|Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). — VNA/VNS Photo|
Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi speaks to Vietnam News Agency on Việt Nam’s contributions to ASEAN over the years and a vision of the future for the bloc.
At the age of 53, ASEAN is showing its youth, dynamism, development and attractiveness. What are the achievements, values and identities of ASEAN?
On the whole, ASEAN has done well in its 53 years of integration journey.
Various mechanisms of co-operation have continued to be put in place under the respective sectors within its political-security, economic, and socio-cultural spheres of its community-building process between ASEAN and its external partners.
Since its inception in 1967, ASEAN has successfully provided and maintained peace, prosperity and security in the region, allowing each member state to undertake national economic development, and to thrive and integrate within the region and into the global economy.
With closer market integration, it was able to build and create an 'investor-friendly' business environment.
Today, ASEAN finds itself the fifth biggest economy and third most attractive international investment destination. It is also the world’s fourth-largest trading region.
As ASEAN becomes more economically-competitive, it brings better employment opportunities to its 680 million populace.
With better jobs, it leads to rising living standards and alleviating poverty of the ASEAN people.
With higher income, it led to the expansion of the middle class, with families having more disposable income, and the youth receiving better access to education.
This further led to greater people-to-to-people movements in the region, like tourism, students-exchange and youth volunteerism or internships.
These developments resulted in an enhanced and conducive environment for us to undertake broader awareness-raising and deeper identity-building, as we promote 'ASEAN: A Community of Opportunities for All'.
Việt Nam joined ASEAN on July 28, 1995. In the past 25 years under the common roof of ASEAN, what has Việt Nam achieved and contributed to ASEAN’s development?
Since joining ASEAN, Việt Nam has been an active participant and contributor to the regional integration journey and the community-building process.
During Việt Nam’s holding of ASEAN Chairmanship in 1998, 2010, and 2020, Hà Nội readily displayed able and decisive leadership in steering the region towards undertaking important priorities.
One example is the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the implementation of ASEAN Community 2025 Blueprints currently being conducted.
This is pivotal in assessing the progress and challenges while addressing the implementation gaps of the three pillars.
Another example is RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) which is the ASEAN-driven trade pact deemed the largest global trade agreement comprising all key Asian economies.
I am also glad to see how Việt Nam has raised ASEAN’s international profile in the past 25 years.
For example, as Việt Nam officially began its term as president of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as part of its stint as a non-permanent UNSC member for 2020-21 term, Hà Nội set out priorities with issues it considers of significance and where it can also play an important role, including, among others, climate change, and co-ordination between the UN and ASEAN. Economically, Việt Nam has reached out to the global market by signing numerous trade agreements – both bilaterally and multilaterally – with different partners.
Two latest examples would be the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Việt Nam – European Union Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA).
How do you evaluate the role of Việt Nam in ASEAN, as well as the relationship between ASEAN and Việt Nam?
There is no doubt that Việt Nam has successfully integrated itself to the ASEAN family since its joining.
According to a PwC study, Việt Nam’s GDP will be among the world’s top 20 by 2050, in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms.
Its economic success, political stability and visionary leadership, coupled with the vibrant energy of its people, are assets to the building of the ASEAN Community.
Given its geographical location, Việt Nam plays an important role in taking the lead in strengthening linkages between ASEAN mainland and the rest of the region, in particular on global emerging issues like climate change, biodiversity, marine debris, agriculture, and sustainable environment, especially along the Mekong sub-region.
What do you expect of ASEAN under the leadership of Việt Nam this year? What are the difficulties or challenges ASEAN will have to overcome?
2020 started off as an important year for ASEAN.
While COVID-19 has slightly derailed some of its events and initiatives, ASEAN has stayed focused on undertaking important milestone exercises, as the region demonstrates commitment in its integration journey.
The MTR of the implementation of ASEAN Community 2025 Blueprints and RCEP are examples I have cited.
Of course, the foremost challenge now is for the region to continue to work closely together in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic with swiftness, openness and cohesiveness.
In this regard, Việt Nam has done extremely well in initiating practical measures to tackle this issue, especially in addressing the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
Working in close collaboration with Thailand, Việt Nam has led the establishing of the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund.
ASEAN will also launch a Regional Reserve for Medical Supplies, and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on Public Health Emergencies.
Other priorities include laying the groundwork to prepare ASEAN in adapting to and thriving in the era of Industry 4.0, including bridging the digital divide, and working towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient economy and society.
What will ASEAN look like in three years, five years and coming decades? What will be the place for this regional bloc in the 'Asian century'?
The emergence of Asia is indeed exciting times, and ASEAN is well-positioned to showcase the prospects of the so-called 'Asian century'.
As a start, an ASEAN with enhanced political cohesion, economic integration and social responsibility, will continue to work with likeminded nations and states towards a dynamic, inclusive and open global community where prosperity and responsibility for peace and security are shared by all.
Within the grouping, ASEAN will maintain and strive to be a responsible, open, rules-based, and globally connected player, that participates in global value chains and supply-chain connectivity.
ASEAN will also continuously strengthen its co-operation mechanisms and resources to be agile and resilient in addressing future challenges.
In doing so, ASEAN would be ready to seize the opportunities in the evolving regional and global environment. — VNS