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On August 8, 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded in Bangkok. This event marked a historic milestone, ushered in a new era of cooperation among Southeast Asian countries and laid the important premise for ASEAN’s community-building process today.
From its inception, ASEAN set out the noble goals of accelerating economic growth, social progress, cultural development, promoting mutual assistance among member states as well as strengthening the foundation for peace and stability in the region.
Starting with five founding members signing the Bangkok Declaration, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, the association now embraces 10 South East Asian countries with the admission of Brunei in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999, covering almost all South East Asia with a total area of 4.5 million sqm. ASEAN countries have a combined population of about 600 million with diverse, distinct cultures. ASEAN is now a dynamic region with high economic growth. Despite the global economic slowdown, ASEAN economies still grow at over 5 per cent per year with total GDP of $3.2 trillion.
ASEAN came into being amidst much skepticism about its survival following past failures to establish regional cooperation frameworks and given the ambitious goals enshrined in the Bangkok Declaration (in that historical context). Over the past 45 years of joint efforts, regional countries have gradually overcome historical barriers and differences to join hands in strengthening cooperation and integration under the common house of ASEAN for the shared aspirations of peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity. Today, ASEAN has asserted itself as an important socio-political entity not only in South East Asia, but also in the Asia-Pacific region with its increasing role, reputation and influence at the global level.
ASEAN’s history comprises four phases of progress marking the way forward of the community. First, it was the period of foundation, during which the association asserted its relevance and the necessity for ASEAN to come into being. This lasted from 1967 to the mid-70s of the 20th century.
The increasingly close relationship among member countries led to the important event on February 24, 1976 - the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) or Bali Treaty in Bali, Indonesia with the objectives of promoting permanent peace, lasting friendship and cooperation among the people of member countries, contributing to the strengthening of strength, solidarity and relations among South East Asian countries. With Vietnam and Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia becoming full members, the period of confrontation in South East Asia ended for the first time in the history of this region to give way to a new era of peace, cooperation and development. On the basis of the firmly established peace and the aspirations to join hands in building a prosperous community, ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Vision in 2020 in December 1997 at its informal Summit in Kuala Lumpur, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the association. This document projected the association as a concert of South East Asian nations bonded together in a community of caring societies. ASEAN Vision 2020 is an important document laying the foundation for the idea of building an ASEAN Community in the later stage.
Then came the idea of a community, which became an unshakable resolve of small countries to be bonded together as a powerful and unified bloc for the goal of establishing a permanent peace, bringing about prosperity to the region for the wellbeing of their people. In November 2007 in Singapore, at the 13th ASEAN Summit, the ASEAN Charter was signed, creating a legal and institutional framework for the acceleration of the regional integration process and serving the goals of forming the ASEAN Community by 2015.
In February, 2009, at the 14th ASEAN Summit in Thailand, the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community was signed with the three blueprints aimed at building three pillars of the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-cultural Community. When the ASEAN Community is established, ASEAN, an inter-governmental organisation, will move into a new phase of deeper integration as prescribed in the ASEAN Charter. It has always been ASEAN’s intention to maintain an open approach and the central role in the integration and cooperation processes.
Over the past 45 years, the desire for peace and development has always been a compass for the operation of member countries in the association. Solidarity, cooperation and development have always been the prevailing trend binding the association’s member countries. Nowadays, ASEAN cooperation and integration have entered a new phase of development with meaningful moves towards the goals of becoming a Community of strongly bonded politics, economic strength and caring societies by 2015. In that process, the people of ASEAN, the central objective of the ASEAN Community, will live in an environment of peace, stability and harmony, enjoy favourable conditions for sustainable and prosperous development. Together with accelerating the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity and narrowing the development gap, ASEAN has been making efforts to foster equitable development among regions and countries in the Association, ensuring that the goal of becoming a community is achieved by all 10 countries.
ASEAN has become the core factor which attracts the participation of and connects nearly 20 partners, including major powers and big centers in the world in its dialogue and cooperation process, which ASEAN initiated and plays a central role in. The dialogue relations in the framework of ASEAN+1 was established by ASEAN with 10 partners, namely Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Korea the European Union, India, New Zealand, Russia, the US, the United Nations and one sectoral partner, Pakistan. Among these Partners, many forged relations with ASEAN since its early years in the 1970s. ASEAN has solicited substantial support and assistance of its Partners in the efforts to promote regional cooperation and integration as well as jointly settling common issues affecting the region.
In addition, ASEAN also initiated and took the lead in various important regional cooperation frameworks and mechanisms, such as ASEAN+3 with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, the East Asia Summit (EAS) with six Partners of China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the US, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) with 27 partners. With the participation of big and small countries within and outside the region, and with the unique characteristics of each mechanism, these forums helped create an intertwining network in the framework of an open regional architecture, in which ASEAN plays the central role towards the common objective of promoting dialogues and cooperation for peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region. ASEAN+3 focuses more on the economic, trade and financial cooperation since this mechanism was established out of the need to overcome the consequences of the regional financial crisis in 1997-1998. The EAS is a new mechanism inaugurated in 2005. It has been playing its important role as an open forum for leaders in the region to hold open, straightforward discussions on strategic issues, including political-security, economic- trade as well as addressing the emerging challenges, such as natural disasters and pandemic diseases.
