ASEAN Member States continue to attend grouping's ‘calendar of events’ notwithstanding the ongoing Corona pandemic. They have held virtual meetings and transacted important business though not at the pre-pandemic levels. Like other Member States, Vietnam has actively participated in important events during the last few months. To name a few - Implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, a plan to build an ASEAN Community Vision beyond 2025; discussions on developments in Myanmar; ASEAN initiatives on pandemic response and post-pandemic recovery; and the ASEAN Defence Senior Officials' Meeting-Plus (ADSOM-Plus).
In March 2021, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh led the Vietnam delegation to a virtual ‘Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting’. Vietnam is committed to the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and Mr Minh affirmed that as an active and responsible member of the ASEAN Community, his country is committed to working with other Member States of the grouping in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. He also took the opportunity to express concern over the “escalating violence and tensions, which have caused human losses in recent days in Myanmar, have affected peace and stability in not only Myanmar but also the whole region” and called on “parties involved to restrain and avoid all violent activities, ensure safety for people, and organise peace dialogues to soon bring the situation back to normal”.
Besides being Member States of the ASEAN, Vietnam and Myanmar enjoy cordial bilateral relations. In February, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang had stated that “Vietnam is closely watching developments in Myanmar and hopes that the country will soon stabilize the situation for national development and for peace, stability, and cooperation in the region and continue to contribute to the building of the ASEAN Community”. As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since January 2020, Vietnam underlined its strong support for the ASEAN and their readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner.
In March 2021, Economic Ministers of the ASEAN Member States had discussed the implementation of initiatives that will further the region’s post-pandemic economic recovery efforts. The ASEAN has set up priority economic deliverables (PEDs) which focus on “Recovery, Digitalization, and Sustainability”. It was observed that PEDs are a valuable tool “especially in enhancing and complementing existing ASEAN initiatives, especially towards economic recovery efforts. The plan is to have these initiatives realized within the year, as they will significantly contribute to ASEAN’s regional integration,”
In this context, the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) hosted its first Partnership Conference with the theme “Towards Post-COVID Recovery and Resilience in ASEAN”. The Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASCC “emphasised that the region’s recovery efforts must be done in a systematic and coordinated way, in concert with stakeholders and partners. He reiterated that these major tasks cannot be accomplished by the ASEAN governments alone”. The ACRF aims to deepen further regional economic integration under the framework of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025.
In the meantime ASEAN released “guidelines to help its 10 member states restore and strengthen national and regional road freight transport operations, which were disrupted during the pandemic”. These guidelines support “ASEAN’s efforts in improving the stability of road freight flows in the region toward longer-term resilience, preparedness, and competitiveness of ASEAN.”
At another level, the ASEAN Member States are committed to defence and security dialogues institutionalized under the East Asia Summit (EAS). In March 2021, the ASEAN held three important meeting concerning ADMM Plus such as the Experts’ Working Group on Cyber Security; Working Group on Military Medicine; Working Group on Maritime Security; Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations; and the Experts’ Working Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. The 15th ADMM and the 8th ADMM-Plus are scheduled in June 2021 and would be held via video conferencing.
Senior Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien, the Deputy Defence Minister conveyed Vietnam’s commitment to responsibly engage in cooperation within the framework of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM Plus. Further, in his remarks, General Chien shared his perspective on the current regional and global security affairs, including traditional and non-traditional challenges, international cooperation amid COVID-19, and maritime security. He assured the participants of Vietnam’s support for Brunei’s 2021 ASEAN chairmanship and appraised them about the “meeting on multilateral activities that the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defence has planned to host this year”.
Finally, ASEAN remains committed to ASEAN-India strategic partnership. Senior officials of ASEAN and India discussed several issues of mutual interest and assured their commitment to make stronger their strategic partnership. Some of the major issues discussed included responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, post-pandemic recovery and explored potentials for cooperation in the post-pandemic phase. The centrality of the ASEAN was emphasised and both sides agreed to explore synergies between India's Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) to strengthen the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Consultant Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.