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ASEAN: 50 years of formation, development and a path ahead
6/9/2017 15:47' Send Print
Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng delivers a speech at the Indonesian Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Communist Review presents the full text of the speech:

Your Excellency Mr. Phillips J. Vermonte,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On the occasion of my official visit to the Republic of Indonesia today, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to meet and exchange views with you at the Indonesian Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading think tank of Indonesia and the region at large and an active member of the Network of ASEAN International Research Institutes with a history of strategic research spanning four decades. At the outset, allow me to express my gratitude to Mr. Director and the leadership of the Center as well as all of you for making this meaningful meeting possible.

To my knowledge, ever since the Center was established in the early 70s of the previous century, it has had important contributions to the study of pertinent national, regional and international strategic issues. It has made numerous recommendations for Indonesia's foreign and development policy, and contributed to the promotion of understanding between the academia and people of Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam.

I wish to inform you that during this visit to Indonesia, I have discussed extensively with His Excellency President Joko Widodo and the leadership of Indonesia on our bilateral relations as well as regional and international matters of common interest. We are delighted to recall that the traditional friendship between our two countries and peoples has a long history. In the 19th century, the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam sent the famous poet and scholar Cao Ba Quat to Batavia (Jakarta today) to promote relations between the two countries.

And during the 20th century, this friendship continued to be fostered and strengthened by the deep and extraordinary affection between President Ho Chi Minh and President Sukarno, and continues until today as Vietnam and Indonesia become each other's strategic partner. Generations of Vietnamese keep in their mind still the friendship between President Ho Chi Minh and President Sukarno, which at its root was a simple yet close friendship. During President Ho Chi Minh's visit to Indonesia and President Sukarno's visit to Vietnam, both of which took place in 1959, the Indonesian people called President Ho Chi Minh Paman Ho. President Ho Chi Minh also addressed President Sukarno by the affectionate term of Bung Karno.

Most notably, during his visit to Vietnam President Sukarno declared, “Our two peoples have fought long and hard, and have declared our independence in the same month of August 1945. Both our countries maintained our faith and therefore have stood firm. We are brothers - brothers in arms”. On his part, President Ho Chi Minh gifted President Sukarno the following two lines of poetry as a farewell present: Distant though our countries, yet our hearts are not/For friends we are, and brothers are we.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Indonesia enjoys a strategic geographic position and a high status and prestige at both the regional and international level since the fifties of the last century. It is the country that brought forward the idea for and one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement that hosted the historic Bandung Conference in 1955. It is one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967 and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1969. It played a leading role in ASEAN's cooperation efforts with the Jakarta Informal Meeting initiative during the 80s as a way to find solutions for the Cambodian issue. It hosted the first ASEAN Summit that created the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in the Southeast Asia (TAC), a foundational and guiding agreement for regional cooperation.

Today, Vietnam and Indonesia are both important members of the ASEAN Community and have become each other's strategic partner since 2013. We share many similar interests and values, as well as views and positions concerning regional and international issues. In the past, we have witnessed some very positive development in bilateral relations, especially in implementing the “Action Program 2014-2018 to implement the strategic partnership”.

Political, defense and security cooperation, as well as coordination at regional and international forums are bright spots. Economic, trade and investment cooperation have been strongly promoted while bottlenecks are step by step addressed to make best use of each country's immense potentials. The continual reinforcement of the Vietnam - Indonesia strategic partnership is in line with the national interest of both Indonesia and Vietnam, helps strengthen the inner power of each country, creates a favorable security environment that benefits the economic development and status promotion goal of our two countries, in the Southeast Asia and the world at large.

During these days, we are celebrating an extraordinary event, being the 50th birthday of ASEAN. Vietnam is celebrating the 22th anniversary of our accession to ASEAN. This is an apt moment to reflect upon ASEAN's fifty years of development, draw from it useful lessons and together identify a new strategic vision and suitable policies and measures to ensure a future of sustainable development for our region.

From Vietnam's perspective, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the Southeast Asian region, on ASEAN and Vietnam.

Southeast Asia is a distinctive region that plays an important part in the history of the world. This region has been considered a corridor connecting East and West. It is rich in resources and occupies an immensely significant strategic position. It lies on the vital road from West to East, and is one of the most important regions to the future of the relations between major countries.

Southeast Asia is distinct as a place with many nations, many religions and a diversity of cultures. Some have called Southeast Asia the “museum of ethnicities” of the world. It is heterogeneous in development level and diverse in socio-political systems.

The formation of nation-states in the region differed, which leads to differing political systems and development trajectories. Such characteristics have turned this region throughout the Cold War era into one of the forefront of conflict and competition for influence between the East and the West.

Today, from a region witnessing war, conflicts and instability, Southeast Asia has become a relatively peaceful and stable region against the backdrop of much instability and turmoil elsewhere in the world. From a region divided and rife with strife, Southeast Asia has built for itself an ASEAN Community that is “united in diversity”, and was able to establish and uphold its centrality in the regional cooperation mechanism.

