VietNamNet Bridge - "In any condition, we always have to strengthen and maintain relations with neighboring countries, especially ASEAN," former Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan has said. 

ASEAN Economic Community: opportunities and challenges (part 2)

Recently, there was an event of particular interest to public opinion - it was the UK's withdrawal from the EU (Brexit). Many people wonder whether this event will cause a domino effect, and what lessons can ASEAN draw from this to reinforce its sustainable solidarity?


The three guests from the left: Dr. Vo Tri Thanh, Dr. Do Duc Dinh and former Deputy PM Vu Khoan

Vu Khoan: Each country has its own interests. A British Foreign Secretary said: "There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests”. It is the same for Brexit. How to find harmony is the key to solve the problem. ASEAN has found the key to handle common and private relationships.

I can’t say whether an “exit” will occur in Southeast Asia or not, but the common/individual issues should be given special attention; otherwise the consequences will be serious.

Dr Vo Tri Thanh: The EU and ASEAN have a lot of differences.

Firstly, even in the process of developing and upgrading the EU, the UK had a lot of unsatisfactory things. Furthermore, the recent behavior of the EU such as the admission of new members and handling the debt crisis in Greece, the policy with the influx of migrants ... are different from the UK. 

While the UK has a very large position in the EU, it saw the EU’s recent behavior contrary to its policy and this led to conflict. Many social groups in the UK thought that the cost that England paid was much higher than what it received. That's why most Britons chose to leave the EU. ASEAN, although it has many differences, these differences are not serious enough to upset its members.

Secondly, so far only countries outside ASEAN want to join this bloc; no one wants to leave. ASEAN accepts the principle of slow movement. There may be obstacles, but the movements are sustainable and do not create major conflicts.

In any condition, we must try to strengthen and sustain ASEAN.

Dr. Do Duc Dinh: According to the information I get, ASEAN leaders have considered very carefully even when they named ASEAN as an association, not a community or ally. When the Brexit occurred, Lee Kuan Yew’s saying in 2013 was quoted: "Follow the way as the EU did, ASEAN cannot win". And "probably not only ASEAN but also the EU has problems".

Germany and the UK are the key members of the EU. Every year the UK had to contribute Eur8 billion for the EU. Now people ask, after Britain leaves the EU, will Germany and France be able to afford this burden? 

In 1997 - 1998, Southeast Asia witnessed a currency crisis. Some suggested that Singapore’s currency could be used as the single currency in ASEAN, but Singapore rejected it, saying that the Singaporean economy was unable to shoulder that burden. 

ASEAN has selected important principles for sustainable existence: a) consensus; b) unity in diversity; and c) respecting independence and sovereignty of each member nation while promoting cooperation.

Thanks to these principles, ASEAN has maintained its solidarity and sustainability, and avoided disruption as Brexit. So far, though ASEAN still has some problems; no member state wants to leave the bloc.

What are the remarkable milestones of Vietnam as a member of ASEAN?

Dr Vo Tri Thanh: First of all I have to affirm that ASEAN is valuable for Vietnam: from liberalization and the market economy to resource allocation. ASEAN has actually noted Vietnam’s movements and development. Unlike many other countries, we started cooperation in the region, with neighbors, and with countries that are not too different from us to learn from them. Joining ASEAN can be seen as an exercise to prepare for Vietnam’s deeper integration into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and with other partners.

Secondly, ASEAN is especially suited to the reform process and the development of Vietnam. ASEAN emphasizes the balance between prosperity and narrowing the gap of development; focuses its support on the disadvantaged group so that all members can benefit from the process of integration and development. In ASEAN, Vietnam has a better negotiating position.

Dr. Do Duc Dinh: We are moving forward along with ASEAN countries. We cannot say that ASEAN has brought about great results as the total value of intra-ASEAN trade accounts for only 25% of Vietnam’s total foreign trade value. However, if we look at the progress of ASEAN compared to 10 years ago, when the value of intra-ASEAN trade accounted for only 17-18%, the 25% figure is quite large.

In this context, it is very important for Vietnam. The regional market is not large, but it is expanding and its proportion is increasing compared to our major markets like the US, Europe or China. This suggests that the benefits of ASEAN do not occur quickly, and are not very big but it is progressing.

Secondly, in cooperation with ASEAN, we started from the centralized economy so we've learned a lot from ASEAN.

Vu Khoan: Firstly, from enemies, now Southeast Asian countries have become friends. Before being an ASEAN member, Vietnam was surrounded by hostile countries and now Vietnam is surrounded by friends. In the early 1990s, to break the embargo, Vietnam decided to follow the principle: making friend with neighbors, first of all Southeast Asian countries. The first foreign trip of Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet was to Southeast Asian countries.

Secondly, the position of Vietnam and ASEAN was different. For example, Vietnam’s application to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council was supported firstly by ASEAN and then all of Asia. When Vietnam was in negotiations for WTO membership, ASEAN membership was a help. Now many ASEAN countries have sympathy with Vietnam in the East Sea issue.

Thirdly, as a member of ASEAN, Vietnam has a better position in making dialogue with other countries. Fourthly, its trade and export growth, and tourism revenue increase.

These benefits are invisible but we can feel them very clearly, not to mention “soft benefits”. So, in any situation and condition, we always have to strengthen and maintain relations with neighboring countries, especially ASEAN. It is one of the most important diplomatic missions.