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ASEAN Lecture Series on "The 21st ASEAN Lecture: Viet Nam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2020: Cohesive and Responsive"

ASEAN Studies Centre

Tuesday, 17 December 2019 – The 21st ASEAN Lecture, “Viet Nam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2020: Cohesive and Responsive”, was organised by the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute on 17 December 2019. The lecture was delivered by His Excellency Nguyen Quoc Dzung, Deputy Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. The session was opened and moderated by Mr. Choi Shing Kwok, Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  

Ambassador Dzung provided a detailed explanation of Viet Nam’s Chairmanship theme, “Cohesive and Responsive”. First, he explained that cohesiveness refers to Viet Nam’s aim to reinforce ASEAN’s unity and solidarity in the face of challenges emanating from within and without, enhance ASEAN economic integration, and work towards a people-centered community. Second, responsiveness refers to Viet Nam’s hope to develop ASEAN’s resilience and adaptiveness to shocks and crises, so as to improve the region’s capacity to bounce back from setbacks.

His Excellency Nguyen Quoc Dzung (right), Deputy Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, highlighted the rapid and complex changes in the regional and global landscape, and identified key challenges that merit ASEAN’s focused attention in the community building process. Mr. Choi Shing Kwok, Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ambassador Dzung described how Viet Nam’s ASEAN Chairmanship would align with its foreign policy objectives, particularly promoting multilateralism at the global and regional levels. He illustrated how Viet Nam’s achievements place it in better stead for its role as ASEAN Chair, naming its experience in hosting major events such as the second summit between the United States and the Democratic Republic of North Korea in 2019 and ratifying the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Ambassador Dzung welcomed Viet Nam’s upcoming dual responsibility as ASEAN Chair and non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Next, Ambassador Dzung communicated Viet Nam’s five key priorities as ASEAN Chair in 2020. First, Viet Nam will strive to strengthen ASEAN solidarity and unity while promoting peace, security, and stability in the region. Second, it endeavours to deepen integration and connectivity within and beyond the region as well as leverage the Fourth Industrial Revolution to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth. Third, Viet Nam will seek to advance a greater sense of ASEAN commonality and collective identity to build a strong ASEAN Community. Fourth, Viet Nam will continue to develop strong relations with external partners. Finally, Viet Nam will look towards strengthening ASEAN’s institutional capacity.

Ambassador Dzung provided some examples on how Viet Nam’s Chairmanship theme would translate into tangible deliverables according to the ASEAN Community’s three pillars, namely the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). Under the APSC, Viet Nam will (i) propose means and ways to take ASEAN-led mechanisms like the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) to the next stage; (ii) augment ASEAN’s capacity to respond to global and regional developments; (iii) advance cross-sectoral and cross-pillar approaches to tackle emerging security challenges; and (iv) continue to promote maritime cooperation and security in the region. With regards to the AEC, Viet Nam will (i) boost intra-ASEAN trade and investment; (ii) promote cooperation and partnerships for peace and sustainable development; and (iii) reinforce ASEAN’s adaptive capacity and performance. Lastly, under the ASCC, Viet Nam will (i) develop human capital and enhance social security especially for the most vulnerable; (ii) promote cooperation mechanisms to combat fake news; and (iii) foster stronger awareness of regional identity. Ambassador Dzung also remarked that Viet Nam will endeavour to live up to the high standards set by previous Chairs, and to build on key initiatives like developing smart cities capabilities while emphasising sustainable development.

Ambassador Dzung shared that the biggest challenges Viet Nam faced in preparing for its Chairmanship were analysing the salient regional and global developments affecting ASEAN, taking stock of ASEAN’s progress thus far, and determining the path forward to realise the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Ambassador Dzung opined that the prospect of a global economic slowdown, coupled with the rise of protectionist sentiments in many developed countries, could put a damper on ASEAN’s economic fortunes. He said that ASEAN has invested much hope and resources to ready itself for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which might help to alleviate inequality and encourage a more equitable distribution of wealth. Meanwhile, maintaining ASEAN centrality and unity in the face of rising major power competition, coping with trade war headwinds, a lack of ASEAN identity, and institutional inefficiency are ASEAN’s biggest challenges. However, Ambassador Dzung cautioned against undue pessimism, adding that the AEC is a prime example of how ASEAN has found success in spite of global challenges and internal differences among its member states.

Ambassador Dzung addressed a packed room. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

The Q&A session discussed topics like ASEAN’s collective bargaining power, the state of human rights in Southeast Asia, the finalisation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the role of Dialogue Partners in Viet Nam’s Chairmanship in 2020, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).