ASEAN: Actively adapting to the hottest and most practical issues

As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Dung – Head of Asean Senior Officials (SOM) affirmed, with the theme “cohesive”, Vietnam wishes to consolidate the solidarity of the Asean, enhance internal capacity and promote the strong development of the Asean community. As for “responsive”, Vietnam wishes to enhance the capacity of Asean to adapt proactively and effectively to the rapid changes of the world situation.

Immediately after assuming the role of chair of Asean in 2020, the COVID-19 epidemic broke out and became the biggest challenge to the people’s health, security and stability of the Asean member countries. In this situation, Vietnam has taken active, timely and effective actions to respond quickly to unexpected rapid developments of the disease.

On February 15, as Prime Minister of Asean, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a statement on Asean joint response to the outbreak of the epidemic. Stressing Asean solidarity and spirit of a “cohesive and responsive” community, Asean leaders affirmed their strong commitment to joining hands to control the spread of the epidemic to ensure public safety. The statement also affirmed the solidarity and strong support of Asean for the tremendous efforts the Government and people of China had made, as well as the international community, to respond to the epidemic.

On February 19, the Asean Defense Minister’s meeting retreat issued a joint statement on defense cooperation to respond to epidemics. This statement is the true contribution of Vietnam at the ADMM Retreat 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 epidemic affecting people’s health and economic development, as well as security and stability of the area. The joint statement expresses a high consensus among the defense ministers in strengthening intra-regional cooperation on the basis of Asean initiatives and mechanisms, such as the Asean Military Centre and the expert conference of biology, chemistry and radiation. Asean Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi noted at just two days, this is one of the fastest statements ever made . It was highly appreciated and met the expectations of the people of Asean countries who want to quickly quell the COVID-19 epidemic, especially when the epidemic situation is spreading. Positive results from the ADMM Retreat 2020 once again show Vietnam’s efforts to assume its position when it comes to discussing and resolving the most practical issues with Asean, focusing on “cohesive
and responsive”.

In addition, on February 20, at the regular press conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Doan Khac Viet answered questions from the press about being Asean President 2020. He said that Vietnam has strengthened cooperation with China on the fight against the new Coronavirus (COVID-19). Doan Khac Viet added that Cambodia, acting  as the Chair of the Asean Health Ministers Meeting, also sent a letter to the Chairman of the Asean Community Council, notifying the measures taken by Asean health authorities in order to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh proposed to hold a special meeting of Asean-China Foreign Ministers to discuss cooperation in coping with COVID-19 on the occasion of the Mekong Foreign Ministers Meeting- Lan Thuong in Vientiane, Laos. “At this conference, the ministers exchanged views on Asean’s coping measures, mobilised existing regional cooperation mechanisms, intensified information sharing, risk assessment and sharing of experience in medical treatment, pushing back the spread of fake news and coordinating the work of Asean countries in dealing with epidemics,” Doan Khac Viet said.

Also during the press conference, answering the reporter’s question asking for Vietnam’s evaluation of China’s measures and effectiveness in the prevention of the COVID-19 epidemic, Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Doan Khac Viet affirmed: “Vietnam cares deeply, expresses sympathy and shares in advance the damage caused by the COVID-19 epidemic to China and highly appreciates the efforts of the Government and Chinese people in the prevention of COVID-19 disease so far.”

“Vietnam is willing and will continue to work closely with China and other countries in preventing the spread of disease and sharing treatment experiences. We believe that, under the leadership of the Party and the Chinese government, with the cooperation and support of the international community, Chinese people will soon overcome this problem,” Doan Khac Viet added.

As another Asean member state and a country with close ties and bilateral relations with Asean countries, and also close bilateral relations with China, Cambodia will endeavour to strongly stop the epidemic of COVID-19 which has seriously impacted people’s lives and the development of Asean countries as well as the region and the world as a whole.

On Wednesday, February 5, 2020, Samdech Techo Hun Sen led a delegation for a short visit to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to express solidarity with the Chinese government and Chinese citizens in this time of difficulty.

Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn lead a delegation to attend the special meeting of Asean-China Foreign Ministers to discuss cooperation of the countries in coping with COVID-19. Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, he said, “not only will we strengthen unity and cooperation at this critical time of global health threats, but also demonstrate Cambodia’s support to and confidence in all necessary measures taken by the Chinese government to combat the spread of COVID-19.”

Currently, in the context of the complicated development of COVID- 19, which has spread to the whole world, it is clear that individual efforts of each country will not be able to fully solve the problem of COVID-19-affected countries. Asean needs to continue to unite together in this difficult time to share information, experience, material and human resources to overcome the emerging non-traditional security threat.

In the upcoming days, it is believed that Vietnam will continue to play a central role, coordinating cooperation activities in Asean towards addressing the current global challenges being induced by the spread of COVID-19. This includes stopping propoganda and scare tactics around the virus. And its role of Chairman, Vietnam will continue to have discussions and initiatives with fellow members of Asean to come up with practical plans. 2020 marks 52 years since the Southeast Asian countries came together under the “common roof” of Asean, and its strengths come at a vital time.

Also, the example that Vietnam sets now will be provide good pointers for Cambodia, when it’s the country’s turn to sit in the hot seat as Chair of ASEAN.

By: Mr. UCH LEANG, Department of Asian, African and Middle East Studies of International Relations Institute of Cambodia (IRIC).