In its relations with the external partners, ASEAN has always projected itself as an entity with a common voice while leading and guiding discussions and cooperation priorities in those forums that it initiated as mentioned above. The central role of ASEAN has always been respected and appreciated by its partners, since ASEAN has been working well as “the honest broker” to harmonise, engage and balance the intertwining interests of various countries in the region. At the inter-regional and global multilateral forums, such as ASEM, APEC, the UN and in other countries, ASEAN has always showcased an image of an inextricably linked entity striving for peace, cooperation, development and the common values of humanity.
To establish a peaceful and stable regional environment for development and peace is a top concern of South East Asian nations, which are small countries having suffered from differences and disagreements, disputes and confrontations, divisions and wars. Therefore, contributions made towards that goal have affirmed not only in various ASEAN’s documents but also reflected in a host of diverse and long-term initiatives. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) established 1994 and led by ASEAN is one to be named.
The criteria set out for ARF’s operation is to make effective contribution to regional cooperation for peace and stability in Asia-Pacific, regularly exchange views on regional and international security situation as well as taking diverse and effective confidence building measures. Accordingly, the ARF’s participation has been expanding with increasing quality of cooperation. At present, there are 27 participants in the ARF process, which forged strong growth of cooperation in scope and substances. It has become a leading regional security forum that attracts the attention of the whole world. The annual ARF meeting has been a rendezvous of diplomats and defense officers within and outside the region and a forum for countries to discuss openly and candidly security issues, including emerging challenges.
The ARF is not just about talks. Determined to develop through all three stages of confidence building, preventive diplomacy and formulation of common approach to settle disputes and confrontation, the forum’s cooperation have been promoted in a more far-reaching manner, covering various areas ranging from disaster prevention and preparedness to non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and disarmament.
The above-mentioned successes of the ARF are based on ASEAN’s fundamental principles, including consensus, progressiveness, non-interference, ASEAN chairmanship and agenda determined by ASEAN. Moving to a new development stage of preventive diplomacy with ASEAN’s centrality, the ARF has been growing continually to enhance its role of a regional leading security forum while contributing effectively to the building of a peaceful and stable regional environment for cooperation and development of all nations.
Over the years, the East Sea or South China Sea issue has become a much talked-about topic in the region. Starting with scattered and unspecific discussions, countries within and outside the region have often mentioned the situation in the East Sea/South China Sea in various forums, especially those established and led by ASEAN. This indicates that peace, stability and maritime security and safety at sea in general and in the East Sea/South China Sea in particular are leading concerns of all countries within and outside the region. To this end, it is obvious that international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) needs to be respected and fully implemented. In addition, regional values, especially the Declaration of Conducts of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) must always be upheld, respected and seriously, fully implemented.
In this respect, ASEAN has displayed its central role. In the past years since 1992, ASEAN has made a number of statements on the situation in the East Sea/South China Sea. Most recent was the adoption of the Six-Point Principles on Resolving Disputes in the South China Sea, which reflects the key approach of the association on issues in the East Sea/South China Sea and its capability in reaching consensus, promoting dialogue and cooperation in all regional topics of discussions.
With continued efforts, ASEAN has recorded remarkable success in cooperation for peace and stability in the East Sea, such as the 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed between ASEAN and China. The Document reaffirms the commitments of Parties to peace and stability in the East Sea/South China Sea. The two sides have always stated their respect for and commitment to the full implementation of the DOC, creating the foundation for the establishment of a Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea/South China Sea, which helps reaffirm ASEAN’s central role. Driven by the highest-level of political determination, ASEAN has succeeded in finalising the key elements of COC after seven rounds of negotiations, which makes ASEAN well-positioned to discuss with China on the COC.
In promoting integration and cooperation, ASEAN continues to uphold the policy of settling all differences in the spirit of “the ASEAN Way” which emphasizes solidarity, consultation and consensus. Any emerging issue in the region, whether with direct or indirect impact on each member country, is in the common interest of all the 10 ASEAN members and be open for discussion among all for a common solution. In reality, apart from the East Sea/South China Sea issue, sustainable development, protection and effective utilisation of water resources in the Mekong River, reduction of transboundary haze pollution are the common issues that ASEAN shares and seeks proper ways to address.
ASEAN solidarity is reflected when the whole association provides support in solving the difficulties and problems facing one member or existing among several members on the basis of solidarity and constructive spirit with full respect for ASEAN’s fundamental principle of non-interference.
