Founded in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will turn 53 years old on August 8, 2020, proving its pivotal role as a regional organisation to promote peace and security, accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the Southeast Asia.
Viet Nam’s accession to ASEAN in 1995 as its seventh member is one of the important milestones in the development of ASEAN, bringing Southeast Asia from confrontation to dialogue, from distrust to trust, from division to solidarity.
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, including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, with a total population of more than 640 million and a total area of around 4.5 million square km.
The ASEAN community was established on December 31, 2015, making ASEAN politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible. With the three major pillars, namely Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Cultural-Social Community, ASEAN share a vision to become a concert of Southeast Asian nations — outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.
ASEAN today is considered a successful model of regional cooperation. Ten Southeast Asian countries have become a unified community with an increasingly elevated reputation in the Asia-Pacific region and in the world.
ASEAN has gradually become a peaceful and stable region whose position and profile is increasingly affirmed with the formation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) which deals with issues concerning the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ), which are based on the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).
ASEAN has also adopted two conventions to counter transnational crime: the ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism in 2007 and the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons in 2015. ASEAN has established the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM-plus for external partners as foundations of intra-ASEAN defense and military cooperation with its external partners. There are numerous areas of potential cooperation: maritime security, humanitarian assistance, peace keeping operations, disaster response, counter terrorism, cyber security and military medicine.
Notably, ASEAN has expressed its steadfast stance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea by full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and looked forward to the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC) consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.
Regarding the economic development, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has established a single and open market with many economic opportunities since 2015. For business actors, the AEC decreases costs, supports free flow of goods and increases investment. ASEAN is working to integrate the association with the world economy and has developed free-trade agreements with several partners including Australia, China, Japan, India, South Korea and New Zealand. Recently, ASEAN is still working on a mega trade pact known as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with these above external partners.
In more than half a century, ASEAN has established itself as the fifth-largest economy in the world with a combined GDP of more than 3.2 trillion USD in 2019 and expected to become the fourth-largest by 2050. Under the umbrella of the organisation, the total international trade value exceeded 2.8 trillion USD in last year. The region has also become a focal point of foreign direct investment, attracting over 150 billion USD every recent year.
In terms of building socio-cultural relationships, ASEAN nations have reduced the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day from one in every two persons to one in every eight within two decades and minimising infant and maternal mortality in the region. Life expectancy in ASEAN has risen from 55.6 years in 1969 to 70.9 in 2016. The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community also attempts to build ASEAN’s identity and character, both of which are people-centered, as well as to develop regional disaster risk management and climate change adaptation capabilities.
In the year of 2020, the ASEAN countries have come up with the theme “Cohesive and Responsive”, which is hoped to accelerate the process of building the ASEAN Community and promote ASEAN’s role in a turbulent, ever-changing world.
The Covid-19 pandemic, that was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has put pressure on the organisation’s cohesiveness and responsiveness. Nevertheless, ASEAN has shown a high level of responsiveness in this difficult time by promoting digital diplomacy. In 2020, ASEAN Chair Viet Nam’s initiative, online meetings are now welcomed and have become the new normal of conducting ASEAN business. Most ASEAN officials were quick to adapt to more sophisticated digital means of communication. The online meetings show ASEAN’s ability to adjust its schedule and quickly respond to the new situation.
Fighting the pandemic was prioritised. As early as February 14, Viet Nam issued a Chairman’s Statement on ASEAN Collective Response to the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019. All the online meetings have been COVID-19 related, designed to foster regional cooperation not only in the public health sector, but also along ASEAN’s community-building action plans in new contexts influenced by the pandemic.
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.
In addition to intra-regional cooperation, ASEAN has also expanded relations with many important external partners, such as ASEAN+3, ASEAN+6, etc. 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 solid development and cooperation have contributed significantly to the overall achievements of the world, becoming an important partner of major countries within and outside the region.
ASEAN region is historically, culturally and socially closer to Bangladesh than those in other Asian regions. Bangladesh, being located in the eastern sub-region of the SAARC region and having both land and maritime openings to the ASEAN region, can be the linchpin between the two historical regions.
The friendship relations between ASEAN, each ASEAN member, and Bangladesh has been established and promoted for a long time. In 2006, Bangladesh became the 26th member of the ARF. Bangladesh’s participation in the Forum has contribute towards strengthening the cause of peace and security in the Asia Pacific region.
Particularly, in the context of the non-traditional security threat of COVID-19 pandemic, the need of ASEAN – Bangladesh coordination becomes more crucial than ever. The COVID-19 outbreak affected severely on all socio-economic aspects of every nation, causing an unprecedented disruption to the global supply chains. China — the giant factory of the world, or the major export destinations of ASEAN and Bangladesh like the US or EU, are all hit seriously by the COVID-19.
Developing economies like Bangladesh and ASEAN nations could closely cooperate and support each other to re-structure the supply chains, diversify the trading partners, reduce the dependence on any single market, in order to build up the resilience to the global economic volatility as well as to recover from the COVID-19 aftermaths.
In addition, Bangladesh and ASEAN could exchange ideas, experiences in utilising each other’s market and expertise in attracting the foreign investment. With the advantages of geography proximity and labour force, Bangladesh and ASEAN definitely have sufficient conditions to become the destinations for the new movement of foreign manufacturing investors.
Bangladesh and ASEAN countries have shared the similarities in the history of national growth and promoted the friendship relations as good neighbours. As among the most dynamic economies in the world, there are still much huge potential in cooperation between the bloc and the country.
Turning the 53rd year of development, ASEAN will continue the constant efforts to strengthen the long-standing partnership with Bangladesh and support to overcome all challenges and soon realise “Sonar Bangla” as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Courtesy: Documents provided by the Embassy of Viet Nam in Bangladesh