ASEAN is considered the second most successful regional organization in the world, only behind the European Union in this regard. From a destitute and backward region, the Southeast Asia of today has become one of the most dynamic regions in the world, boasting the seventh largest economy worldwide and is working towards becoming the fourth largest by 2050. The most lasting foundation, also the most pivotal achievement that ASEAN was able to make, was the creation of a peaceful, stable and secure environment, thus creating a favorable condition for the establishment, maintenance and promotion of cooperation mechanisms for growth, integration, connectivity, solidarity, mutual assistance and sharing.

What has happened in Southeast Asia in the past fifty years is nothing short of a miracle. What has given rise to such a spectacular development, you may ask.

First, the creation of ASEAN at the end of the 60s of the last century was closely linked to Vietnam's struggle for national reunification. However, the situation changed in the years that followed. That Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar each in turn became official members of ASEAN, bringing the membership count to ten, was an important turning point that put an end to the facing off between the two blocs in Southeast Asia.

With the ASEAN Charter in 2007, ASEAN has become a legal entity. With the birth of the ASEAN Community in 2015, ASEAN is becoming a united, close-knit whole. Thanks to ASEAN, former foes became friends and partners, working together in all areas imaginable.

Second, by joining ASEAN, each member country to different extents received important benefits. Thanks to such framework as the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) and the ASEAN Economic Community of today, intra-bloc trade within ASEAN quadrupled between 1993 and today. Intra-bloc investment between 2000 and 2016 also grew by the same factor. ASEAN created a consumer market worth US$1.17 trillion, compared to $300 billion in 2000. It is also because of ASEAN that the stature of each member country in the process of regional and international integration was bolstered.

Third, for countries outside the region, ASEAN also brings about many benefits, enabling it to make use of their cooperation, especially the major powers. The mechanisms that ASEAN established, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM+), and the ASEAN + 1 and ASEAN + 3 mechanisms, have attracted the participation of many major powers. These mechanisms are also building blocks for the new regional architecture. To different extents, countries outside the region have made use of this architecture and gained benefits from the stability and prosperity within it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This, however, is not to say that the creation and development of the ASEAN Community was all smooth sailing. Like every other international and regional organization, even in its early days, ASEAN was faced with many challenges, political and security alike, both within and without. This has been true for the last fifty years, and this is still true for the journey ahead of the Association.

Among the challenges that ASEAN is faced with, a number stand out. From within, these are the highly diverse and uneven economic development level among member countries, the organization and mechanism being not very effective, the discrepancy between the number of agreements and their limited implementation, and the modest awareness of the public about the benefits of participating in ASEAN.

From without, these are the traditional and nontraditional challenges: maritime security, disputes over territory, waters, islands and resources, terrorism and transnational crime, ecological and water security, and climate change, which are developing ever more complexly. The adverse impact of globalization and the reemerging wave of protectionism in many places in the world also pose significant challenges to the development of our Community.

However, it would be amiss not to mention the adverse impact of competition between major powers. As a geostrategically essential region in the Asia-Pacific, Southeast Asia has ever been the center stage for friction in the highly complex simultaneous cooperation and competition between major powers. The changes happening today are tempestuous and potent, and have immensely profound effects on the global state of affair, on international relations, on ASEAN and on each individual country, in many aspects and with highly unpredictable implications.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let us ask ourselves, then, which lessons of the past fifty years would help ASEAN continue to handle the ever tougher challenges, to steer the integration vessel of Southeast Asia towards the future.

It is my view that the greatest lesson for ASEAN to maintain its important role is to uphold “independence and self-reliance” and “solidarity and unity”. Over the last fifty years, each ASEAN country has tirelessly strengthened their self-reliance through many economic and social development and foreign relations strategies alike, as well as through cooperation within the ASEAN framework. Respecting independence and sovereignty is a core value, shaped throughout ASEAN's history and is also its future.

Another profound lesson to keep in mind is that of solidarity and unity. Just as we Vietnamese have the adage “solidarity makes strength”, Indonesians have the saying “Bhinneka Tungal Ika” - “Different but One.” Other ASEAN countries have words of wisdom to the same effect. The history of ASEAN has proven that whenever we stood united on the basis of harmonizing our common interests, the role and voice of the Association would be respected and upheld.

Conversely, whenever ASEAN unity was in peril, the Association's prestige and the status of each country in their relations with other nations would similarly be challenged. This is why maintaining ASEAN solidarity is a matter of immense importance and an urgent requirement today.

Yet another important lesson that proved instrumental in ASEAN's success as well as that of each member is the fact that ASEAN was able to maintain centrality in regional cooperation mechanisms. I share with President Joko Widodo's remark in his proclamation on the 50th anniversary of ASEAN, stressing that ASEAN needs to maintain its solidarity and centrality and determine its own future. It is its solidarity and unity that enabled ASEAN to create its peaceful, stable and prosperous environment, and secure the respect of countries outside the region.