Towards a close and comprehensive integrated community, apart from the endeavours to build a strong political-security community, ASEAN has been doubling efforts to fulfill in a complete and responsible manner regional commitments and build ASEAN economic, socio-cultural communities. More far-reaching economic measures will be implemented, such as open market, facilitation of trade, services and investment within the framework of ATIGA, AFAS, ACIA Agreements, promote the completion of policy frameworks to turn ASEAN into a highly-competitive economic area, promote equitable and sustainable growth and bridge the development gap, effectively implement FTA and CEP agreements signed with partners, integrating the ASEAN economy more into the global economy. Accordingly, the governments of ASEAN member countries will continue to put in place necessary measures to help businesses and the people fully capitalise on the opportunities and potentials brought about by the AEC and other regional economic integration frameworks. It is estimated that the East Asia economic space will make up one third of the world population and one fourth of global GDP.
To realise the goal of a people-centered ASEAN Community, ASEAN member countries should reserve greater interest and resources for the efforts to ensure and increase the quality of life for over 600 million people in the region. Accordingly, the objectives set out by the ASEAN Cultural-Social Community will be strongly promoted at regional level and mainstreamed into national development programs, such as human development cooperation, enhanced social welfare and social security, guarantee of social justice and legitimate interests of the people, strengthened sustainable environment development and upholding of ASEAN identity. All social strata should be encouraged to participate in and contribute to the process of ASEAN integration. In the meantime, the Governments of ASEAN members should double efforts to deliver the benefits of the ASEAN Community to the people.
Throughout the 17-year journey with ASEAN, Vietnam has always pursued the policy of building a strong, united and closely integrated ASEAN for peace, stability and shared development in the region in the interest of each member country. The development future of Vietnam is inseparable from that of the region, of ASEAN and neighbouring countries in the association. The Vietnamese leaders have repeatedly affirmed that ASEAN cooperation would continue to be an important pillar in Vietnam’s foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, diversification and multilateralisation of international relations, active regional and international integration.
ASEAN is only two years away from the establishment of the ASEAN Community. The work to be completed to that end remains huge, including the completion of one-third of the total 800 action lines in the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community. The evolving regional and international context also confronts ASEAN with major questions to be answered, such as how to firmly maintain ASEAN’s central role in the region, how to harmonise and balance the intertwining interests of its members, and how to respond more effectively to emerging challenges and problems.
Building on the positive outcomes achieved during 17 years of joining ASEAN, with the motto of being “proactive, active and responsible”, Vietnam will continue its efforts to contribute to ASEAN development, particularly to the formation of ASEAN Community with major focuses as follows:
Firstly, continue to consolidate and strengthen ASEAN unity, to maintain key orientations and set objectives, to respect the association’s fundamental principles, ensuring the uniformity and centrality of ASEAN in directing the regional cooperation processes as well as in settling regional and international issues of common concerns and interest and speak with one voice in multilateral and international forums.
Secondly, promote common commitments and actions aimed to complete fully and on schedule the remaining work of the roadmap for ASEAN Community building as well as strengthening ASEAN connectivity and equitable, sustainable development of the whole association, join other member countries in taking necessary preparatory steps for the realisation of the ASEAN Community on time by 2015 with special attention paid to communication, information and awareness raising in terms of the sense of community and solidarity among the people of ASEAN countries.
Thirdly, continue to cement and maintain the environment of peace and stability for shared development cooperation, promote dialogues and trust building, including efforts to develop and share codes of conducts, together with other signatory to the DOC. Persevering with the compliance with and strict implementation of the principles enshrined in the DOC, strictly observe international laws, the 1982 UNCLOS as well as the principles of settling disputes and differences peacefully in accordance with the ASEAN Charter, non-use or threat to use force, respect for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries are also important. ASEAN and China are ready for the discussion of a Code of Conduct (COC), which is clearer and more concrete. Hopefully, the discussion of the COC will soon be started for signing at a nearest possible date.
Fourthly, build on ASEAN’s centrality, continue to broaden and deepen comprehensive, mutually beneficial cooperation between ASEAN and its partners, enhance the quality and effectiveness of existing regional cooperation processes, such as ASEAN +1, ASEAN +3, EAS, ARF and ADMM+, create enabling conditions for and encourage ASEAN’s partners to make more active contributions to the common efforts for the maintenance of peace, stability and development in the region, effectively responding to the emerging challenges while substantially assisting ASEAN in enhancing its integration, connectivity and community building.
The foundation of the ASEAN Community will mark a new stage of development for the association with higher level of integration and more far-reaching scope of cooperation. Vietnam will continue to participate in an active, proactive and responsible manner in while maximising the benefits of the ASEAN Community. Early and thorough preparations are required to clearly identify the direction and priorities when engaging in ASEAN’s specific cooperation areas, develop appropriate plans and measures to promote priority issues and maximise the opportunities and potential of ASEAN cooperation. Communication and information will help businesses and the people to realise the benefits and responsibilities in ASEAN’s cooperation programmes and connectivity.
On the basis of its important policy on participation in ASEAN cooperation as defined by the high-level leaders and the efforts exerted in ASEAN’s work in the past 17 years, Vietnam will take stronger actions to fully deliver on its ASEAN commitments, actively and proactively join other ASEAN member countries in realising the ASEAN Community by 2015, ensuring a good start for the ASEAN Community with the goal of bringing about a life of peace, welfare and prosperity for the people of countries in the region.