The 22nd ASEAN Lecture on “Brunei Darussalam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2021: We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper”

The 22nd ASEAN Lecture was delivered by The Honourable Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs II, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Negara Brunei Darussalam.


Wednesday, 2 December 2020 – The ASEAN Studies Centre of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised the 22nd ASEAN Lecture on “Brunei Darussalam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2021: We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper” on 2 December 2020.  The Lecture was delivered by The Honourable Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs II, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Negara Brunei Darussalam. The Lecture was opened and moderated by Mr. Choi Shing Kwok, Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Mr Choi Shing Kwok
Mr Choi Shing Kwok, who is also moderator of the session, kicked off the Lecture with the welcome remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In his welcome remarks, Mr. Choi highlighted the current extraordinary times where the world continues to face unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, geo-political shifts, economic recession and climate change. He reiterated that apart from mitigating the immediate health, economic, and social impacts of Covid-19, ASEAN needs to ensure the well-being and the livelihood of the people, focus on post-pandemic recovery plans, as well as strengthen collective efforts to enhance ASEAN’s resilience in the face of emerging challenges. Going forward, ASEAN needs to continue contributing to regional peace and stability, uphold a rules-based multilateral order, and enhance its institutional capacity to remain relevant in a changing world.

The Honourable Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, Minister of Foreign Affairs II, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Negara Brunei Darussalam
Dato Erywan shared on the initiatives Burnei will be pursuing to directly benefit the people of ASEAN. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dato Erywan started off by congratulating the ASEAN Studies Centre for being awarded the ASEAN Prize 2020 at the recent 37th ASEAN Summit. He also thanked the Institute for this opportunity to share on the theme and priorities of Brunei Darussalam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2021. While the world has changed significantly since Brunei Darussalam’s last ASEAN Chairmanship in 2013, the most disruptive of Covid-19’s impacts are going beyond health and matters of well-being that put every sector of the ASEAN Community to the test. In this spirit, the theme “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper” of Brunei Darussalam’s upcoming ASEAN Chairmanship aims to underscore ASEAN’s collective pursuit in improving the people’s well-being and livelihood, and emphasises the need for ASEAN to work together to realise shared interests and confront regional and global challenges of common concern. This will enable the people of ASEAN to thrive, prosper and secure sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations.

Dato Erywan outlined three main priorities for Brunei Darussalam’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2021 as follows:

  • Harness the Caring Nature of ASEAN

It is important for ASEAN member states to assist each other and pursue initiatives that bring benefits that are truly felt by the people during this period of hardship. Acknowledging that many have lost their loved ones, jobs and homes, ASEAN must ensure efforts for a swift recovery from the impacts of Covid-19 collectively.  The major focus next year will be on vaccines and ASEAN must seriously work with partners to gain coordinated access to safe and affordable vaccines in a timely manner. Dato Erywan also highlighted that ASEAN needs to place greater attention on the human consequences of the pandemic, taking into account the psychological impact on the people’s wellbeing, and the way they work, live, and study. ASEAN also needs to prepare its human resources with knowledge and skills to adapt to the changing world brought about not just by Covid-19 but also by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

  • Prepare ASEAN for the Future

This is to ensure that ASEAN can adapt and remain relevant so that ASEAN people can take advantage of opportunities as well as overcome any future challenges. While ASEAN needs to ensure that the region is governed by a rules-based architecture, constantly adhering to international law and multilateral rules, ASEAN-led processes will continue to promote constructive relations with partners, including and among the major powers. ASEAN must take a position on matters of importance to the region in a mutually respectful, peaceful and cooperative manner. Strong and diverse partnerships will be key in 2021. For ASEAN to operate collectively and in solidarity, ASEAN member states need to maintain major trust with each other, uphold ASEAN centrality and remain undivided.

  • Create Opportunities and Enhance Sustainable Prosperity in the Region

The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated and accelerated a whole range of threats over the past year. Globalisation and economic integration has come under great stress in 2020 while rising protectionism and self-serving nationalism have risked the region’s prosperity and constructive cooperation. Next year could be a turning point and ASEAN should seize this opportunity to adjust to the disruptions and position itself ahead in the post-Covid-19 era. ASEAN member states need to focus on complementing each other’s economies rather than engage in unhealthy competition to make ASEAN a more attractive market to external partners, support local businesses, and build inclusive economies with greater participation from all members of the society. Lauding the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the 37th ASEAN Summit, Dato Erywan suggested that a reset in the approach towards an ASEAN-EU FTA could lead to sustained trade and economic cooperation between the two regional blocs.

In conclusion, Dato Erywan reiterated that ASEAN had a lot of work to do in the years ahead. Brunei Darussalam has been part of the ASEAN family for more than 35 years and has always attached great importance to what ASEAN has brought for its peoples. Dato Erywan highlighted that ASEAN is moving in the right direction and regardless of the challenges ahead, ASEAN will continue to prevail. As the incoming ASEAN Chair, Brunei Darussalam will continue to be a reliable partner for all and will work together to help manage uncertainties that ASEAN may face in the years to come.  

Over 300 participants attended the ASEAN Lecture webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The Q&A session discussed issues such as ASEAN’s role in coordinating vaccine access, ASEAN’s relations with major powers, US-China tensions, the negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, non-traditional security challenges in ASEAN, post-Covid-19 economic recovery, the role of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Association in supporting ASEAN, and narrowing the development gap within ASEAN, among others.

The link to the webinar recording is here.