The 24th ASEAN Lecture on “2024 ASEAN Chairmanship under the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: ASEAN: Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience”

The 24th ASEAN Lecture was delivered by H.E. Mr Saleumxay Kommasith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR on 7 December 2023 at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

ASEAN Studies Centre

Thursday, 7 December 2023 – The ASEAN Studies Centre of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised the 24th ASEAN Lecture on the theme and priorities of Lao PDR’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2024. The Lecture was delivered by H.E. Mr. Saleumxay Kommasith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR. Mr Choi Shing Kwok, Director and CEO of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute delivered opening remarks and moderated the discussion.

Speaker H.E. Mr Saleumxay Kommasith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR (left), and moderator Mr Choi Shing Kwok, CEO of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In his Opening Remarks, Mr Choi Shing Kwok spoke of the current uncertain times where the region continues to face unprecedented challenges posed by complex geopolitical developments, including the intense US-China rivalry and strategic dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. He highlighted that regional flashpoints such as the South China Sea disputes, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the situation in the Korean Peninsula and the ongoing Myanmar crisis would continue to be sources of tension and challenges to the peace, security and cooperation in the region. He noted that ASEAN made significant progress in launching negotiations on the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) in 2023, marking a major milestone in its digital integration journey. He also underscored the importance of the recently adopted ASEAN Concord IV which serves as a strong commitment to work towards the ASEAN Community Vision 2045, amongst others. Moving 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.

In his Lecture, H.E. Mr Kommasith highlighted the significant role of ASEAN in Lao PDR’s foreign policy since its admission in 1997. Lao PDR has been a proactive and constructive supporter of the ASEAN community-building process and ASEAN-led mechanisms. Taking over the baton of the ASEAN Chairmanship for the third time in the context of the rapidly changing global geopolitical and economic environment, Lao PDR has come up with the chosen theme – “ASEAN: Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience” – highlighting its continued efforts in consolidating efforts within ASEAN and strengthening the ASEAN community. H.E. Mr Kommasith highlighted that, beyond geopolitical rivalries, the region is also facing other challenges including the need to recover from the pandemic, stalling trade momentum, supply chain disruptions as well as other non-traditional security challenges such as climate change, amongst others.

On ASEAN connectivity, H.E. Mr Kommasith emphasised Laos’ crucial role in supporting a connected and integrated ASEAN. The Masterplan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 adopted under the Lao PDR’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2016 serves as the strategy to support the implementation of key policies critical for the ASEAN Connectivity agenda, including the promotion of physical connectivity and people-to-people connectivity across ASEAN member states.

On enhancing the resilience of ASEAN, H.E. Mr Kommasith reiterated that ASEAN needs to stay strong amidst the rising geopolitical rivalries and economic uncertainties. This includes the strengthening of ASEAN unity and centrality, engaging dialogue partners and development partners in ASEAN-led mechanisms, further promoting the implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), strengthening the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus to address the Myanmar crisis, as well as supporting Timor-Leste in fulfilling the roadmap for its full membership in ASEAN.

Possible priority areas under the Enhancing Connectivity component:

  1. Integrating and connecting economies: This entails building connections with ASEAN economies and partners through trade, investment and narrowing the development gaps to ensure economic growth and stability for ASEAN member states.
  2. Forging an inclusive and sustainable future: Emphasis will be placed on the importance of sustainable development along with connecting environmental and social objectives to build a more resilient ASEAN region.
  3. Transforming for the digital future: Continued efforts will be placed on the digital economy and society. Lao PDR is committed to supporting ASEAN’s emergence as a leading digital economy and building deeper connections across the region and beyond.
  4. Culture and arts: Further promotion of people-to-people connectivity through culture and the arts continues to play a key role in building a more inclusive ASEAN.

Possible priority areas under the Enhancing Resilience component:

  1. The development of strategic plans to implement the ASEAN Community Vision 2045: Focusing on the draft ASEAN Community Vision 2045 as part of Lao PDR’s ASEAN Chairmanship.
  2. Promoting ASEAN centrality: The need to enhance ASEAN resilience and reinforce ASEAN centrality.
  3. Promoting environmental cooperation: Focusing on climate change resilience, including collaborative efforts in response to the haze issue.
  4. Women and children: Promoting gender equality and the rights of children.
  5. Health: Focusing on the prevention and response to the eventual emergence of new pandemics and diseases.

H.E. Mr Kommasith shared that the above nine priorities would be officially announced at the ASEAN Retreat in January 2024. He would seek the support of ASEAN member states, ASEAN dialogue partners and other external partners. He noted that it would be challenging to accomplish the deliverables within a year, but Lao PDR is committed and would try its best to advance the ASEAN community building.

The Q&A session touched on relevant issues, including Laos’ plan for the implementation of the AOIP, the ASEAN Troika mechanism in addressing the Myanmar crisis, environmental cooperation and connectivity in the Mekong River, counter-narcotics, and plans to bridge disparities in the economic and digital domains across member states, amongst others.

The event attracted a high turnout of over 250 participants, both physically and virtually, from the policy, diplomatic corps, business and academic communities in Singapore and the region.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Download the Opening Remarks by Mr Choi Shing Kwok

Download the unofficial transcript of H.E. Mr Saleumxay Kommasith’s speech.

Download the Presentation Slides of Lecture