From member to chair: 25 years of Việt Nam in ASEAN

July 28, 2020 - 09:01

Việt Nam became the seventh member of the Association of Southeast Asian Association of Nations (ASEAN) on July 28, 1995, marking a milestone in the country’s integration into regional affairs as well as in regional co-operation.

HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam became the seventh member of the Association of Southeast Asian Association of Nations (ASEAN) on July 28, 1995, marking a milestone in the country’s integration into regional affairs as well as in regional co-operation.

Over the past 25 years, Việt Nam has demonstrated its goodwill, efforts, dynamism and responsibility and contributed to ASEAN’s achievements.

With the third largest population, fourth largest area among ASEAN countries and an important geographic and economic position in Southeast Asia, Việt Nam has an important role in ASEAN.

Việt Nam also plays a pivotal role in determining the goals, directions for development and formation of major ASEAN policies, such as the ASEAN Vision 2020 and plans to implement the vision, ASEAN Charter, roadmap for building the ASEAN Community 2015 and many other important agreements, including those on connecting and narrowing the development gaps.

Việt Nam has also been involved in building the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, with the goal of deepening ASEAN connectivity and making its role in the region more important.

According to Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyễn Quốc Dũng, the clearest illustration of Việt Nam's active participation is that the country is always among the member nations with the highest enforcement rate of the ASEAN Community’s master plans.

Việt Nam has fulfilled its responsibilities as a member country by hosting many major conferences.

Việt Nam held the sixth ASEAN Summit in Hà Nội in December 1998 with important outcomes, including the launch of the Hanoi Action Program, contributing to the orientation of the bloc’s development, helping ASEAN overcome the regional financial crisis at the time.

Vietnamese ministries, sectors, as well as the National Assembly and civil organisations have also hosted many important ASEAN activities at various levels and sectors.

Việt Nam fulfilled the role of ASEAN Chair in 2010 with practical results, promoting the establishment of the ASEAN Community 2015 and enhancing the role of ASEAN.

In recent years, Việt Nam has acted as a co-ordinator in partnerships with major and important ASEAN partners such as China, the EU, India and Japan.

Economic links

Việt Nam has participated in and promoted intra-regional economic links, especially in services and investment through the completion of negotiations on ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement (ATISA); built a roadmap for cutting barriers, reducing tariffs and promoted negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

According to the Vietnamese General Department of Customs, total trade turnover between Việt Nam and ASEAN reached US$57 billion last year, a 10-fold increased compared to 25 years ago.

ASEAN is the fourth largest export market of Việt Nam, behind only the EU, the US and China.

In 2019, the total export turnover of Vietnamese enterprises to ASEAN hit nearly $25 billion, up by 1.3 per cent compared to 2018 and 30 per cent compared to 2016.

In the first five months of 2020, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Việt Nam's exports to ASEAN countries only reached $9.8 billion. However, according to businesses, besides difficulties, COVID-19 has also created opportunities for Vietnamese agricultural products to conquer the markets of Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

According to Việt Nam’s Trade Office in Singapore, the office has connected with industry associations to boost the export of agricultural products and other food to Singapore. In March, the office made connections and recorded more than 20 agricultural product orders.

From the beginning of this year, vegetable and fruit exports from Việt Nam to Thailand increased sharply. In the first four months, the figure reached nearly $58 million, up by more than 244 per cent over the same period last year.

According to the Multilateral Trade Policy Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade, before 2010, Việt Nam’s export products to ASEAN were mainly traditional ones such as crude oil and rice. Now the export products have been diversified with phones, computers, electronic products, components, steel, machinery, tools and spare parts.

Cohesive and responsive

2020 marks an important milestone when Việt Nam has assumed the rotating Chair of ASEAN. This role is even more important when the world faces COVID-19 pandemic.

Việt Nam started to prepare for the ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2020 from last year when the COVID-19 pandemic had not begun.

Therefore, everything Việt Nam prepared has turned upside down. However, Việt Nam has quickly and promptly shifted the programme and focus of ASEAN 2020 to COVID-19, which has been applauded by member nations.

As a Chair of ASEAN 2020 themed 'Cohesive and Responsive', Việt Nam has been active in leading and co-ordinating ASEAN's efforts and co-operating with partners to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as minimise the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

Việt Nam worked with other countries to issue the Chairman's Statement on ASEAN collective response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 on February 14. The statement gave a warning over the pandemic and affirmed the commitment of ASEAN countries to regional and national co-operation.

Việt Nam also held a special ASEAN summit and a special ASEAN+3 summit on COVID-19 response and organised meetings with partners such as China, the EU, the US and international organisations to together push back and control the pandemic.

Việt Nam promoted holding two online meetings of the ASEAN Co-ordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies on March 31 and June 22 to discuss solutions to cope with COVID-19 and improve prevention capacity to respond more effectively to emergency medical situations in the future. In the context of a complex pandemic, Việt Nam has held virtual meetings, demonstrating flexibility and relevance, helping ASEAN respond promptly to the pandemic.

On June 26, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc chaired the 36th ASEAN Summit in an online format, the first official summit in the ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2020.

Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc (centre) chairs the opening ceremony of the 36th ASEAN Summit on June 26, 2020. This was the first virtual ASEAN summit held in the history of ASEAN. — VNA/VNS Photo

At the summit, Việt Nam and other ASEAN members discussed measures to build the ASEAN Community, consolidate solidarity, unity, and strengthen similarities and foster co-operation, looking towards the implementation of priorities and initiatives in 2020, enhancing ASEAN's initiatives in the face of current regional and international challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only gaining success in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and being recognised globally, Việt Nam was praised by leaders of other countries for offering assistance and sharing COVID-19 fighting experience.

Việt Nam provided Laos and Cambodia with medical equipment, protective gear and testing kits worth VNĐ7 billion, donated US$50,000 for disease prevention in Myanmar and provided hundreds of thousands of made-in-Việt Nam masks to many other countries.

Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN, recognised the achievements of Việt Nam's Chairmanship this year while tackling the challenges of COVID-19.

“Việt Nam has demonstrated strong leadership in spearheading a collective regional response to COVID-19. Its Chairmanship theme of building a cohesive and responsive ASEAN is very relevant given the situation we find ourselves in. ASEAN’s strong response is in large part due to Việt Nam’s leadership in encouraging our continued dialogue and collaboration,” he said.

In terms of economic co-operation, Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Trần Tuấn Anh said as the ASEAN Chair in 2020, Việt Nam is responsible for taking the lead and working with partner countries to recover the regional economy through the issuance of joint statements to enhance co-operation and limit the impact of COVID-19.

ASEAN now has six free trade agreements with partners. These are huge co-operation frameworks that can strongly impact the structure of global trade.

The RCEP agreement Việt Nam, ASEAN and partners are expected to sign in 2020 will certainly bring a new perspective to regional and global trade, he said.

This year Việt Nam will have 16 to 17 initiatives to be implemented, covering economic and trade sectors as well as investment, technology, including accomplishing institutions, building infrastructure systems and strengthening intra-regional connectivity within ASEAN, he said.

Việt Nam and ASEAN nations will together promote the central role of ASEAN in collaborating regional economic activities and in building sustainable co-operation frameworks.

As the chair of ASEAN in 2020, Việt Nam will work with ASEAN countries to promote the adjustment of co-operation programmes in accordance with the new situation, especially the mid-term evaluation of the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community Master Plan until 2025, he said. — VNS