The 37th ASEAN Summit and related summits held online from November 12-15 in Hanoi were the most important conferences in 2020.
After these meetings, Vietnam will hand over the ASEAN Chairmanship to Brunei.
Covid-19 breaks out
2020 has been a turbulent year for the world and the region. ASEAN faces both internal and external challenges. Therefore, Vietnam chose the theme "Cohesion and proactive adaptation" for the 2020 ASEAN Chairmanship. Vietnam sees that ASEAN is facing challenge after challenge.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc speaks at the opening ceremony of the 37th ASEAN Summit and related summits.
The first challenge faced by ASEAN was the Covid-19 epidemic which broke out rapidly worldwide. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease a global pandemic. The rate of coronavirus infection has become more and more alarming as the number of deaths have increased over time.
The pandemic has also shown that no country can deal with a pandemic alone. International cooperation is necessary for any country to fight Covid-19. Southeast Asian countries also did not get rid of this deadly virus. ASEAN is working together to fight the pandemic, which is complicated and still unresolved. Several policies have been put in place.
The second challenge is maintaining ASEAN's balance before the US-China competition. The confrontation between the two great powers has had far-reaching effects in the region. As an important regional organization, ASEAN must continue to show its position, namely maintaining a strategic balance in responding to the competition between the US and China in Southeast Asia, in which member states are encouraged to commit to reduce the escalation of competition between the two great powers and adopt policies of creating regional peace.
A cohesive ASEAN is essential to maintaining regional stability. In the past, Southeast Asia was the object of competition for influence between great powers. ASEAN's unity should not be shaken or even divided by great powers that are trying to influence its member states.
Another challenge for ASEAN is coming from within. ASEAN's long-standing internal problems remain the main obstacle to the organization's solidarity.
Given the importance of maritime security, especially for ASEAN member countries, the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea) conflict is considered more important than each country's individual issues with China. China and ASEAN signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) in 2002 and are still negotiating a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC). Therefore, ASEAN must have consensus and solidarity to overcome this challenge.
Active role of Vietnam
When assigned to assume the position of ASEAN Chair in 2020, Vietnam called on all members to make the association a common foreign policy platform. As the Chair of ASEAN 2020, Vietnam wants to emphasize and strengthen ASEAN's position as a central entity and play a central role in relations with major powers.
The US National Security Adviser reaffirms the commitment to building and developing an ASEAN-US strategic partnership for peace and prosperity on the basis of respect for each other's independence, sovereignty and cooperation for mutual benefit.
Vietnam holds the ASEAN chairmanship at a time when the organization is facing challenges related to peace and security, the impact of climate change, and the need to define a future for regional development as an ASEAN community. Over the past 11 months, ASEAN has been working actively to develop better relations with dialogue partners, including the EU, China and India, as well as coordinating meetings between ASEAN and Japan, most of them held online.
Notably, the ASEAN agenda this year was set out under the chairmanship of Vietnam, and there have been challenges related to addressing issues related to economic integration, as well as building common protocol in public health emergencies and information sharing regarding measures against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In fact, during the ASEAN Senior Officials’ Meetings, many issues discussed in the past were raised again and a general consensus was reached. The ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meeting in September emphasized the need to consolidate the ASEAN Community Vision in 2020 and strengthen the association's central role in new multilateral forms in the region.
Vietnam has effectively carried out a comprehensive review of the bloc's mechanisms, and reviewed documents related to the ASEAN Community’s detailed plans.
Collective efforts to fight against Covid-19 epidemic
The most important aspect emphasized by Vietnam is promoting collective efforts to combat the pandemic and set up coordination groups to respond to public health emergencies. ASEAN has recognized the post-Covid-19 challenges, thereby considering implementation a comprehensive recovery framework as well as a time-bound implementation plan.
This highlights the need to collaborate on vaccine research, production and distribution through supply chain networks so that more and more Southeast Asians can be protected from this pandemic in the future.
What Vietnam is focusing on is how to facilitate trade and eliminate unnecessary non-tariff measures to restore supply and respond to new challenges such as food security, financial stability and energy-related issues in a cohesive way.
One of the earliest meetings that Vietnam conducted was within the framework of the ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC) held in Laos, which noted the severity of the disease situation, and stated that solidarity and unity within ASEAN is necessary to prevent and take measures to respond to the pandemic.
Vietnam is also aware of the severity of the pandemic and the importance of consensus on these issues. On that basis, Vietnam has implemented the need to cooperate with ASEAN dialogue partners, the WHO and related agencies.
Even before the ACC meetings in January, issues of stability and prosperity as well as addressing the emerging challenges in the East Sea were discussed.
Although one of the biggest difficulties that Vietnam has faced in the past year is conducting online conferences and enhancing understanding among ASEAN member states, Vietnam has skillfully solved aspects of the 4th industrial revolution, assessing the regional economic prospects in the context of the 4.0 revolution. Vietnam also emphasized the importance of the Treaty of Amity and expressed confidence that many countries outside the region will join the TAC.
Key initiatives that Vietnam has taken include more effective cooperation on transnational crime, public security, and coordination among ASEAN law enforcement agencies. Recognizing the need for better financial architecture in Southeast Asia, Vietnam proposed dialogue between financial institutions and banks in Southeast Asia. Vietnam also emphasized that it is necessary to create a better financial system to bring about financial stability in the region.
Despite having to conduct online conferences, Vietnam was able to still approve more than 42 documents in the ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meeting in September. Vietnam also organized many activities for the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). One of the highlights was discussion of the East Sea issue during the ministerial meetings.
The 37th ASEAN Summit continued to highlight the challenges faced by the region in terms of ASEAN’s central role and ASEAN's unity and resilience, as well as promoting mutual trust among member countries.
The 37th ASEAN Summit and related summits wrapped up on Sunday with more than 80 documents adopted to concretise the joint efforts of ASEAN member states and their partners