The development of ASEAN also showed that the Association was able to overcome its most difficult time through “the ASEAN way”. The spectacular flexibility of the ASEAN Way began from the culture of consultation (“mufakat”) and consensus (“musyawarah”) that Indonesia expounded. While itself not perfect, ASEAN has brought about an attractive and effective cooperation model. Its approach may well become the way of the future, allowing other divided and contentious regions to learn from to build their own close and sincere cooperation ties.

For countries outside Southeast Asia, especially major powers, we want these countries to share in the understanding that ASEAN centrality is in line with common interest. A close-knit and united ASEAN, a strong ASEAN, and an ASEAN that continues to foster its intra-bloc connection and expand its ties with the outside world is the greatest interest of all countries involved. Such an ASEAN will not choose to pick side, will not participate in coalitions to face off against one party or another or join a conflict with a major power, but may even play the role of the active mediator that helps harmonizing the conflicting interests and help maintain peace and stability in the region.

I also share Mr. President's assessment on ASEAN: “ASEAN has become a place for great powers to talk to each other. Do not let ASEAN be a proxy for the rivalry of big powers, ASEAN must remain a 'hub of regional diplomacy'”.

Today ASEAN is positioned in a new period of development. To realize the “2025 ASEAN Vision”, I think we should make all efforts to realize the following goals:

First, successfully building a truly cohesive, strong and prosperous ASEAN Community. This is a long-term strategic interest of all ASEAN members, requiring a “centrifugal” attitude and a responsibility to contribute from all members in tirelessly strengthening solidarity, unity and connectivitywithin the Community, as well as a harmonious approach to balance the interest of the Community with the individual interest of each member.

We need to innovate and further improve the efficiency of existing cooperation mechanisms, and add more effective mechanisms to fulfill all the requirements of integration and cooperation across all three pillars of the ASEAN Community. The goal is to improve political trust, raise the level of economic cohesion, and most importantly, to promote the participation of the people and their stake in the Community building process.

Comprehensive exchanges and cooperation should be promoted across all channels, which include, in addition to the government one, the parliamentary, political party. Business, press, academic, artistic and most of all people-to-people channels to improve the level of mutual understanding and trust and foster friendship and connectivity between the people of our ASEAN countries.

Second, we should maintain and strengthen the peace and stability of the region. Anything that might affect peace and stability in the region should be the most pressing concern in ASEAN's agenda. Handling disputes over land, sea and island sovereignty is the responsibility of those countries directly involved, yet the conduct and actions of all countries in the handling of such disputes would exert a direct effect on the common interest of the regional and international community. ASEAN needs to actively promote cooperation and the setting of standards, mechanisms and tools to help better address these challenges, prevent conflict and handle disputes in accordance with international law to maintain the common peace and stability.

Third, we should strengthen relations with external partners while strengthening and making effective use of ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture. Effective cooperation with our partners should be fostered to ensure harmonized relations between countries, including major powers, without over-relying on any other party so as to maintain the independence and self-reliance of ASEAN. We need to better enhance the capacity of regional mechanisms with ASEAN at their core as a way to meet the demand of the new situation, especially in ensuring security, maintaining peace and stability and upholding the rule of law, for the interest of all countries in the region and the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the last 22 years, despite being a latecomer with a yet modest development level, Vietnam has done our very best to take active and responsible part in the affairs of the Association, in order to maintain and promote a regional order in Southeast Asia based on regional rules and in accordance with international law. Vietnam always considers ASEAN a common home, prioritizing relations with member countries while harmonizing our own national interests with those of the region.

We wish to thank the founding members and every other member country, and are grateful to the previous generations of ASEAN leaders for their strategic vision and effort in building our Association today. We vow to do our utmost to foster and care for our enduring common home. ASEAN cooperation and linkage is Vietnam's top priority and strategic choice, and we shall work with all member countries to realize the ASEAN Community's most noble goal: prosperity and unity in diversity, as was the ardent desire of the previous generations of leaders and of all Southeast Asian nations.

What I wish to relate to all of you today, is that our two countries - Vietnam and Indonesia - play important roles in the region, share many common values and beliefs and are linked to each other by a tradition of friendship and cooperation that transcends time.

Let us stand together in unity, along with all other ASEAN countries, to continue our tireless efforts and outdo ourselves for the concrete benefit of our peoples and for a people-centered ASEAN. Along with ASEAN, Vietnam and Indonesia will continue to grow, just as along with Vietnam and Indonesia, ASEAN will continue to thrive, and play its part in ensuring peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world.

I wish the Center for Strategic and International Studies greater success in your future endeavors.

I wish all of you good health and happiness.

Thank you very much.

Source: VNA