Joining hands to build a solid and close Asean Community

By: Uch Leang and Asst Prof John Huang

From Jan 1 Vietnam officially assumed the Asean chair role for annual rotating chairmanship. For Asean, 2020 is an important pivotal year because it marked the mid-term review of the Asean Community’s Master Plan 2015-25, while Vietnam would celebrate its 25th anniversary as a member of the bloc.

The theme of Asean Year 2020 is: “Cohesive and Responsive”. Accordingly, Vietnam wishes to strengthen solidarity, unity, enhance internal capacity and promote the strong development of the Asean community, strengthen regional links, economic connectivity, and promote Asean ‘s sense of community and identity, engaging people and being people-centred.

At the same time, Vietnam wishes to enhance the ability of Asean to be able to adapt proactively and effectively to the rapid changes of the world’s situation, to emerging challenges such as strategic competition between major powers, global issues such as climate change, cyber security, terrorism, transnational crimes,  improve the ability to take advantage of opportunities and limit challenges caused by the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A new cohesive and developing Asean community can actively adapt to external influences, actively adapting effectively to help Asean become a cohesive group.

Vietnam’s Chairmanship 2020 will put the focus on upholding Asean’s responsibilities and positive roles in maintaining regional peace, security and stability on the basis of strengthening the bloc’s solidarity and unity. Vietnam will promote regional connections and enhance the region’s ability to adapt to and take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, deepening economic ties and comprehensive connections within the bloc and with other partners. The other priorities of Vietnam’s chairmanship 2020 are to promote Asean awareness and identities; strengthening partnerships for peace and sustainable growth with countries around the world to uphold Asean’s role and contributions to the global community. In the Asean socio-cultural community, Vietnam proposes to attach special importance to community engagement through human resource development, social work and social services for disadvantaged groups; enhance cultural exchanges, raise awareness and identity of Asean; maternal mortality and infant mortality among ethnic minorities; establishing Asean cooperation mechanism on the issue of fake news; promoting disaster management, natural disasters and youth volunteer activities. Vietnam will strengthen the forums, discuss the role of women in peace and security as well as women’s leadership in the community.

Vietnam officially joined Asean on July 28, 1995, but its regional integration process has been initiated since then, such as joining the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and it became an observer of Asean in July 1992, taking part in some Asean activities since 1993.

The process of Vietnam’s participation in Asean is always associated with major undertakings on foreign policy and international integration of the Vietnam Communist Party, in accordance with the increasing regionalisation trend. Immediately after joining Asean, Vietnam played an active role in the admission of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, completing the idea of an Asean including 10 Southeast Asian countries.

The formation of Asean -10 has contributed to building a new quality relationship between the member countries in the direction of friendship, stability, long-term and increasingly comprehensive cooperation and creating favourable conditions for promoting regional connectivity towards the formation of the Asean community.

Only three years after joining Asean, Vietnam successfully organised the 6th Asean Summit in Hanoi (December 1998) with important results, including contributing part of the association’s development orientation, helping Asean to overcome the regional financial crisis then. Concerned ministries, branches as well as the National Assembly and people’s organisations have presided over the successful hosting of many important Asean conferences/activities at various levels and fields, contributing to promoting the integration of Asean cooperation. In particular, Vietnam successfully completed the role of Asean chair in 2010 with substantial results, contributing to promoting the “implementation culture” and concretising an important step in the goal of forming the Asean Community 2015 enhancing Asean ‘s role and international position.

As a member of Asean, and a country with close ties with Vietnam, this is also an opportunity to continue developing the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam both in bilateral relations and relations in Asean.

Vietnam holding the Asean chair will have advantages for Cambodia as follows. In 1999, Cambodia was the last country to join Asean, making Asean an association of all 10 countries in the region as the founding members’ wishes in 1967.

Relations between Cambodia and Western countries are not very favourable.

Therefore, being chairman of Asean will also be opportunity for Vietnam to play an active role in helping Cambodia’s relations with Western countries as Vietnam has done in the past.

Looking ahead, in 2022, Cambodia will also be the rotating chair of Asean. Therefore, Vietnam’s experiences will be good lessons for Cambodia to fulfill its responsibility to the region and the world.

UCH LEANG is a senior researcher on Asian Africa and the Middle East of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia.
Asst  Prof John Huang is a member of Ho Chi Minh City of Social Sciences and Humanities University in Vietnam