ASEAN agenda goes from strength to strength amid global pandemic

09:45 | 30/06/2020
The current pandemic has helped to underline the cohesive and responsive spirit of the ASEAN under the 2020 leadership of Vietnam. Nguyen Quoc Dung, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, told VIR’s Phuong Hao about the region’s priorities in the new context of the global health crisis.
1498p4 asean agenda goes from strength to strength amid global pandemic
Nguyen Quoc Dung, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected life and economic activities in many countries worldwide. How has it impacted the agenda that Vietnam has set for the year of ASEAN leadership?

Vietnam started preparations for the ASEAN chairmanship early last year, when there was no concept of the COVID-19 disease. The pandemic has turned upside down every plan and forced us to change. In order to adapt to the new situation, we must shift the focus of co-operation in fighting against the health crisis and as chair of the ASEAN, Vietnam has made timely adjustments. For many years the bloc has planned to hold online conferences to save expense. But it was not until the disease happened that such meetings, including the 36th ASEAN Summit, were arranged to be held in such a manner. The summit is the first official one for the region in 2020. It was scheduled to be held in April but due to the pandemic Vietnam was delayed until now.

Luckily the summit was successfully held online, with strong agreement from members on various issues like the plan of recovering regional economy after the pandemic, empowering women, and improving labour quality.

As chair of the ASEAN, how has Vietnam shown its active role in leading the bloc to overcome the pandemic, and how has the bloc’s cohesion and proactive response been demonstrated?

The 2020 theme of Vietnam’s ASEAN chair role is “Cohesive and Responsive”, and we always appreciate the unity element. Even back in February when COVID-19 was not at its peak and the World Health Organization had not announced an official pandemic yet, Vietnam decided with ASEAN countries to issue a statement headed by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on responding to the disease, then proposed a mechanism for co-ordination and co-operation.

In the new context of travelling limitations, we organised many online meetings of the ASEAN at all levels and sectors, especially the ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 on April 14. So far, specific measures have been set up such as establishing the COVID-19 Response Fund, a regional reserve of medical supplies, and a standard process of disease response, as well as developing an ASEAN recovery plan.

In addition, many online meetings between the bloc and partners such as China, the US, the EU, and Russia have also been held to promote international co-operation in coping with the disease. In the role of chair, Vietnam has mobilised the unity of ASEAN to cope with the pandemic effectively.

Cohesion is also expressed through our specific co-operation. The fight against COVID-19 has shown the need for co-operation among member countries related to travelling, citizen protection, experience sharing, and medical equipment support. What the ASEAN has done in the battle has clearly proved the region’s cohesion.

The responsive element has been shown through the region’s immediate online meetings to work out measures in dealing with the disease. Besides this, ministers of all countries have quickly developed a recovery plan to minimise the harmful effects and, at the same time, gradually restore all the faces and pillars of the bloc.

For the remainder of the year, what will Vietnam do to continue pushing the region’s priorities?

Over the first half of the year we have put a lot of effort into coping with the pandemic while implementing plans and initiatives that we had set up at the beginning of the year. Focusing on economic and social recovery in the ASEAN, implementing the set plans of the community, and strengthening relations with other countries are the current priorities of the region.

In that spirit, the leaders listened to reports and comments on ASEAN co-operation in the first six months of 2020 on all three pillars of political-security, economy, and cultural-social. These issues were also the key content of the 36th ASEAN Summit.

Leaders agreed that COVID-19 is a wake-up call to help ASEAN countries be aware of the role of the domestic market and supply sources in the bloc, and all member states need to co-operate more to offer suitable legal framework agreements related to tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and industry structures.

In the framework of the 36th ASEAN Summit, the prime minister also chaired the Special Session of ASEAN Leaders on empowering women in the digital age. This is one initiative proposed by Vietnam to promote gender equality and enhance the role of women in economic development.

Besides this, the PM also chaired a dialogue of leaders of ASEAN countries with the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, and then with ASEAN Youth representatives and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council. Through these dialogue activities, leaders of member states desire to promote cohesion and the active contribution of different sectors in society, and in regional co-operation and building the ASEAN Community.

By Phuong Hao

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