To adapt to international and regional changes, ASEAN leaders accelerated the completion of this goal five years earlier than expected. On December 31, 2015, the ASEAN Community was signed by leaders of 10 member countries.
Let’s look back at what we have done together, what has not been done and what needs to be improved to jointly build the most effective ASEAN Economic Community.
VietNamNet talked with former Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan, Dr. Do Duc Dinh and Dr. Vo Tri Thanh.
Looking back half a century of ASEAN’s development, what are the most important marks, in your opinion?
Former Deputy PM Vu Khoan (right) and Dr. Do Duc Dinh
Vu Khoan: Since its formation (August 8, 1967), ASEAN has gone through three stages: The period from 1960 to 1990 was the formative stage. During this time, ASEAN had five member countries. At that time, the internal situation of these countries was not good or they were in crisis and it was also the time of the Indochina War. The Southeast Asia faced serious threat due to the dispute of major powers. They were forced to find ways to come together to defend themselves. It is not a coincidence that the idea of a neutral Southeast Asia was launched in 1971. And in 1976, for the first time the Friendship Cooperation was signed to form an organization of Southeast Asia.
The second phase, in the 1990s, is called the stage of enhancement and extension. In this stage, ASEAN admitted four more state members: Vietnam (1995), Myanmar and Laos (1997), and Cambodia (1998), bringing its total members to ten. In this period ASEAN began having dialogue with the world's major countries, including the European Union.
Previously, cooperation within ASEAN was quite poor. In this second stage, the idea of a free trade area (AFTA) was launched, which was shown in the general tariff agreement and opening the period of trade liberalization in the region, which was in line with the trend of globalization at the time.
Besides economic cooperation, security cooperation also increased, as shown by the launch of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1993.
Also during this period, the Treaty of Southeast Asia without Nuclear weapons was signed, and for the first time ASEAN released the Declaration on the East Sea (South China Sea) in Manila in 1992. ASEAN was expanded and enhanced in all aspects.
The third stage from the late 1990s until 2015 was the time the idea about and the preparation for the establishment of the ASEAN Community, bringing ASEAN cooperation to a new height. In this stage, ASEAN introduced the Vision to 2020 and the ASEAN Concord (Bali 2) and the Hanoi Declaration, showing the way for the three-pillar ASEAN Community.
These are the three important stages that we have passed. Since 2015 ASEAN has been in a new stage, the fourth stage.
Dr. Do Duc Dinh: When it was founded, one of the original goals of ASEAN was to establish the SITO bloc, like NATO in the West.
Since 1967, the opposition was reduced and this organization moved toward cooperation. That was a major achievement. Security cooperation made a huge impact on economic cooperation as the formation of a free trade area, tax reduction...
Dr Vo Tri Thanh: Despite a lot of disagreements, shortcomings and controversies, ASEAN has kept improving.
Dr. Vo Tri Thanh
Since its formation, not 100% of economic targets set by the ASEAN community have been achieved. So far, ASEAN’s most notable achievements are that ASEAN has realized that only unity can help maintain peace, stability and development in the region.
Like it or not, outsiders have admitted ASEAN as an international entity in Asia - Pacific. ASEAN has promoted investment and trade, although intra-ASEAN trade is not high and does not have fast development speed, but it is still tied to global production and trade networks.
As you can see, security is always a central issue in an ASEAN forum. Why has regional security always been an interest of this organization?
Vu Khoan: The trend of peace and cooperation in South East Asia has developed a lot compared to the Cold War. But ASEAN still faces a lot of security threats. ASEAN's approach is overall security, including territorial border security, economic security, national crime issues, climate and financing issues...
The geopolitics of Southeast Asia is particularly important and attracts the attention of big and powerful countries. This region controls the shipping route from Europe to the Middle East, from the Middle East to the Far East and then to the US. This position is particularly important and is related to major countries like the US, Japan, China ... Both factors inside and outside ASEAN force ASEAN to pay attention to ensuring regional security.
I would like to emphasize that this security - political cooperation bloc is unlike NATO. It is not a military ally, but a bloc to deal with security threats, in the spirit of avoiding conflicts, and resolving conflicts by peaceful commitments.
To have a common voice on security and economics, member countries need to have mutual understanding. But I think ASEAN still needs to do more to promote cultural - social cooperation?
Dr. Do Duc Dinh: ASEAN has identified the three-pillar cooperation. The political, security and economic aspects have emerged, and that is a prerequisite for development. Cultural - social has been mentioned but it has not developed strongly. In fact, cultural – social cooperation in ASEAN community has many differences. ASEAN recently has had more co-operation activities, especially in the field of education. However, the gap of habits, beliefs and culture among state countries is huge. Furthermore, investment in this sector is still too low.
More deeply, cultural and social factors play a major role in maintaining cohesion and sustainability. Seeing developments in the Middle East and the world in recent time, we see the issues such as culture, race, religion ... are especially important in preserving harmony and stability, and these factors need to be promoted.
Vu Khoan: Southeast Asian countries have their indigenous culture and their own languages. Besides, this region is influenced by several main cultural streams: Chinese culture, Indian culture and Western culture which was brought into the region by colonists so the culture in this region is very diverse.
In addition, ASEAN still looks like an organization of officials rather than an organization of the people. ASEAN needs to set the goal to take care of human issues, ensure social security, social justice, environmental issues, cultural identity and level of development. The road of building the ASEAN cultural - social community is still a long, difficult one that requires patience.
Dr Vo Tri Thanh: As Mr. Vu Khoan said, the cultural – social pillar of ASEAN today is still top-down, not bottom up.
The thing ASEAN needs to do now is to promote the participation of different classes. The people must be involved in the policy-making process of ASEAN, strengthen links, and above all, they must see the benefit for themselves in their participation.
To be continued…