Crafting a close-knit ASEAN community

14:00 | 25/01/2020

With its key priorities as ASEAN chair in 2020, Vietnam will play a crucial role in taking the bloc to new heights. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Dung talked with VIR’s Thanh Dat about this hallmark task, and the doors that will open for the country in its new status.

crafting a close knit asean community
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Dung

Vietnam has been undertaking its role as ASEAN chair since January 1. What headwinds and tailwinds do you foresee for the country in this role?

This is the second time Vietnam undertakes the role as ASEAN chair. Compared to 10 years ago, the global and regional situation as well as Vietnam’s status have changed significantly. Thus, the advantages and disadvantages for Vietnam as ASEAN chair in 2020 will also be very big.

Vietnam has equipped itself with a new status and strength, which are highly valued by the international community. The country’s external relations have been strengthened and expanded significantly, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

At the same time, we have learned good experiences from organising major events such as teh APEC 2016 and 2017, and ASEAN 2010. The ASEAN, after 52 years of development, has become one of the world’s more successful regional organisations, and has been playing an important role in Asia.

The process of building up the ASEAN Community has reaped numerous achievements, with the ongoing implementation of over 90 per cent of action lines in three master plans on implementing the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Besides that, new trends in international relations, namely peace, co-operation, and multilateralism are in progress which is favourable for Vietnam.

However, instabilities in the global economy and a rise in protectionism and unilateralism, as well as strategic competition among major nations are causing lots of issues in the efforts of maintaining the ASEAN’s intra-solidarity, development, central role, and external relations.

Furthermore, complicated developments in some of the regional member states and some intra-obstructions such as co-operation effectiveness and operational apparatus have also been posing challenges for the ASEAN in 2020.

In the 2020 ASEAN Year, Vietnam is using the theme of “Cohesive and Responsive”, especially in context of multilateralism being challenged around the globe. Could you elaborate on this?

Multilateralism is facing more challenges than ever. Populism, polarisation, waves against globalisation, and the trend of choosing coercion instead of co-operation, competition, confrontation instead of dialogue, and concerted action have been making it increasingly difficult for multilateralism to move forward.

Vietnam and other ASEAN nations are trying to maintain and boost multilateralism, trade liberalisation, and a multilateral trade system in the region.

In this context, while working as ASEAN chair, Vietnam wishes to see “a cohesive and responsive ASEAN” in order to build up a more closely-linked ASEAN community, with more solidarity and an ability to more effectively respond to the impacts of global developments, and to raise the value and importance of multilateralism.

The ASEAN, which is a group of small- and medium-sized nations, needs to stay united and maintain the shared benefits both in terms of political and economic strategies among member states, as well as regarding maintaining and expanding awareness and community colours in all ASEAN peoples.

In addition, Vietnam emphasises the necessity and the requirement in strengthening the effectiveness of mechanisms and forums led by the ASEAN, in order to effectively respond to global challenges, and enhance the central role of the ASEAN.

These are priorities that Vietnam wants, together with member states to build up a stronger ASEAN Community with bigger solidarity, contributing to fostering confidence and boosted dialogues for the sake of peace, security, stability, and co-operation for development.

You mentioned the central role of the ASEAN. What will be Vietnam’s priorities with a view to enhancing this role?

The ASEAN’s central role has been increasingly reaffirmed thanks to boosted dialogues, fostered confidence, and the construction of an open-hearted, transparent, and rule-based regional structure, heading towards a peaceful and stable environment for development.

ASEAN nations are all aware of the importance in promoting the central role of the association, especially in the context of increased competition among major nations that are challenging the solidarity and role of the ASEAN.

Therefore, teh enhancement of the bloc’s central role is a very important priority for Vietnam in the 2020 ASEAN Year.

However, in order to promote this role, the ASEAN needs to do a good job in three aspects. First, it must stay united. Second, it must forge a common stance and have a common voice on regional and international issues. Third, it must get support and co-operation from its partner nations, especially the larger ones.

As ASEAN chair, Vietnam will find ways to increase the bloc’s shared benefits and improve co-operation among nations in all sectors, including ensuring regional peace and security, economic links, trade and investment relations, and bridging development gaps.

Besides, Vietnam will also continue boosting the construction of shared stances of the ASEAN on regional and international issues. In 2019, many major nations advanced a series of regional initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy.

In this context, the ASEAN designed a document on shared stances on the Indo-Pacific, demonstrating its stance of independence and self-reliance, as well as targets, principles, and priorities of the bloc in regional co-operation. This is a typical example in the enhancement of the ASEAN’s central role.

How will Vietnam deal with the East Sea issue in its role as ASEAN chair, in terms of the negotiation process of the Code of Conduct on the East Sea (COC) and the genenal outlook in 2020?

The East Sea is of strategic importance as it boasts rich natural resources such as oil and gas. It is also the rendezvous of many global sea routes connecting the Pacific and Indian Ocean, Europe and Asia, and the Middle East and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of the world’s trade transport volumes are conducted by sea, and 45 per cent of which must go across the East Sea. Thus, all developments in the sea have always interested nations.

Concerns about the East Sea are revolving such issues as peace and stability; security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation; compliance of international law in the form of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea; the process in building up the COC; and economic activities of nations and fishermen.

Both the ASEAN and China wish to have a veritable and efficient COC, and also want to boost negotiations as soon as possible in order to reach this target. As ASEAN chair, Vietnam will actively co-operate with nations to expand common points and narrow differences and to obtain important progress in 2020.

The ASEAN is now boosting its relations with organisations and partners in Latin America. What will Vietnam do to beef up these relations?

In Latin America, the ASEAN has relations with the Pacific Alliance and the Southern Common Market. The dialogues between the ASEAN and these two organisations are conducted via the foreign minister meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In general, the ASEAN and these organisations share many similar points, especially regarding trade liberalisation and open regionalism. They are both large markets with big potential for developing relations in many sectors.

In the upcoming year, Vietnam will continue improving both sides’ relations, with practical initiatives covering many co-operation sectors, boosting intensive economic integration, trade liberalisation, and equality, and beefing up enterprise development, especially in small- and medium-sized ones.

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