|Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyễn Quốc Dũng. — VNA/VNS Photo Phạm Kiên|
Vietnamese deputy foreign minister Nguyễn Quốc Dũng talks about the outcomes of the 54th Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AFMM-54) and Related Meetings last week. The agenda ranged from COVID-19, to the digital economy and the South China Sea.
What can you tell us about the main highlights of this series of ASEAN meetings?
The meetings took place as ASEAN faces numerous serious challenges, from the resurgence of COVID-19 with the new, more dangerous variant, to increasing strategic competition in the region, South China Sea issue, and the Myanmar situation.
In the face of all of these, the meeting highlighted the increasing role and resolve of ASEAN, and that other countries in the region and in the world are committed to respecting the role of ASEAN in Southeast Asia.
With regards to the Myanmar situation, the meeting has made progress in further concretising the five-point consensus reached by ASEAN leaders in their special meeting in late April and arriving at the appointment of Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof as ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar. Decisions were also made with regards to the implementation of humanitarian support for Myanmar via the ASEAN Human Assistance Coordinator under the leadership of the ASEAN General Secretary.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN has affirmed the continuation of cooperation plans. It has also received cooperation commitments from its partners to help the regional grouping deal with the pandemic, vaccine supply, as well as help in terms of economic recovery plans.
In terms of diplomatic relations, ASEAN partners all recognise and support the role of ASEAN, and are respectful of ASEAN opinions, especially in this time of hardship.
Countries are eager to align their strategies and policies with regional cooperation and ASEAN's Indo-Pacific Outlook.
It could be said that through the series of meetings last week, ASEAN’s diplomatic ties have been consolidated a great deal.
What were the initiatives Việt Nam proposed to promote consensus in ASEAN on handling its challenges?
On the back of a successful ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020, Việt Nam continues to promote the results of the many initiatives that we set out last year, intertwined with Việt Nam’s interests in the ASEAN agenda – including sub-regional cooperation.
Việt Nam has also played a very active role in solving problems, difficulties and deadlocks because of different views and opinions during the meeting. It was Việt Nam that made many proposals and lobbied countries to come to an agreement on Myanmar, on Myanmar's special envoy, as well as on reaching consensus for Britain to become a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN.
We have also pushed for ASEAN Dialogue Partners to step up commitment with ASEAN in terms of vaccine support, including supply and technology transfers.
Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, how has ASEAN made progress in its efforts to implement the ASEAN Community Vision 2025?
COVID-19 is a huge challenge that demands the utmost focus of all countries. Still, ASEAN community building is progressing. We are glad that the ASEAN Community blueprint for 2025 has been rolled out evenly across all pillars. A total of 96 per cent of the action items of the political-security community have been acted upon. The economic pillar has been 88 per cent completed. The socio-cultural pillar has been 72 per cent completed. Those are very encouraging results.
The plans set out, such as implementing the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision, has seen ASEAN establish a roadmap and a High-Level Task Force to implement this goal, as well as continue to carry out an assessment of the implementation of the ASEAN Charter.
It can be said that the group is paying sufficient attention to conduct the tasks set out for this year.
Speaking of vaccines, it was certainly a hot topic in the discussions. Currently, how has the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund been used?
The fund was set up last year and so far it has US$20.5 million in contributions from member countries and ASEAN Dialogue Partners.
ASEAN has decided to allocate $10.5 million to buy COVID-19 vaccines for member countries through UNICEF. Currently, the agreement between ASEAN and UNICEF is being finalised. We hope it will be concluded soon.
In terms of post-pandemic recovery, what agreement has ASEAN reached through this meeting?
Firstly, ASEAN is determined not to allow disruptions to the supply chain, and to well maintain the transactions and trade with countries, and create the highest possible conditions in this situation for businesses to keep up investment and trade.
ASEAN will promote cooperation for digital transformation. The ASEAN ministers in charge of digital cooperation have approved the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025, which is a huge step forward that would propel member countries to boost e-commerce.
At the same time, ASEAN is determined to take advantage of the signed agreements on free trade and agreed to attempt to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as soon as possible.
Security, maritime and airspace security in the South China Sea (known in Việt Nam as the East Sea) was high on the agenda. What have been the converging points that ASEAN and its partners have arrived at?
The South China Sea still has its issues but ASEAN remains committed to its consistent principles, which are supporting and underlining the need to maintain peace, security, freedom of flight and navigation in the region and build trust. Countries must also exercise restraint and refrain from actions that could escalate tensions, militarise or build up artificial islands, or any action that could undermine the rights and interests of other littoral countries.
The participating countries strongly agreed to uphold the role of international law, especially emphasising that the 1982 UNCLOS is the framework to govern the activities and use of the world’s seas and oceans.
Importantly, participating countries also concurred that the Code of Conduct (COC) of Parties in the South China Sea must be substantive, comprehensive and consistent with international law, especially UNCLOS.
What's new is that China has now accepted the ASEAN position/principles and that will guide the COC negotiation process between the two sides in the coming time. — VNS