VietNamNet Bridge - "Like many other regions in the world, ASEAN always has to face many challenges in which the success or failure of interaction with other countries, particularly the big or powerful ones, is the most important."

VietNamNet: How can this association find a common voice for the next stage, and complete its three pillar targets as member countries signed last year with different political – cultural models and differences in the relations and interests among SEAN members and the major countries in the world?


Dr. Vo Tri Thanh (left) and Dr. Do Duc Dinh

Dr Vo Tri Thanh: In terms of economics, ASEAN has not created a strong brand. More precisely, no brand has been recognized in practice.

There's a pretty good point here, the way of connection of ASEAN is the government links of developing countries, with many good things to learn, although there are still many points of controversy and challenges.

ASEAN understands that they must act as a group to be strong enough to sufficiently benefit its member countries and to have its voice in the development of Asia - Pacific. More or less, major countries have recognized that central role of ASEAN.

Like many other regions in the world, ASEAN always has to face many challenges. The success or failure of interaction with other countries, especially the big countries outside the region, requires a strong internal force. The matter is not only the enforcement of the three-pillar target. The current problem is the institutionalization of ASEAN which has certain problems. Although it has the Charter, ASEAN has yet to have a strong institution and sufficient resources to handle the current issues.

In addition, the principle of ASEAN such as a comprehensive agreement also restricts the power of the bloc in important moments. In addition to traditional security issues, non-traditional security also brings about many challenges for ASEAN.

Besides the common commitments, ASEAN still recognizes the right of each country in the conduct of bilateral relations with outside countries, especially big countries. The interests of each member country and regional interests are not always in the same direction.

In my opinion, there are two matters: Firstly, we must put the ASEAN Charter on the table to discuss and to find an ASEAN with more solid connections and a stronger ASEAN. Secondly, when the issue is placed on the scale, member countries must understand that in the long-term, non-alignment or selfishness will bring about incalculable consequences not only for ASEAN but for those countries. Centripetal force is more powerful than centrifugal force.

In this context, how should the ASEAN member countries in general and Vietnam in particular do to keep the policy balanced, and not fall into the spiral of power competition among powers, to develop peacefully together?

Dr. Do Duc Dinh: ASEAN is considered one of the most successful models of the southern countries. Previously the South put forward the nonalignment movement; especially during the Cold War, the South was not affiliated with any side, nor had any fulcrum. ASEAN is a specific model, with appropriate choices.

In Europe, it is a process of development, from the European Community to the European Economic Community and now the European Union. Africa, with many countries that are less developed than ASEAN, established the African Union but this organization could not develop. ASEAN is an association, which is not tight as Europe, not loose like Africa, but is a fairly consistent model. So, although some ASEAN members are allies of the US and some are tied to China there is still a balance between ASEAN countries.

To avoid the interference of big countries, ASEAN has several important principles: operating on the principle of consensus - if a country does not agree, ASEAN will not release a joint resolution; having dialogue forum with outside countries such as the US, China, India .... Thanks to this flexibility, so far ASEAN has not been pushed into asituation in which it must choose one side against the others. It is the wise choice and success.

This is shown clearly through dialogue between ASEAN and major powers that have strong influence in the Pacific. ASEAN’s ARF even has more influence than the APEC forum.

Vu Khoan: There are three characteristics of Southeast Asia affecting their behavior. Firstly, as we talked before, Southeast Asia has a very important economic geopolitical location. Secondly, most Southeast Asian countries are poor and weak. Thirdly, each country also has its own benefits.

These points lead to behavioral traits with major countries. Firstly, ASEAN countries are aware of the importance of the region’s geopolitical location and know that powers need this region. That is very important. No other organization in the world could do as ASEAN: attracting all the major countries. ASEAN wisely takes advantage of this interest to uphold its role.

Secondly, the forum of ASEAN gathers harmonious voices.

Thirdly, despite different benefits, ASEAN has always had things in common, and the most common thing is the desire for peace and stability.

Fourthly, the policy of diversifying relations. All member countries are pursuing a policy of diversification and multilateralism. These characteristics also affect the behavior of member nations.

Based on the current intra-regional relations and the signing of the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community, what do you think about business opportunities, the opportunities to improve the environment for economic cooperation between the countries in the bloc and with other major partners?


Dr. Do Duc Dinh and former Deputy PM Vu Khoan (right)

Dr Vo Tri Thanh: The signing is only a milestone in a process of evolution and building of the ASEAN Community. In ASEAN's 50-year history, the most powerful period is the time since the mid-90s. That process has brought about many benefits and several inner problems for ASEAN to continue its path. The future stage has two things: accomplishing the remaining roadmap or the action programs of ASEAN; and more importantly, connecting ASEAN with the vision forward - an ASEAN of strong connectivity and a strong common voice.

We can see that the ASEAN Vision after 2015 further emphasizes liberalization of goods, services, stronger investment, a broader common market and unified production base.

Secondly, ASEAN connectivity needs the connection of hard work, soft infrastructure, and human resources. In addition, we also need a more innovative, more dynamic ASEAN, an ASEAN with a better role in the creation of innovative and high-tech products; a greener, more sustainable, more environmentally friendly ASEAN; and an ASEAN that benefits all and especially, an ASEAN with a stronger common voice.

To achieve these results, ASEAN will not only need to realize the ASEAN Economic Community, but also need to build a roadmap for the future, along with stronger reforms of its institution and mechanisms.

With all these things, in fact to have a really strong ASEAN, a model connecting developing countries in a world full of changes and risks, many issues must be solved.

I believe that the value of the links will be stronger. The other values can conflict with the connection process. ASEAN has had 50 years of challenges and despite some problems, obviously it has brought about undeniable benefits. One of the most important benefits is the stability for development. Behind it is a wide-open horizon for business.

In international relations, besides the diplomatic activities at state level, there should be the people's external activities, inter-parliamentary diplomacy?

Vu Khoan: This is not my personal comment. ASEAN leaders recognized the importance of public diplomacy very early. They had set a target of turning an 'organization of officials' into an organization of the people, and set several directions as follows:

One, widely disseminating ASEAN activities among the people; Two, creating easy exchanges, typically dropping the intra-ASEAN visa; Three, organizing many common activities such as singing, writing competitions,... besides activities in the ASEAN cultural - social community. I believe that ASEAN’s public diplomacy is growing and is remarkably effective.

To be continued…