Campaigns by hopefuls dreaming of filling Kofi Annan's shoes have already begun, as the United Nations secretary-general is a year away from the end of his second five-year term.
"It is generally accepted among the membership that it is Asia's turn," Annan told a press conference at UN headquarters on December 21.
A trend of rotating the position around the world has been in place since the global organization was founded in 1945.
The secretary-general that preceded Annan was Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian and Arab. Strictly speaking, he was a representative of the African bloc.
The assumption that the job will go to another region has opened up a huge field of possibilities, with plenty of time for scrutinizing candidates that hope to succeed Annan, who is from Ghana.
The Western Europeans have had three, Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden and Kurt Waldheim, an Austrian. The Latin Americans have had one secretary-general Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru.
At least half a dozen hopefuls from Asia are already lobbying for the top position in the world organization. The candidates are from such a wide range of countries as Thailand, the Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, India, Japan, Iran and others.
They are either UN veterans or experienced diplomats in their homelands. India wants to become a permanent member of the Security Council, as does Japan.
The last and only Asian secretary-general was U Thant, a statesman from Myanmar whose term ran from 1961 to 1971.
Asia, in UN terms, includes countries as far apart in every way as Turkmenistan and Vanuatu. It has changed dramatically in many ways since U Thant was the leader of the world body.
Asia needs to reach a consensus on who will represent the region to compete for the post.
The race should not turn into a game with countries trying to checkmate other nations' nominees as much as to promote their own.
This could lead to paralysis rather than consensus. Agreement can only be reached through negotiations and dialogue, which could be very tough.
A candidate needs the approval of nine of the 15 members of the Security Council and can be vetoed by any of the five permanent member countries Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Nominees from other parts of the world are also in the race for the important post. They include former presidents Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Bill Clinton of the United States though permanent members have traditionally eschewed claims on the top job in the Secretariat.
Annan was hailed as an experienced UN insider when he took over from Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
In the past year he put forward an ambitious blueprint to reshape the organization to better meet the challenges of the 21st century.
But the UN has recently faced damaging allegations of corruption in the Iraqi food-for-oil program.
The UN is far from perfect, but the only world body we have. It needs reform, and not marginalization.
The world looks to a person in the position of secretary-general to take a confident lead commensurate with the noble ideals the UN embodies.
(China Daily January 18, 2006)