Vietnam and the future of ASEAN

WVR - As Vietnam’s membership enters its third decade, Hanoi wishes to ascertain that ASEAN will remain united and be able to respond to changes both in the regional and international context.
Vietnam and the future of ASEAN
Vietnamese flag flies high with other ASEAN country members at International Convention in Bandar Seri Begawan capital, Brunei on July 28, 1995. (Photo: VNA)

A new dynamism for both

Before Vietnam became the seventh member of ASEAN in 1995, many questions were raised about the potential future repercussions of incorporating a former enemy.

Before Vietnam decided to join ASEAN, Hanoi sent a high-level delegation to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to assess the pros and cons of joining the bloc. The delegation returned home with full knowledge that the country would be an asset to the bloc in the long haul. Vietnam was admitted as the first Indochinese state in 1995, setting the foundation for the rest of continental Southeast Asian countries to follow suit.

Fast-forward to the present, and Vietnam has proved beyond doubt that its ASEAN membership has injected a new dynamism not only into itself but also into the 57-year-old organization. Today, Vietnam is a leading economy in ASEAN and enjoys continued economic growth and social development.

Hanoi has also played an active role in ASEAN, both as a member and as a rotational chair, strengthening the ASEAN profile and centrality. Most importantly, Vietnam wants to ensure that the bloc will continue to be relevant and a regional player in the current geopolitical landscape.

Unsurprisingly, Vietnam wants to focus on the future of ASEAN due to the uncertainty emanating from the rivalries between the major powers. Since joining the bloc, Vietnam has integrated itself with the rest of its colleagues in all dimensions—political/security, economic, social/cultural.

As Vietnam’s membership enters its third decade, Hanoi wishes to ascertain that the bloc will remain united and be able to respond to changes both in the regional and international context.

As Asian history has demonstrated, the bloc can still mitigate tensions and forge collaborative efforts among member countries and dialogue partners. As a member of the ASEAN family, every country has a say and, at the same time, can convince the rest of the family to follow suit and form the needed consensus to consolidate further and strengthen ASEAN centrality.

Vietnam and the future of ASEAN
Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, Senior Fellow, Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn Universit, Thailand. (Photo: VGP)

Consensus is natural

Critics have often blamed Asean for the lack of speedy responses and remedies in responding to crises. Being a non-military bloc with clear objectives of promoting peace and prosperity, it is natural for ASEAN to obtain consensus before it commits to any cause.

ASEAN does not have the same luxury as the great powers to react or subsequently rescind their positions at will. Once Asean commits, it stands firm and will not pull back. As such, Asean is a very unique organization: a problem-solving bloc trying to maintain stability, improve the human security and livelihood of the Asean Community.

Vietnam’s initiative is very timely, as frequent questions have been asked about the bloc’s overall ability to cope with the present geopolitical shifts. ASEAN can further strengthen its centrality, solidarity, and modus operandi through increased high-level consultations, especially among the leaders.

There should also be a mechanism that will enable the ASEAN leaders to meet face-to-face when there is a looming crisis. At this juncture, what Asean needs urgently is to increase the ASEAN leaders’ comfort levels as well during retreats and consultations. They should spend more time together. The bloc’s future depends on its leaders’ joint abilities to transform their mutual concerns, common views and perceptions into appropriate and tangible action plans.

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