COHESIVE AND RESPONSIVE ASEAN IN A CHANGING WORLD
H.E. Nguyen Quoc Dzung, Deputy Foreign Minister of Viet Nam, outlines the priorities of Viet Nam's ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020. Viet Nam takes over the ASEAN Chairmanship in a rapidly changing regional and global landscape where opportunities are intertwined with challenges. Amidst the prevailing trends of peace, stability and cooperation for development, new uncertainties, disruptions and complexities are arising from the geostrategic, political, economic, societal and technological domains.
After over a decade of recovery and expansion, the world economy is slowing down and global trade volume is shrinking. Protectionism and trade tensions are on the rise while economic integration in many parts of the world is stagnating. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has boosted hopes for higher productivity and greater human progress, but concerns are also growing over its disruptive implications, cyber threats, and socio-economic disparities. Traditional security issues such as territorial disputes, arms build-up, and setbacks in the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime, have become more serious in both scope and scale. Non-traditional security threats related to food security, natural resources depletion, environmental degradation, climate change, and terrorism, are on the rise. In addition, the unfolding major power competition has expanded from political, military to economic, technological and other fields. As a result, regional countries are under greater pressure to carefully navigate their policies to maintain an environment conducive to peace, stability and economic growth. ASEAN at 52 ASEAN has come a long way since its inception in 1967. ASEAN's remarkable achievements far exceed what its founding fathers would have imagined. From five original Member States, the organisation has doubled in size to become a family of ten living in peace, dialogue and cooperation. From a loose association, ASEAN has evolved towards a full-fledged politically cohesive, economically integrated, and socially responsible Community. The implementation of the ASEAN Community Blueprints 2025 has seen positive and tangible progress with 90% of the action lines having been or being addressed. As ASEAN Member States contend with the multifaceted challenges from the changing regional and international geopolitical environment, they are committed to reinforcing ASEAN Centrality and unity, and ensuring ASEAN resilience and adaptability in addressing those challenges, towards realising the ASEAN Community
Vision 2025. As an example, the ASEAN Leaders have adopted the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) as a strong affirmation of ASEAN Centrality and a collective response to the new initiatives and strategies such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific. The AOIP provides the fundamental principles for ASEAN to engage with those initiatives by the major powers, and a platform for potential cooperation between ASEAN and its partners in the Indo Pacific. Today, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is a prime example of how ASEAN is stronger as one. Together, the ten diverse countries make up a dynamic and attractive economic group, becoming an engine of Asia-Pacific's economic growth. With a combined GDP of US$3 trillion in 2018, as compared to US$2.5 trillion in 2015, ASEAN is currently the fifth largest economy in the world and is predicted to become the fourth largest in 2030. However, ASEAN still faces major challenges ahead and much needs to be done to achieve the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, from maintaining ASEAN Centrality and unity amid increasing power rivalries, mitigating negative impacts from trade tensions to forging a sense of we-belonging and common identity among the ASEAN peoples. In addition, various ASEAN pertinent issues remain to be addressed, such as over-reliance on external resources, lack of efficiency and effectiveness in ASEAN's operations and mechanisms, among others. Multilateralism in Viet Nam's Foreign Policy
The ASEAN Chairmanship 2020 will be illuminated by Viet Nam's overall foreign policy which attaches great importance to multilateralism at both regional and global levels. Viet Nam's track-record of economic reforms, international integration, and pursuit of developmental goals, is closely associated with our pro-active participation in multilateral institutions in the region and the world. Such multilateral pro-activism is manifested in Viet Nam's successful hosting of major global events, e.g. the APEC Summit (2017), the World Economic Forum-ASEAN (2018) and the 2nd US-DPRK Summit (2019). 2020 holds a significant meaning as Viet Nam will assume both the ASEAN Chairmanship and a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). At the UNSC, Viet Nam will work earnestly with other Council members, to preserve regional and international peace and stability, and to promote sustainable development goals and inclusive economic growth. It is also our priority to act as a bridge between ASEAN and the UN to realise common goals, particularly in conflict prevention and sustainable peace.
