ASEAN Community: Cohesive for firm steps forward

Thursday, 2019-08-08 13:24:38
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Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. (Photo: laodong.vn)
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NDO – On August 8, 2019, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrates its 52nd birthday. The bloc’s establishment and development path over the past five decades has been followed up by the resilient efforts of its member countries, with a compass aimed at realising the spirit of the Bangkok Declaration “For a Southeast Asian region of peace, freedom and prosperity”.

A politically strong, economically cohesive and mutually sharing community

With a population of over 642 million people and an area of more than 1.7 million square kilometres, ASEAN is a highly potential market. As forecasted, ASEAN will be the fourth largest economy in the world by 2050. The ASEAN Community has entered its fourth year of formation and development, from the December 31, 2015, milestone, and is currently striving to realise the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, with encouraging initial progress having been achieved.

For a peaceful, secure and stable regional environment, ASEAN countries have been making efforts to promote dialogue, strengthen cooperation, build trust, promote compliance with international law, and form and share the common values and norms recognised in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), the ASEAN Charter, the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ), and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC). In addition, ASEAN has firmly demonstrated its bravery and ability to maintain solidarity and unity in issues affecting regional peace and security, such as the East Sea issue, the Muslim issue in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and the Korean Peninsula issue. Cooperation to prevent non-traditional security challenges continues to be promoted. The bloc has also accelerated cooperation in preventing non-traditional security threats.

Efforts to enhance economic cooperation inside the bloc and with partners have brought ASEAN stable economic growth, predicted to reach 4.9% in 2019, nearly double the world’s average, alongside a total GDP of approximately US$3 trillion and an expanded market space reaching out to the top economic partners, through the separate Free Trade Agreements (FTA+1) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Some initiatives, such as connecting ASEAN in narrowing the development gap and the ASEAN Open Skies, are gradually realising ASEAN’s goals on inclusive and sustainable development. ASEAN has also become a very attractive tourist destination, with intra-bloc tourist arrivals reaching approximately 50 million and international tourist arrivals hitting nearly 130 million in 2018.

More joyfully, people have been placed at the centre during the process of building the ASEAN Community. The rights of people in the region have been promoted through cooperation in combating climate change, natural disasters and epidemics; the protection of vulnerable groups; visa-free movement among ASEAN countries for a period of 15 to 30 days; freely seeking employment through mutual recognition agreements of occupations; and receiving consular assistance when facing difficulties in a third country, where there are no representative offices of their countries.

Retaining a central role in an open regional architecture

Located in an important geostrategy as the centre of a large area connecting Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, ASEAN has promoted its central role in building an open, transparent, inclusive, rules-based and cohesive regional cooperative architecture that harmonises win-win relations with partners. The forums, initiated and led by ASEAN, have attracted increasing attention and active participation from countries and major power centres around the world. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are full partners of ASEAN. More and more external partners have voiced their wish to establish partnerships with ASEAN and join TAC. ASEAN’s central role has always been emphasised and highly appreciated in the regional strategies of powers, such as a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, the Belt and Road Initiative and the Act East policy.

Promoting cohesion for adaptation

The over-five-decade history of its existence has witnessed ASEAN brace itself against “storms” on a number of occasions. But through that, ASEAN has become more mature, self-reliant and resilient than before. The key to ASEAN’s success and strength is solidarity.

In order to resist against and effectively adapt to the complex fluctuations of the regional and international environment, more than ever ASEAN should be steadfast in maintaining solidarity and unity, as well as enhancing its economic self-reliance and ability to proactively and cleverly respond to the arising challenges.

Promoting the spirit of the 2019 theme “Advancing partnership for sustainability” and continuing the theme of 2018, “For a self-reliant and innovative ASEAN”, ASEAN continues to show its mastery and adaptability. By adopting the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) at the 34th ASEAN Summit (June 2019), ASEAN has demonstrated its central role and mastery in the interwoven regional fluctuations. Developing smart cities, responding to marine waste, integrating the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and responding to challenges concerning cyber-security and population ageing are some of ASEAN’s remarkable imprints over recent times.

At the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (August 2019), in the face of the complex developments of the regional situation, the ministers continued to affirm ASEAN’s stance and principles, emphasising the significance of compliance with international law and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and voicing concern over the current serious case. Given trade tensions between the major economies and increased protectionism, ASEAN is committed to accelerating intra-bloc trade and investment, promptly finalising the negotiations of RCEP, and strengthening a fair and rules-based international multilateral trade system.

Fire proves gold, adversity proves men. As long as ASEAN remains united and unified, and stays cohesive with common values and interests, transcending differences of diversity, the ASEAN Community will be sustainable and everlasting.

Important milestones for Vietnam

2020 marks an important milestone, as Vietnam assumes the ASEAN Chairmanship and celebrates 25 years of its admission to ASEAN. Entering the eighth year of implementing the Politburo’s Resolution No. 22-NQ/TW dated April 10, 2013, on international integration and the second year of implementing the Party Central Committee Secretariat’s Directive No. 25-CT/TW dated August 8, 2018, on accelerating and elevating multilateral diplomacy by 2030, Vietnam seizes many opportunities to affirm its new position both in the region and internationally. Along with the ASEAN Chair tenure in 2020, Vietnam also serves as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2020-2021 period.

Next year, Vietnam will give top priority to contributing and joining ASEAN to successfully implement the goals set in the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. This is also an opportunity for the country to actively promote bilateral relations with ASEAN nations and partners, further improve its international position, and advertise the Vietnamese image, cultural identity, land and people to international friends.

In order to realise this, it is essential for Vietnam to mobilise the support and consensus of ASEAN countries and the bloc’s friends and partners, together with the efforts of all ministries, sectors, localities, businesses and people.

Under the direction of the National ASEAN 2020 Committee, preparations for the 2020 ASEAN Chair tenure are being actively implemented. Vietnam is doing its utmost to successfully fulfil its role as the ASEAN Chair 2020, thus joining hands to build a united ASEAN Community of close cohesion and proactive adaptation to the current opportunities and challenges.

PHAM BINH MINH

Politburo member, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister