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Wednesday, 20 May 2020 10:00
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Vietnam’s Asean chairmanship 2020: Context, opportunities, challenges and its preparation

(LCTT) - In 2020, Vietnam will take the role of ASEAN Chairman. The member countries of the ASEAN Community, ASEAN’s partners and many countries around the world believe Vietnam will perform well to build ASEAN into a community of solidarity, confidence, security, peace, stability, and development. This article focuses on clarifying the global and regional context, as well as Vietnam’s opportunities, challenges, and preparation as ASEAN Chair in 2020.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc officially received  the hammer symbolizing

ASEAN Chairmanship from the Thai Prime Minister_Photo: VGP

1. Global context

Human history has seen three powerful transitions that caused changes in overall global politics, military, economies, and socio-culture: 1) The emergence of Europe under the influence of the industrial and commercial revolution from the 15th to the end of the 18th century; 2) The emergence of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Especially after World War II, the United States became a global superpower that governed the world order until the end of the 20th century; and 3) The strong emergence of China and India from the beginning of the 21st century till now, which has led to a third global movement of power, especially the transition of power gravity from the West to the East, as well as the emergence of the Asia-Pacific century. This shift has caused a multi-polar and multi-center world.

Today, the world has undergone great global changes on different scales and levels, which affect most of the countries and people. While peace and development are still the main focus of the world, issues about global and non-traditional security, populism and protectionism are becoming more serious.

The Asia-Pacific region is affected by global instabilities, especially due to:

+ The bidirectional impact of the US’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” Strategy

+ The great impact of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative

+ The multidimensional impact of the trade war between the US and China

+ The permanent intensity in the East Sea as Chinese military continues acceleration and increased oil and gas exploration. Chinese survey ship Haiyang 8 has repeatedly approached the Vanguard Bank and violated the Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam.

The above global and regional context has not only affected all countries in general but also ASEAN and the preparation of Vietnam and the country’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020.

2. Opportunities and challenges

a. Opportunities

Currently, Vietnam and Southeast Asian countries do not have sufficient strength but are located in the center of an extremely geostrategic, geo-economic, and geopolitical competition between the two superpowers in the Pacific, which are the US and China. Therefore, choosing appropriate relations with the two parties is a problematic issue, especially in taking advantage of opportunities and positions. In this context, the Party and Government of Vietnam have chosen to be self-reliant, independent and autonomous. The country is ready to be friends with countries that favor peace and justice, as well as strive to protect peace and development. This choice would offer Vietnam and ASEAN countries opportunities such as:

- The suspicion and mistrust among the superpowers would facilitate ASEAN as a central role in creating beneficial cooperation mechanisms in the region where superpowers can become involved, such as dialogue and cooperation initiated and coordinated by ASEAN.

- The achievements of each member country and the ASEAN community throughout the 52 years of formation and development in terms of maintaining peace, stability, and development throughout the whole region have made ASEAN one of the most successful regional organizations in the world, which plays an essential role in Asia.

- The ASEAN Organization has formed three ASEAN Community pillars since the end of 2015, which are: the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). The formation of the ASEAN Community (as of December 31, 2015)(1) has been a major event that made intra-regional cooperation more substantive. The community creates favorable conditions for ASEAN to play a central role in cooperation between ASEAN and the superpowers. Because the superpowers are under strategic competition with each other, they all support the role of ASEAN in constructing regional cooperation mechanisms. Forums have been organized as cooperation mechanisms that are irreplaceable in the Asia-Pacific region such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM+), the Asian Security Summit (also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue) and the East Asia Elite (EAE). That means ASEAN is playing a crucial role in promoting regional cooperation, being a group of small countries in the Asia-Pacific region, contributing to the coordination of cooperation in the region, and getting support from the superpowers.

-For Vietnam, being the ASEAN Chairman, the country has more opportunities to develop, increase trade turnover, expand the market, attract FDI, improve their position in the global and regional value chain, and receive benefits in terms of the business environment, economies of scale, and cost reduction. Vietnam will also have more opportunities to ensure peace and stability and maintain better relations with neighboring countries in the region, strengthen relations with superpowers, and facilitate the position of Vietnam in the international arena.

b. Challenges

- The current global context is considered “multi-centered”. The increasing involvement of big countries with small and medium countries create challenges in maintaining independence and autonomy. This means big countries are expanding their power by using “soft power” and forcing small countries to depend more on economic relations, trade, investment, financial aids, technology and culture transfers, causing political dependence to small and medium countries. A great challenge then posed is how to avoid the risk of dependence.