2020 also marks the 25th anniversary of Viet Nam's ASEAN membership. Viet Nam has made great strides over the past 24 years in fulfilling its membership duties, honouring its commitments to ASEAN agreements, and actively contributing to ASEAN's development. For example, Viet Nam is the second ASEAN member state after Singapore to implement all the AEC action lines, and is a pioneer in maintaining peace, stability and security in the region. The past achievements and experiences will enable Viet Nam to assume the ASEAN Chairmanship with confidence. As the ASEAN Chair, Viet Nam looks forward to promoting bilateral relations with fellow ASEAN member states and external partners. The Chairmanship also provides opportunities for Viet Nam to enhance its international profile, and promote the Vietnamese culture and soft power to the world. Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN The theme of Viet Nam's ASEAN Chairmanship 2020 – Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN – reflects the spirit of “Think Community, Act Community” in response to the challenges and opportunities ahead. “Cohesive” reflects the need to enhance ASEAN unity and solidarity, economic integration, ASEAN awareness and identity, and work towards a “people-centered” community. “Responsive” underlines the importance of ASEAN pro-activeness, creativity and capacity in grasping opportunities and coping with challenges. These two elements complement and reinforce each other – only a cohesive ASEAN can afford to respond in an effective and timely manner to any challenge that comes its way. Guided by this overarching theme, Viet Nam will focus on five key priorities during its ASEAN Chairmanship. Unity and Solidarity: Unity and solidarity form the most important glue that makes a cohesive and responsive community. ASEAN has helped transform Southeast Asia from instability to stability, antagonism to cooperation, poverty to prosperity, a loose association to one of the world's most viable and successful regional organisations. These past records attest to ASEAN unity and solidarity as the key to its success and strength. Viet Nam will work to reinforce ASEAN Centrality and solidarity, forge closer relations and mutual support among the Member States, develop ASEAN's collective approach on international and regional issues, and respond to challenges and threats to regional peace and security in an effective and timely manner. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) offers a vivid example of ASEAN's success in forging a collective response to the shifting regional landscape, which overcomes and transcends the differing perspectives of the Member States on the Indo-Pacific. Economic Interests: Common interests lay the foundation for a cohesive community. Viet Nam will look to maximise the convergence of economic interests among
ASEAN member states who share the key objective of achieving an ASEAN single market and integrated production base. Other priorities include strengthening small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region, increasing intra-ASEAN trade and investment flows, enhancing ASEAN connectivity, narrowing the development gap, and better equipping ASEAN economies and its peoples to adapt to the dynamic changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Commonalities: As a cohesive community, ASEAN should forge commonalities through regional events that touch our everyday life. For example, the recent decision for ASEAN Member States to launch a joint bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup will help inculcate a strong sense of community among Southeast Asians. As a matter of fact, young people in the region might easily recognise Nike, McDonald or Versace logos, but have little idea about what the ASEAN Emblem looks like and stands for. It is therefore important for Southeast Asians to be aware of ASEAN, to feel that they are part of and benefit from a regional community. Viet Nam will step up efforts in raising ASEAN's profile and visibility in the Member States, so that their citizens understand ASEAN's importance at the grassroots level.
Partnership: The past 52 years have shown that ASEAN cannot advance its goals alone. ASEAN community-building requires both intra-regional integration efforts and partnerships with different countries and organisations further afield. Viet Nam will look to reinforce partnerships for peace and sustainable development through deepening and elevating relationship with partners around the world, enhancing ASEAN's role and image in the global community, and contributing to shaping the new regional and global architecture. These endeavours will go beyond the number of partnerships created to focus more on how they could contribute to ASEAN community-building, and to regional peace and prosperity. Institutional capacity: A cohesive and responsive community must be anchored in its strong institutional capacity. To stay relevant to new developments, ASEAN-led mechanisms and processes must be effective, efficient, nimble and outcome-driven. Viet Nam will therefore seek to increase ASEAN's operational capacity and efficiency through institutional reforms and improvement of rules of procedures and processes within ASEAN-led mechanisms.
The Way Ahead Viet Nam's ASEAN Chairmanship agenda will be a mix of continuity and change. While carrying forward the signature initiatives grounded by the previous Chairs, Viet Nam is in the process of developing new initiatives and proposals across three pillars.
In the political-security pillar, priorities will be given to shaping, sharing and applying norms and rules, strengthening the habit of dialogue and cooperation while promoting confidence building, consolidating the existing political-security instruments and mechanisms, and addressing emerging challenges from a holistic, cross-sector and cross-pillar approach. Among others, we aim to set the new directions in the next stage for ASEAN-led mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus), to strengthen their relevance and responsiveness. We also seek to enhance ASEAN's capacity in responding to developments in the region so that ASEAN would be among the first responders in an event of crisis or emergency in a member state. In view of the importance of the maritime domain, maritime cooperation and security continue to be a focus in ASEAN agenda next year. from safeguarding safety and freedom of navigation, upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, to addressing marine pollution, managing marine resources, and ensuring safety and humane treatment to all seafarers, including fishermen. In the economic pillar, Viet Nam will make efforts to promote intra-regional economic integration, strengthen regional connectivity, promote sustainable development and inclusive growth, and enhance ASEAN's adaptive capacity. A regional conference will be organised to discuss ways and means to boost intra-ASEAN trade and investment. A platform is being considered to share best practices in developing circular economy, and formulating the Digital Integration Index to help monitor the implementation of the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework. Other initiatives linking academia, entrepreneurs and start-ups are under consideration. In the socio-cultural pillar, a number of initiatives will be rolled out on developing high-quality human capital to meet the demands of the digital economy; delivering social work and services for vulnerable groups; reducing maternal and newborn mortality rates among ethnic minority groups; and setting up cooperation mechanisms
to fight against fake news. Regarding institutional capacity, we plan to conduct a thorough review of ASEAN's organizational structure and its operations since the ASEAN Charter entered into force; further improve ASEAN's operational methods and procedures; enhance cross-sectoral and cross-pillar coordination; and organise more ASEAN meetings at the ASEAN Secretariat's new building. Last but not least, we will continue efforts on raising awareness about ASEAN identity, including promoting more frequent and extensive use of the ASEAN Flag and Anthem, encouraging the installation of ASEAN Lanes at ASEAN airports and the display of the ASEAN Logo on the travel documents of ASEAN member states' citizens. As the ASEAN Chair 2020, Viet Nam will spare no effort to keep up the good
work of delivering ASEAN's public goods to the people so that ASEAN will be felt and heard in their daily life. Next year's ASEAN Chairmanship will bring the spirit of “Think Community, Act Community” to the hearts and minds of more and more Southeast Asians.
Amb. Nguyen Quoc Dzung is Deputy Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, and Viet Nam's ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) Leader.