Throughout the year, under the theme “Cohesive & Responsive”, ASEAN member countries reached consensus on measures to respond to challenges, including those brought about by COVID-19.
ASEAN foreign ministers held online meetings in early February, when the pandemic broke out, to ensure that all member countries shared a common view.
A joint statement was issued identifying nine priorities in cooperation, including the strengthening of coordination to ensure readiness to respond to COVID-9 and actively share information on pandemic developments.
ASEAN economic and defence ministers also released a joint statement on partnership in fighting the pandemic, while an ASEAN military medical centre was also set up.
Before the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared a pandemic in March, Viet Nam, as ASEAN Chair, issued a statement on ASEAN’s response to COVID-19 and held several meetings to address the situation.
It also worked to enhance cooperation between the bloc and partners as well as international organisations to improve pandemic control.
ASEAN Secretary General Lim Lock Hoi lauded the coordination between member countries as well as the role of Viet Nam in dealing with challenges, including those from COVID-19.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand, Don Pramudwinai, said the online Special ASEAN Summit and the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 were promptly convened in mid-April, followed by a number of online ministerial meetings between ASEAN and external partners. These high-level engagements not only demonstrated the strong political will of ASEAN and its external partners to work together but also testified to the convening power of ASEAN, he said.
Thanks to the joint efforts of member countries over subsequent months, ASEAN leaders adopted a number of initiatives to tackle the risks from the pandemic at the 37th ASEAN Summit, including the launch of the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies (RRMS) for Public Health Emergencies, the ASEAN Strategic Framework for Public Health Emergencies, the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF), the ASEAN Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED), and the Declaration on an ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework.
The pandemic also pushed ASEAN to speed up the introduction of a single-window mechanism and the acceptance of an e-CO (electronic certificate of origin) to avoid interruptions to trade. The first protocol amending the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) became effective in September, accepting e-signatures and e-stamps. The ASEAN Customs Transit System (ACTS) was launched in November to facilitate the cross-border transit of goods. Businesses can look forward to saving time and money and having improved connectivity in moving goods via land across the six Participating Member States (PMS): Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
A network was also established to counter the spread of fake news within ASEAN.
COVID-19 was considered a test of ASEAN’s capacity for recovery and the leadership of Viet Nam as its Chair.
Hundreds of annual ASEAN meetings were moved online, with 550 meetings held during the year and 20 summits, including the 36th and 37th Summits and 70 ministerial meetings. The switch was made swiftly and efficiently, to ensure that agendas were fulfilled across all three fronts - politics-security-defence, economy, and culture and society.
As many as 80 documents, the record number, were approved, with a focus on building the ASEAN Community, promoting the mid-term review of the ASEAN Community Blueprint 2025, reviewing the ASEAN Charter, and building an ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision.
The joint effort of the entire bloc in dealing with COVID-19 was another highlight of Viet Nam’s chairmanship in 2020, with a spirit of leaving no one behind.
Meanwhile, the central role and position of ASEAN in the region and the world was bolstered, while regional connectivity was strengthened with the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in November.
In sum, 2020 was a momentous year with complex challenges, especially COVID-19. Under Viet Nam’s Chairmanship, ASEAN has been able to deal with them effectively and continues to strengthen community-building in a “Cohesive & Responsive” spirit so that ASEAN is better prepared for any uncertainties in the future.
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