Two senior diplomats talk with VietNamNet about the topic “ASEAN recovers after the pandemic”.
In response to ASEAN 2021, VietNamNet talks with former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh and former Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN, Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan about the topic “ASEAN recovers after the pandemic”.
Turning challenges into opportunities
2021 is a year full of difficulties for ASEAN. How do you see opportunities for ASEAN to recover after the Covid-19 pandemic?
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh: First of all, let’s talk about the challenge. The year 2021 is still the year of the pandemic, which has caused an economic and social crisis. Meanwhile, competition among powers and the development of science and technology pose great challenges.
But any country that can control the epidemic early, can maintain economic activities while keeping the disease under control can grasp the opportunity. Regarding competition among powers, the opportunity is for the country that can take advantage of its major partners.
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh.
For ASEAN countries, there was a time they controlled the pandemic in 2020 but in H1/2021, the center of the epidemic moved to this region. At this moment, we can say that most Southeast Asian countries have regained momentum to control the pandemic to find a way to open up domestically, to restore economic activities, and gradually open the door to the outside world to welcome not only tourists but also investors.
Secondly, ASEAN countries are taking advantage of technology. Thirdly, it is the disruption of supply chain. Many ASEAN countries have coordinated with state members and major partners to maintain the sustainability of the supply chain.
At present, competition among big countries is increasing and taking place in many different forms. How will this affect the strategic balance as well as the central position of ASEAN?
Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan: Strategic competition among powers in Southeast Asia is not new. But obviously US-China competition in the current period is different from the US-Soviet competition in the past.
The US-China competition is fierce, but it has not led to a direct confrontation. Both China and the US try to spread their influence in the region. In this competition, the country with more allies and more relations with partners will benefit. The US has strengthened the group of four and the alliance of the UK – US – Australia (AUKUS). This is the latest security alliance the US has established in this region after 66 years.
In the Sino-American competition, ASEAN is the focal point, and both countries seek to take advantage of the role in this bloc. Whether ASEAN likes it or not, if it maintains its central role, it must handle relations with China and the US. This is a problem that is not easy to solve.
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh: I very much agree with Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan that the US-China competition at present is very different from the Cold War. It is fierce competition, on all fronts but with intertwined interests. During the Cold War, competition was in the geostrategic region of Europe. But this time it’s Asia. So, what will ASEAN do?
Firstly, they can raise their voice. Secondly, they can take advantage of the initiatives proposed by the parties. Thirdly, ASEAN has regional processes that other organizations don’t have, because it connects all the biggest partners in the region and the world, including the US and China. That is the strength of ASEAN.
In that context, how does ASEAN behave to ensure its central role and maintain relations with partners?
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh and Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan.
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh: In the face of US-China competition, people talk a lot about traps of competition, about choosing sides and how to have good relations with all countries. And ASEAN shows this position very clearly.
Firstly, it wants to play well with both the US and China but at the same time not letting the US-China competition affect the region. Secondly, it raises the voice over things that affect peace, stability and regional development and supports initiatives that support the region’s development.
ASEAN’s viewpoint in regional development cooperation is based on common interests and international law. ASEAN is supported by powers through the development of common regional agendas and the development of standards of conduct to cooperate with each other.
Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan: As more major countries get involved in regional issues, their interests in the region will also increase. ASEAN is the coordinator of their interests. This is an opportunity for ASEAN. ASEAN has promoted many aspects in its relations with different partners, thereby having better conditions to maintain peace, security and stability in the region.
But internal factors such as economic strength or internal solidarity of ASEAN are important. To promote external partnership, ASEAN must be attractive, that is, make partners see their interests reflected in the ASEAN agenda. ASEAN has been doing this very well.
What will be the key issues related to the implementation of ASEAN’s goals?
Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan.
Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan: To achieve its goals, it is necessary for ASEAN to recover the economy after the pandemic. Secondly, ASEAN needs to send a strong message to the region and the world that we have solidarity and unanimity, even in dealing with difficult issues like the East Sea or Myanmar. In relations between powers, ASEAN must show itself as a balancer and a bridge between major countries, which is not easy because powers have their own interests and calculations.
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh: Pandemic control and economic recovery are urgent tasks. There are many things can be done immediately, otherwise the opportunity will be missed. ASEAN can resume the supply chains and then social-economic activities within the bloc.
Another point is the behavior with powers, especially the two most important partners in the region, the US – China. How to play well with both sides. How can ASEAN show them that it is a reliable friend and they have common interests based on regional common interests and international law?
This region has not only the US and China as important partners but also many others. The issue is how to make new initiatives on both trade and security to not only benefit powers but also ASEAN.
As an active member of ASEAN, Vietnam serves as a gateway to the ASEAN-China free trade area, while Vietnam-China trade revenue posted an annual average growth rate of 20% over the past five years.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh proposed two key tasks that ASEAN should focus on doing in the time to come during the ongoing 38th ASEAN Summit on October 26.