- In many aspects of the competition between superpowers, small and medium countries are facing another great challenge in how to create a relative balance in relations with big countries to avoid direct competition with them.

- In the current arms race, small and medium countries are forced to set aside certain resources to build armies and consolidate national defense and protection.

- Other major fluctuations in non-traditional security also challenge the countries to research and seek appropriate responses.

- The situation in the East Sea has always been a problem for the Asia-Pacific region and the world. It challenges the solidarity of ASEAN countries, and the main responsibility belongs to Vietnam as Chairman of the community.

- For more than 50 years of establishment and development, ASEAN has been a successful regional organization. ASEAN member countries have learned the lesson of solidarity, unity, and cohesion to create mutual benefits. Facing a continuous transformation of the new situation and development, ASEAN member countries must address the following questions: how can they maintain ASEAN’s vitality, attractiveness, and motivation in a new campaign cycle? How can they strengthen and maintain the central role in the region, not only in Asia and the Pacific but also to a greater extent in the context of nationalism and increasing protectionism, as well as adapting to the constant change of regional and global situation?

3. The preparation of Vietnam for ASEAN Chairmanship

For nearly 25 years of membership in ASEAN, Vietnam has always been an active and responsible member, contributing significantly to the development process of ASEAN. The first time Vietnam was Chairman of ASEAN was in 2010. Vietnam successfully coordinated ASEAN activities in all areas and was highly appreciated by member countries and partners. Vietnam has always been one of the member countries with the highest rate of implementing ASEAN community-building master plans. Vietnam is also a leading entity in many activities such as promoting solidarity and unity and enhancing political, security and economic cooperation(2).

In 2020, Vietnam will be ASEAN Chairman for the second time. The Chairmanship is a responsibility and duty, and also a great opportunity for Vietnam. The Chairman of ASEAN is responsible for inheriting and promoting ASEAN’s achievements or continuing the on-going implementations. Moreover, the Chairman must be able to promote intra-regional cooperation and enhance ASEAN’s position. This is an opportunity for Vietnam to contribute to the common goals and interests of the whole community, as well as a chance to promote Vietnam’s national and social reputation to the world.

The year 2020 is a special year for ASEAN and Vietnam. For ASEAN, it is the 5th anniversary of the ASEAN Community’s establishment, a mid-term assessment of implementing the construction of ASEAN Community 2015-2020, completing a series of action plans between ASEAN and partners. For Vietnam, 2020 is the year Vietnam takes on the role of a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It is also the 25th anniversary of Vietnam joining ASEAN along with a series of major events such as the 130th birth anniversary of President Ho Chi Minh (1890-2020), the 90th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (1930-2020), the 75th forming anniversary the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1945-2020), the 45th anniversary of the liberation in the South, as well as national reunification (1975-2020), and last but not least, the preparation for the 13th National Party Congress.

Thus, the role of ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020 is both an opportunity and a challenge for Vietnam to showcase the country’s capacity and responsibility, as well as to meet the trust and expectations of ASEAN member countries and partners.

Therefore, Vietnam’s preparation for ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020 was carried out early. Since mid-2018, Vietnam has been carefully planning to take responsibility for the position.

- Regarding the organization, the Prime Minister ordered the establishment of the National Committee in charge of this issue and appointed Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Pham Binh Minh as Chairman of the Committee. In December 2018, Vietnam held the committee’s launching ceremony. At the launching ceremony, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc emphasized that Vietnam always considered ASEAN to be the top priority and the “corner stone” of multilateral diplomacy. Vietnam wishes to further contribute to the process of building and developing a consolidated ASEAN Community by playing a central role in the region and moving towards a harmonious, cohesive, identifiable, and capable ASEAN with high adaptability for prosperity and responsibility in addressing global issues(3).

