July 28 this year marks 25 years of Vietnam’s official membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The anniversary is special at the point that Vietnam is shouldering the heavy responsibility of the rotary Chair of the bloc for the second time.
On this occasion, Politburo member, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh writes an article entitled “Vietnam’s 25 years of ASEAN membership: Joining hands for a cohesive and responsive community”. Following is a translation of his article:
July 28, 2020 marks a quarter of a century of Vietnam being an official member of ASEAN, and this anniversary coincides with the country’s taking on the responsibility of the bloc’s rotary Chair for the second time.
Joining the association in 1995 is one of the most important milestones in the history of Vietnam’s foreign relations since the August Revolution in 1945, as well as in the development of ASEAN itself. The historical event holds a significant meaning, turning Southeast Asia from a region of confrontation into one of dialogue, from skepticism into trust, and from division into solidarity.
For ASEAN, accepting Vietnam as its seventh member helped speed up the expansion of the bloc to all the 10 regional countries, thus consolidating peace and stability in a region that has special geo-political and geo-economic importance as a centre for links between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
At the time when Vietnam joined ASEAN, the region had just come out of the Cold War and its position, role, and economic scale remained modest. The past 25 years have witnessed a vigorous change in the association. The 10 Southeast Asian nations have now become part of a united community with rising prestige in the Asia-Pacific and the world as a whole.
On the basis of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) mechanisms and with the formation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ), ASEAN has eventually become a region of peace and stability with its position gradually affirmed. The formation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the signing of free trade agreements (FTAs) between ASEAN and a series of world key economies have contributed to bringing about prosperity for ASEAN and making it one of the regions with the most dynamic economic development in the world.
ASEAN was the common house of about 650 million people in 2019 with a combined GDP of more than US$3.2 trillion and trade revenue of US$2.8 trillion.
The ASEAN Community was set up on December 31, 2015, making the bloc a community with political cohesion, economic links, and shared social responsibility. Today, ASEAN is considered a success model in regional cooperation. ASEAN-led forums have drawn many countries and been valued by all world powers.
In addition to intra-bloc solidarity and connectivity, ASEAN has proactively expanded its relations with partners and become an important partner of major countries inside and outside the region. With its open diplomatic relations with the 10 dialogue partners, including all powers, the voice of ASEAN has been listened to and its central role further consolidated.
In fact, ASEAN’s central role has been affirmed through its efforts to boost and lead the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), and ADMM Plus, as well as through increasingly important contributions to resolving the region’s common issues. ASEAN has shown a consistent stance on maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea and the region, such as the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).
For Vietnam, this day 25 years ago is also an important milestone marking the country’s very important progress in its regional and international integration. It has integrated more confidently, proactively and actively ever since, and continuously promoted its role as a reliable partner and a responsible member of the ASEAN Community in particular and the international community in general.
During the integration process, the diplomatic sector has always played a pioneering role, opening the door to the world. In bringing the country out of blockade and isolation, ASEAN was taken as the first breakthrough for Vietnam in its integration. In the subsequent periods, Vietnam’s integration and participation in ASEAN were closely associated with the country’s renewal and international integration. Vietnam has made great strides forward in changing its ways of thinking for diplomacy, from the one of “more friends, less enemies”, diversification and multi-lateralisation of international relations, and “shifting from confrontation to dialogues” into that of becoming a proactive, active and responsible member in ASEAN, and now that of proactively, actively and responsibly joining other ASEAN countries to build a strong community.
Vietnam has gradually affirmed itself as an integral part of ASEAN and the Southeast Asian region, attached its development with ASEAN, and wished to shoulder the bloc’s common work. The ASEAN policy has become an important part in Vietnam’s foreign policy, which is highlighted in the Party’s documents and resolutions on external relations, in particular Directive No 25-CT/TW dated August 8, 2018 on boosting and elevating multilateral diplomacy to 2030.
Right after becoming a member of ASEAN in 1995, Vietnam actively pushed for the joining of the other Southeast Asian countries into the bloc, with Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia becoming ASEAN members in 1997 and 1999. As a result, the dream of a ten-member ASEAN had come true. As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam has taken a proactive, active and responsible part in the bloc’s work, including institution building such as the ASEAN Charter (2008); the roadmap to build the ASEAN Community (2009-2015); the 2009, 2015, and 2025 master plans; and ASEAN Community visions for post-2015, post-2025, and beyond. It has also been comprehensively implementing the three pillars of the ASEAN Community. Vietnam successfully organised the sixth ASEAN Summit and took up the Chairmanship of the 34th ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) from July 2000 to July 2001 and the Chairmanship of the ASEAN this year. The country has spared no efforts in fulfilling its role as the ASEAN Chair 2020. With important initiatives and contributions made, such as expanding the EAS and establishing the ADMM mechanism, Vietnam has actively worked with other member states to maintain the central role of ASEAN in the emerging regional architecture.
One thing for certain is that the participation in ASEAN has brought about significant and practical benefits for Vietnam. Firstly, ASEAN is an important foundation for international integration and creates a favourable international environment for nation building and defence. Over the past 25 years, Vietnam has joined other ASEAN member nations in building a Southeast Asia of friendship, cooperation and without wars. In addition to promoting intra-bloc cooperation, Vietnam has set up strategic partnership and comprehensive partnership frameworks with neighbouring and regional countries, powers, and other important partners. Vietnam’s rising role in ASEAN has helped it win international support for the safeguard of its security and development interests, including the East Sea issue.
Secondly, joining ASEAN has helped Vietnam with its extensive and intensive international integration and pooling resources to serve development and raise general power. The country has actively engaged in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and new-generation FTAs such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which enables it to push ahead with reforms, expand markets, increase exports, and attract investment and ODA, through which it has boosted economic growth for many years.
Thirdly, integrating into ASEAN helped Vietnam gradually raise its multilateral diplomacy and position in the world. Its successful participation in the bloc has been enabling it to fulfil important multilateral diplomatic missions, such as the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) for the 2008-2009 and 2020-2021 tenures and the host of the APEC Summit in 2006 and 2017, as well as actively joining in building international rules and cooperation to cope with global challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fourthly, the participation in ASEAN over the past 25 years has helped improve the expertise of Vietnam’s diplomatic officials, especially those working in multilateral efforts, with them becoming more confident when reaching out to the globe.
As the ASEAN Chair 2020, Vietnam, together with other member states, has defined the common theme for the year as “Cohesive and Responsive” so as to push ahead with progress in building the ASEAN Community and promoting the role of ASEAN in a changing world.
Over the past seven months, Vietnam’s efforts as the ASEAN Chair have demonstrated its cohesive and responsive spirit. Along with solidarity and cohesion among ASEAN member nations and the support and close coordination from ASEAN partners, the bloc has ensured the effective implementation of cooperation and connectivity targets for 2020, as well as overcome difficulties and challenges to curb the pandemic and soon address its consequences to boost economic recovery and development.
The way ASEAN is weathering the unexpected and unprecedented waves caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has attested an ASEAN cohesive, responsive, stubborn and indomitable to adversities. More than ever, Vietnam understands the importance of community thinking and community actions. As Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has stressed, separate efforts should be grouped together beyond the national scale into the common acts of the whole ASEAN Community.