this week, ethnic conflicts and religious violence are ongoing.

It appears that Burma still has a long way to go to prove itself deserving of the ASEAN gavel  – but those in power will be eager to hammer home the fact that they represent a reformed government.