The National ASEAN Committee 2020 has several sub-committees such as the Contents sub-committee, the Protocol sub-committee, the Logistics sub-committee, the Communication and Culture sub-committee, the Security and Healthcare sub-committee, and the Secretary Committee of National ASEAN 2020. These sub-committees have conducted meetings to analyze the situation and assigned tasks as well as developed action plans to be reported to the National ASEAN Committee 2020.

The National Committee organized the meeting of ASEAN Community Pillars, chaired by the Committee Chairman, the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Pham Binh Minh, as well as many other Ministers to discuss and identify outstanding issues and specific directions to improve the effectiveness of Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship.

Vietnam also consults with domestic and international experts, scholars, and policymakers about the initiatives to promote the identity and central role of ASEAN in the region as well as other issues.

Assessing the preparation of Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2020, Mr. Shahriman Lockman, senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia, stated straightforwardly that: “ASEAN has achieved a high level of consensus but does not have determined actions. In the current international issues, ASEAN does not have breakthroughs compared to 25 years ago. ASEAN has many structures in the region but has not yet solved the bloc’s problems nor dared to stand as an intermediary for international and regional conflicts, such as current India and Pakistan tension”(4). Mr. Lockman also said that Vietnam would face many difficulties and challenges in 2020 during the country’s ASEAN Chairmanship term. The challenges to the bloc are also those to Vietnam.

The former Minister of Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs, Mr. Marty Natalegawa said: “Since joining ASEAN, Vietnam has been an active, responsible member and now becomes a core member. In the current context, ASEAN is facing many economic and social challenges, especially in terms of security and geopolitics, etc., but ASEAN will work together to address these problems, and Vietnam will perform well in the role of Chairman to lead ASEAN to overcome the challenges”(5).

Besides, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Mr. Lim Jock Hoi emphasized that Vietnam has made great achievements over the past few years and is now becoming one of the bloc’s key economies. He also expressed his belief that Vietnam will perform the role of ASEAN Chairperson in 2020 well and will contribute positively to helping promote the ASEAN Economic Community(6).

The Bangkok Post of Thailand, on June 11th 2019, published an article saying Vietnam is playing the role of an Asian middle power. Elected for the second time as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Vietnam will continue to enhance ASEAN’s position in the world’s largest multilateral organization. The article noted that senior foreign affairs officials of Vietnam and Japan attended the seminar under various topics on bilateral relations on the occasion of ASEAN-Japan Day. This shows that Japan appreciates Vietnam’s coordinating role as well as its importance in Japan’s foreign policy. Other countries such as Russia, the US, India, South Korea, Australia and the European Union (EU) have plans to support Vietnam’s maritime security. The article emphasized that, while Thailand reaches its half way as the ASEAN Chairmanship 2019, Vietnam has already completed its plan for the upcoming Chairmanship year. Accordingly, Vietnam will focus on building an ASEAN Community to be cohesive and narrow the gap between new and old members. Vietnam will also play an active role in defense and security issues as well as strengthen the connection between ASEAN and the UN in various agendas, especially in the area of sustainable development and connectivity(7).

It can be asserted that Vietnam is ready and well prepared for taking responsibility as the ASEAN Chairman in the spirit of carefulness and urgency to achieve three comprehensive outcomes required by the Prime Minister: First, success in producing content; second, success in ensuring security, safety, and respectful and well-prepared protocol; and third, success in promoting the elegant images and identity of the country and the people of Vietnam in the developing and prosperous ASEAN Community(8).



(1) “ASEAN Community was officially formed”, https://baoquocte.vn.

(2) “Looking towards ASEAN Chairmanship 2020”, https://baoquocte.vn.

(3) “The 52nd anniversary of ASEAN and contributions of Vietnam”, http://baoninhthuan.com.vn.

(4), (5) “ASEAN Chairmanship 2020: Challenges as well as opportunities of Vietnam”; https://vov.vn.

(6) “Vietnam ready to assume 2020 ASEAN Chairmanship”, http://thanhtra.com.vn.

(7) “Thai media: Vietnam to help raise ASEAN position in UN”, https://www.msn.com.

(8) “ASEAN Chairmanship 2020: What should Vietnam prepare?”, http://vtc.vn

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Le Van Toan

Center for Indian Studies,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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