July 28th, 2020 marks a quarter of a century since Vietnam officially became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The 25th anniversary of this special occasion coincides with Vietnam’s turn for the rotating chairmanship of the association for the second time.
Vietnam’s accession to ASEAN in 1995 is one of the most important milestones not only in Vietnam’s foreign policy history since the August Revolution in 1945, but also in the development of ASEAN.
This historic event holds important significance, bringing Southeast Asia from confrontation to dialogue, from distrust to trust, from division to solidarity.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (Photo: VGP)
For ASEAN, the admission of Vietnam to become its seventh member helped accelerate the process of expanding the grouping to cover all 10 countries in the region, thereby strengthening peace and stability in this area of special geopolitical and geo-economic importance and the centre connecting the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
When Vietnam joined ASEAN, the region had just emerged from the Cold War and its position, role and economic scope remained modest.
But the past 25 years have witnessed a drastic transformation in the association and today, all 10 Southeast Asian countries have become a unified community with an increasingly elevated reputation in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world.
Based on the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), with the formation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ), ASEAN has gradually become a peaceful and stable region whose position and profile is increasingly affirmed.
The establishment of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), together with the signing of free trade agreements (FTAs) between ASEAN and many key economies, has contributed to the prosperity of the ASEAN region, making ASEAN one of the most dynamic economies in the world.
By 2019, ASEAN was home to about 650 million people, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.2 trillion and trade value exceeding $2.8 trillion.
The ASEAN Community was established on December 31, 2015, making ASEAN politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible. ASEAN today is considered a successful model of regional co-operation. The forums initiated by ASEAN have drawn the participation of many countries and are held in high regard by all major countries.
In addition to its intra-regional cohesion and co-operation, ASEAN has also expanded relations with external partners, becoming an important partner of major countries within and outside the region. On the basis of open external relations including 10 dialogue partners, including all the world’s major powers, ASEAN's voice is heard and ASEAN's centrality is getting more and more consolidated.
ASEAN's central role has been affirmed through its efforts in promoting the establishment of and leading the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), and the ADMM Plus; and through its increasingly important contributions to the handling of regional issues.
Notably, ASEAN has expressed its steadfast stance in regards to the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the East Sea) and in the region, via the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002 and the ongoing negotiations for the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC), which are expected to conclude soon.
For Vietnam, the day of July 28 a quarter-century ago is also a meaningful milestone, marking a very important step forward of Vietnam on the path of regional and international integration.
We have increasingly pursued more profound integration, with a confident, active, proactive spirit, and always demonstrating our role as a reliable partner and responsible member of the community of not only Southeast Asian countries but also the international community.
In the country’s integration process, the diplomatic sector has always played a vanguard role, charting the pathway to the world.
In the diplomatic task of getting the country out of a state of besiegement and isolation, ASEAN was considered the first breakthrough of Vietnam’s integration. In the later stages, Vietnam’s engagement and participation in ASEAN has been closely attached to the country's renovation and international integration process.
We have made strong strides in 'renewing' our foreign affairs stance, from the 'more friends, fewer enemies' policy, diversifying and multilateralising our international relations, 'moving from confrontation to dialogue', to striving towards 'an active, proactive, and responsible member' in ASEAN, and now the motto is 'active, proactive, and responsible together with ASEAN countries in building a strong community'.
Vietnam has gradually consolidated its position as an integral part of ASEAN and Southeast Asia, aligning the country's development with ASEAN and expressing the wish to shoulder its share of responsibilities in ASEAN’s affairs.
Vietnam’s ASEAN policy has become a crucial component of the country's foreign policy, as highlighted in the Communist Party of Vietnam’s documents and resolutions on foreign affairs, especially Directive No 25-CT/TW on promoting and enhancing multilateral foreign relations by 2030.
Immediately after joining ASEAN in 1995, Vietnam made efforts to push for the admission of the remaining Southeast Asian countries to become ASEAN members. Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia joined ASEAN in 1997 and 1999, respectively, which helped realise the dream of an ASEAN that groups together all 10 Southeast Asian countries.
As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam has been active, proactive, and responsible in ASEAN's affairs including institution building for ASEAN such as the ASEAN Charter (2008), Roadmap for an ASEAN Community 2009-2015, ASEAN Blueprint 2009, 2015, and 2025, ASEAN Community Vision Post- 2015, 2025 and beyond; and comprehensively implemented all three pillars of the ASEAN Community.
Vietnam held the 6th ASEAN Summit in 1998, undertook the role of Chairman of the 34th ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) (July 2000 to July 2001), was Chairman of ASEAN 2010, and currently, Vietnam is working hard to fulfil the role of ASEAN Chair 2020.
With many important initiatives and contributions such as EAS expansion or establishment of the ADMM Plus mechanism, Vietnam has displayed its efforts together with ASEAN members to maintain the central role of ASEAN in the shaping of the regional structure.
Becoming an ASEAN member has brought Vietnam many important and practical benefits.
Firstly, ASEAN is one of the important foundations for our gradual efforts at international integration, creating a favourable international environment to serve national building and defence. Over the past 25 years, Vietnam and ASEAN countries have built a friendly, co-operative and war-free Southeast Asia. In tandem with promoting ASEAN co-operation, we have established strategic partnership frameworks and comprehensive partnerships with neighbouring countries, regions, major powers and many other important partners. Our growing profile in ASEAN helps us marshal international support to protect our security and development interests, including the South China Sea issue.
Secondly, joining ASEAN enabled us to integrate more deeply into the world, mobilise resources for development and boost our synergistic strength. Following the admission into ASEAN, Vietnam has participated in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as new generation FTAs such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which help Vietnam accelerate its reforms, expand the market, increase exports, attract investment and official development assistance (ODA), helping the country achieve impressive growth for many consecutive years.
Thirdly, ASEAN engagement helps Vietnam gradually uplift its multilateral diplomacy and augment its position in the international arena. Successes in ASEAN have given us advantages to fulfil many important multilateral foreign affairs tasks such as the role of non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (for the term 2008-2009, 2020-2021), the hosting of APEC (2006, 2017), active participation in developing international playbook, co-operation in dealing with global challenges such as climate change and COVID-19 pandemic response.
Fourthly, the process of joining ASEAN for 25 years has helped train and improve the capacity of our diplomats, especially those dealing with multilateral affairs, availing us of firmer confidence when 'sailing out to the high seas' – global integration.
As the Chair of ASEAN 2020, Vietnam and the bloc’s member countries have come up with the theme for this year 'Cohesive and Response', which is hoped to accelerate the process of building the ASEAN Community and promote ASEAN's role in a turbulent, ever-changing world.
Over the past seven months, Vietnam’s efforts as ASEAN Chair have been in line with the spirit of cohesion and proactive response.
With the solidarity among ASEAN member countries and the support and cooperation from our partners, ASEAN has ensured the effective implementation of ASEAN goals of co-operation and connectivity in 2020, overcoming difficulties and challenges, and making initial achievements in the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, and starting to implement recovery efforts.
The way ASEAN has managed to surmount the unexpected and unpredictable tempest that is the global pandemic has attested to a cohesive, proactive, adaptive, resilient and unwavering ASEAN in the face of adversity.
More than ever, we understand the importance of community thinking and community action. As Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has emphasised: “Individual efforts need to be unified and transcend national borders, to become a joint action of the ASEAN Community as a whole.”